Economist, Megan McArdle has written a valuable and yet problematic piece for the Daily Beast, “Just Say No to Dumb Gun Laws.” Since I think all gun laws are dumb, or at least illegal and thus damaging to the social order of the United States, I could technically agree with her title. But I’d be happier if she had simplified it by replacing the word, “Dumb” with the word, “All.”
But the real problem on display in McArdle’s brief essay is her assumption that anyone cares whether or not a law makes sense. Now maybe McArdle really knows better. Maybe she is trying to point out the insane psychology that motivates the making of new laws by trying to hold up a simple and reasonable claim so that the psychotic nature of policy making will be more visible. Maybe. But she comes across as simply naïve.
McArdle points out that the difference between the “assault weapons” that would be banned and the ones that would not be banned are virtually the same. A pistol grip does not make a pump action shotgun more lethal. There was no sudden increase in crime when the ban ended in 2004. So while the laws would have no effect on crime or death rates, it would be expensive to implement. “A law that has no obvious benefit, but substantial regulatory cost, just obviously flunks this basic cost-benefit analysis.”
I disagree. I think a law that makes no sense, that requires more spending and more government agents, is a law that is especially attractive to those in power. We see it in the TSA. We see it in Obamacare. Politicians like to vote for self-contradictory nonsense that forces the populace to dance to a constantly changing and unpredictable tune.
The point here is that power justifies itself in the desires of most people. As O’Brien told Winston in George Orwell’s 1984: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.”
This may seem cynical, but I don’t see why it is not credible. No, not everyone is given over to the lust after power, but what sorts of people are more likely to seek power and hold onto it? Common sense says it will be the people who want it the most and who will do whatever they have to do to acquire that power. The people who should not have it are the ones who will most strive for it.
And such people don’t want to answer to logic, or economics, or math. They want what they want and power means the ability to ignore any other consideration. Orwell goes on to put in the mouth of the villain a statement couple of sentences that seem to describe the TSA and then our educational-industrial complex: “Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
McArdle writes that, “we should not have largely symbolic laws that require real and large regulatory interventions.” That depends on who is “we.” For us the rulers, us the “policy makers,” a largely symbolic law that requires real and large regulatory interventions is usually a rush. It works like a drug. Here are all the little people with their guns, and they have to do what we say, carry the permits we mandate, pay the fees we demand, and make sure they are complying with our (usually contradictory) laws.
The cost/benefit failure isn’t a bug; for our political class, it is a feature.