Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?

I’m sure at least one person in the Maya civilization predicted that someday, in the future, people would believe stupid stuff.

So it’s 7:49 PST here, and the world still hasn’t ended. (A possible exception to this is Fedex, who’re supposed to be delivering a package to me today that hasn’t yet arrived. Maybe they and their planes, delivery drivers, and trucks were hit by the mysterious asteroid the Maya-didn’t-actually-predict.)

So onward.

–Like a lot more of us, I’ve been thinking of gun control–the traditional yule-tide-after-a-kill-crazy-rampage thoughts. Rather than ban guns outright, I sometimes wonder if it would be better if gun owners and manufacturers had to pay for the negative externalities (shooting deaths) created by the unfettered gun market they want, through a combination of taxes, fees, and liability insurance requirements. Stephen Williamson at the New Monetarist Economics Blog takes a look at how this would work:

On the externality problem, we can be more inventive. A standard tool for dealing with externalities is the Pigouvian tax. Tax the source of the bad externality, and you get less of it. How big should the tax be? An unusual problem here is that the size of the externality is random – every gun is not going to injure or kill someone. There’s also an inherent moral hazard problem, in that the size of the externality depends on the care taken by the gunowner. Did he or she properly train himself or herself? Did they store their weapon to decrease the chance of an accident?

In any case, the Pigouvian tax we would need to correct the externality should be a large one, and it could generate a lot of revenue. If there are 300 million guns in the United States, and we impose a tax of $3600 per gun on the current stock, we would eliminate the federal government deficit. But $3600 is coming nowhere close to the potential damage that a single weapon could cause. A potential solution would be to have a gun-purchaser post collateral – several million dollars in assets – that could be confiscated in the event that the gun resulted in injury or loss of life. This has the added benefit of mitigating the moral hazard problem – the collateral is lost whether the damage is “accidental” or caused by, for example, someone who steals the gun.

Williamson concludes that the collateral requirement would make it very hard to pass appropriate legislation to correct the negative externality the gun market creates, and that a ban might be the simpler way to go. If, however, we changed the collateral requirement to an insurance requirement, we might be able to make it work in Congress–though right now I wouldn’t take bets on anything working in Congress–and avoid the legal hassles that would result from an outright ban on firearms.

I’d prefer it if we could ban large classes of firearms, but given the way the courts are set up and the long odds of shifting them in my direction anytime soon, a regime of firearms taxes and insurance requirements seems the way to go. If we’re going to allow a free and open gun market in the U.S., fairness demands that the willing participants in that market bear the full costs of its maintenance. Gun owners should under this arrangement be able to buy as many guns as they can afford, including taxes and insurance. Yes, those taxes and insurance premiums would likely be very high, but since an unfettered gun market requires someone to pay for the costs it imposes on society, I’d rather it be the person buying the gun.

–JJ Sylvia on five ways to comfort an atheist after a loss. Don’t worry. No one’s annoyed or run afoul of me after my Dad’s death. I mainly mention the post because it contains this quote, which I think sums things up well, from Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow):

Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting . . . The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.”

–I’m not good with holiday sentiments, so I’ll turn the matter over to Pinky and the Brain. In its own way, it’s touching.


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