How is Gun Control like Keynesianism?

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packin keynesBack when I was in a class about criminal justice statistics, the professor asked the class whether theories or facts were more important. Most of the class responded that facts are more important because theories can be wrong; facts are facts.

“No,” said the professor, “if all you have is a bunch of facts and no theory, then you can’t explain social phenomena.” In criminology, there are a lot of statistics, such as the fact that the US has the world’s largest incarceration rate of about 762 incarcerated per 100,000 population. If you have no theory of why this is the case, then you don’t have much basis for explaining why an alternative policy would reduce the incarceration rate (unless, of course, it’s simply to let everyone out, but I think you get my point). So, theories are supposed to explain causal factors that lead to the facts and statistics we have.

Another important quality for a theory to have is that it be possible to disprove it. I believe that Keynesianism, as presented by proponents like Paul Krugman, fails in this regard, particularly fiscal stimulus. Despite the fact that the Japanese and US governments have spent trillions in stimulus packages, they both have economies that haven’t fully recovered and still have high unemployment numbers. Yet Krugman always seems able to rebuke any doubts cast on his theory by saying, “The stimulus wasn’t big enough,” or “Without the stimulus, things would have been worse.” Essentially, it’s not possible to disprove these statements empirically: we don’t have a time machine to go back and try a stimulus that Krugman would declare big enough, or to go back and take the stimulus away and see what happens. Thus, Krugman and his theory always have an escape plan.

Similarly, it seems that the theory behind advocacy of gun control is also non-disprovable. Think about the shootings that gun control advocates use as reasons why there should be more gun control measures: the Aurora theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, Tuscon, Columbine, etc. Almost all of them (with the exception of the shooting in Arizona), occurred in an area where no guns at all are allowed or concealed carry is prohibited. Indeed, had anyone shot back at the shooter in the Aurora theater, he or she would have been guilty of a felony. And yet largely the policy response to these incidents is not “Gun control totally failed to prevent these situations,” but that there isn’t enough gun control.

So my question is this: what exactly would it take, or what would have to happen, for a gun control advocate to say, “Hmm…I guess gun control doesn’t decrease violence.” It is my suspicion that anything short of full civilian disarmament (or maybe they’ll let you have a muzzle-loader or two) would not be enough; any shooting incident still occurring would be evidence that further gun control is needed.

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2 responses »

  1. Good post. Gun control advocates, and even opponents to some extent, are not letting statistics guide their theory but rather using statistics to illustrate their theories. Do you think this is largely if not totally unavoidable, and people who claim to let statistics guide their theory are engaged in a certain amount of self-deception in an attempt to remain free of the “bias” of theories?

    Lovin’ tha gangsta Keynes, BTW.

    • I don’t think trying to find support in statistics for one’s biases is avoidable. I don’t think anyone has sought statistics first and then tried to formulate a theory based on them, but I may be wrong.

      This is why I liked Timothy Terrell’s lecture about the subject as he stated that he bases his position on a belief in individual rights, not what numbers say. As such, your right to own a gun would then not have to rely on private gun ownership leading to the best results but on the idea that your right to own a firearm is inherent. Only then will he talk about numbers.

      Undoubtedly, some will see this position as biased. But I think, as you say, anyone who claims he or she is without bias or that bias doesn’t guide their theory is engaged in self-deception, such as in this blog post by Krugman: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/i-am-not-your-mirror-image/

      And Keynes is just a responsible gun owner, not a “gangsta.” 🙂

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