James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, December 28, 2012

Beware of Common Sense

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, we've seen talk of the need for "common-sense" gun laws.

You also frequently hear of the need for "common-sense" limits on campaign contributions to politicians.

I say, beware of "common sense."

After all, by definition the "sense" depends on previous experience. "We tolerated A, then tragic event B happened. Therefore, get rid of A."

That's common sense.

What common sense doesn't take into account are unseen or unintended consequences.

The Freakonomics podcast featured an episode on unintended consequences -- The Cobra Effect.

  • In British-ruled India, to stamp out the cobra problem in Delhi, a "bounty" on cobras  was introduced.The result was an increase of cobras; people actually started raising them to get the bounties.
  • In French-ruled Indo-China (Vietnam), the French had a similar policy on rats in Saigon (if I recall correctly). The result was peasants in the suburbs raising rats to collect bounties.
  • A bounty program in Ft. Benning GA on wild pigs failed to stop the increase of wild pigs even as the number of claims increased.
I'm not suggesting that there's a direct analogy to guns or campaign contributions - neither of which can breed the way animals can - only that what seems like "common sense" to you will most likely result in more corruption and crime, to the detriment of the goals you seek.

Gun restrictions will inevitably create a bigger black market in guns, and those who may want them the most for self-protection in crime-ridden neighborhoods - poor minorities - will be the ones most likely prosecuted for acquiring and possessing them. None of this will stop mass shootings in white middle-class neighborhoods.

Campaign finance restrictions only make the political process more corrupt. It makes it harder for challengers to raise money to defeat incumbents, and limits force incumbents to spend a lot of their time fund-raising at the retail level. Frankly, I'd rather that candidates were funded by a few wealthy patrons then spend their time asking the rest of us for money. I would have preferred that Jack Kemp ran for President in 1996, funded by Steve Forbes, than have Forbes run himself. But the laws prohibited it.

Restrictions, regulations, and prohibitions only invite corruption and crime. There are no "common sense" laws except for those penalizing violence, negligence, theft, and fraud.  "Preemptive" or "preventive" measures do more harm than good.


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