21 Dec 2012

Shooting Down Russ Roberts

Pacifism 16 Comments

[UPDATE below.]

Suppose someone says, “You know, rather than waiting for the politicians in Washington DC to solve the nation’s drug problem, maybe parents ought to focus on keeping their own kids from using pot.”

Or, suppose a short guy said, “Be the change you to want to see in the world.”

Not only do I think the above statements are correct, I think the second one is downright profound.

And yet, apparently that makes me a non-economist. Here’s Russ Roberts commenting on the subject of today’s two-minute hate amongst libertarians (HT2 DK):

This short piece by Amitai Etzioni captures the difference between economists and non-economists. He says that rather than wait for gun control laws, we should just ban them in our own homes and post signs outside announcing that our homes are gun-free thereby becoming “ambassadors for gun control.”

I am reminded of the Hillaire Belloc poem:

Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight.
But Roaring Bill who killed him thought it right.

Look, I’m not being coy. The Etzioni piece is ridiculous, but not because of his opening line. That was actually one of the most sensible things I’ve heard since the awful events last week–if you’re for gun control, instead of asking the politicians to do it, do it yourself! Amen brother. I don’t have guns in my house, and I haven’t kept that a secret.

No, I don’t put up a sign about it, but Etzioni’s point with that was to make it clear to everyone that you personally will not tolerate guns on your property. Russ–and I’m just picking on him because 99.99% of libertarians undoubtedly shared his hilarity at Etzioni’s wide-eyed article–captures the difference between general and partial equilibrium analysis. I’d love to live in a society where 99% of the property owners have a big sign that nobody is allowed to enter the property with a gun. Oops no standing army or SWAT teams in that society; they’d have nowhere to stand. Are we sure it would really be so horrible a place to live?

I know, I know, violence is just so seductive that most of you are still sure I’m speaking nonsense. OK let me end with a poem myself, just like Russ did:

Pale Uncle Sam thought it wrong to use drones.
But Red China didn’t and caused many moans.

What’s the moral today, kids? Often times someone’s argument sounds “from the Onion” only because you disagree with his conclusion. The exact same argument in defense of your position would sound great, and you’d be exasperated with the “idiots!!” who dismissed you with glib poetry.

Last thing: I hope the above post doesn’t come off as an angry young man. Believe me, I understand why people are laughing at Etzioni, and I understand why Russ was just having a quick bit of fun. But by the same token, I can understand why people at MSNBC thought it was hilarious when Ron Paul suggested going back on gold or that US foreign policy might have invited 9/11. “What the heck?! What a weirdo thing to say, ha ha who is this old guy?”

UPDATE: I should be clear that I am not “for gun control” in the way most Americans would mean it. I don’t want armed guys from the government trying to make society gun-free, since that would be using violence to try to change the world–something I oppose as a pacifist.

Also, apparently Gandhi may not have actually said that famous “quote.”

16 Responses to “Shooting Down Russ Roberts”

  1. Ken B says:

    No more complaining about assertive atheists then Bob! We’re being the change we want to see.

    • guest says:

      That Bob Murphy, he can … fuss.

  2. Ken B says:

    Actually it comes off a bit more obtuse middle aged man. The people we want to keep guns from are the ones least likely to be swayed by such peer pressure. Gun control advocates want other people to be gun free, fast. Your proposal misses on both counts.

  3. Tel says:

    I have a cunning plan.

    Put up a big sign on your front gate that says:

    Beware of the dog!

    This property is guaranteed 100% free of firearms at all times.

    When a bunch of tough guys break in to demonstrate their home invasion skills, you simply shoot them all dead.

    Some time later the cops start asking questions about how that sign in the front represents the most outrageous false advertising. You explain to them that the dog is around at your mother’s place this weekend.

    Can’t fail.

  4. Dan says:

    I’m not sure how sensible it is to advertise that you don’t have a gun in your house. It’s one thing to announce it on the Internet, but it seems a bit reckless to put a sign out in front of your house letting everyone know. Odds are nothing would happen if you did that, but it sure seems like it would increase the chances that a burglar would pick the house with the sign saying “no guns here” over any of the other houses in the neighborhood.

  5. Daniel Kuehn says:

    At least you’re consistent. I don’t think many libertarians who think of themselves as pacifists or close to it would have this reaction.

    Your drone poem makes perfect sense to me, except I’d change “use” to “own” in the first line. Not that I’m against ever using drones (obviously!), but just because you don’t have to to be prepared for the Reds. It’s not like gun owners have to fire off a few rounds into their neighbor’s house every couple of weeks or anything! The concern – I would think – is violence and minimizing the prospect of violence.

    We all agree on that. You think it’s more likely if we don’t prepare for the possibility. I think it’s more likely if we do.

  6. Brent says:

    I completely understand and respect your point. But personally, for example, I would prefer my bank use armed security personnel. This is the practical problem… I am fine with, say, a school that explicitly says “No guns are allowed on this property.” But as a parent, I want to know specifically how the school plans to protect my child from someone who violates that rule… I would prefer that, as the owners of the property, they are prepared to use force to enforce the rule.

  7. Ken B says:

    Surely the point is about stable vs unstable equilibrium, if we must mask our discussion in jargon.

  8. Silas Barta says:

    I don’t get the link at the end: Gandhi didn’t say that exact statement? Okay, but then it follows up with a real quote of him saying exactly the same thing in different words. Then a rant about “Oh, Gandhi also realized you have to do more than that” … which in no way contradicts either version of the statement.

    It’s kind of like the people who moan that “Cromwell didn’t really say ‘warts and all’ when asking for a self-portrait” … even though the sentiment was right in line with his philosophy, and his portrait *did* correctly include a wart (or other blemish of equivalent unflatteringness).

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Right, I thought the same Silas.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest … if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity.” – Ghandi, “Gandhi, An Autobiography”, page 372.

  9. Blackadder says:

    I’m calling this one for Murphy. There’s nothing uneconomic about trying to influence social norms, and to the extent that putting up a sign that you don’t own a gun makes you more likely to get robbed it only makes the statement more powerful.

    • Ken B says:

      Then you are choosing proving sincerity over fixing problems.

  10. Kevin L says:

    I thought Russ’s point was similar to what Dan pointed out above: advertising your lack of firearms is foolish thinking that displays a lack of understanding of incentives.

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