June 22, 2007
More laws, more bureaucracy, more social workers, more crime!
Five died in two triple shootings 15 hours apart in which gunmen opened fire on people on city streets.
That scary headline makes it look as if Philadelphia is being plagued by random gunfire, which just happens all by itself. And as usual, none of the victims or neighbors are talking. However, when I read the details, the shootings didn't strike me as random "gun violence" which just happened to occur on a street corner at 2:30 a.m.:
Police said the three victims had "been through the system" before - including narcotics arrests. Although two of the men had survived previous shootings, neighbors and relatives insisted that they were not thugs.There's just something about survivors of previous shootings with previous narcotics arrests hanging out at 2:30 a.m. that makes me suspect they were not shot for random reasons.
The problem with urban crime is that many criminals live in urban areas. This leads well meaning people to advocate selective gun control -- in urban areas only, such as the oft-sponsored legislation allowing Philadelphia to enact its own gun control laws. What is being forgotten is that for the huge majority of shooters (85% according to Philly's Chief of Detectives), there already is gun control -- the strongest gun control possible. For any convicted felon, merely being found in possession of a gun is a serious crime involving mandatory prison.
To me, this is conclusive evidence that the mere passage of laws does not affect criminals. To others, it's an argument for more laws which not only won't be obeyed by criminals, but which will only enlarge the criminal class, by transforming previously law abiding gun owners into criminals.
Aren't there enough criminals without passing laws creating more? What I've never been able to understand is why people don't understand that the more laws there are, the more crime there is. What's going on? Does it take a Ph.D. in economics to lay it out on a graph? Just as lawyers generate litigation, legislators generate laws (which in turn generate crime). It is what they do because it's what they need to do to survive. Similarly, bureaucrats need regulations and social workers need social problems, or else there'd be no need for them.
I realize that it isn't nice to question people's idealism, but why is it OK to question the idealism of lawyers and politicians, but not bureaucrats and social workers? Shouldn't the standard be the same? And what is idealism? Should a restaurant owner get a gold star for calling himself a "food provider"? Is a cab owner a "transportation services provider" who risks his life daily engaged in "public service"? It strikes me that the moral authority of many of the people who are being paid to do things (and who make a living at it) is directly related to whether they're being paid by the taxpayers. Does this mean that earning government money is worthier than earning private money? Can anyone tell me why? Couldn't it be argued that receiving money which is extracted from the citizenry under threat of legal force is actually less worthy? Why is it that so few people pose these questions?
I've long been worried about a growing division between tax payers and tax eaters (the latter are now poised to become the voting majority). Common sense suggests that in general, the former tend to be more productive than the latter. In economic terms, this would make them more valuable (although private school teachers make considerably less than public school teachers, despite the fact that the former do a better job.)
But can such value be measured in moral terms? While it isn't my job here to make a moral pronouncement, in my half a century on the planet I have detected a significant moral shift. I can remember when living off government money without working was considered less than morally optimal, and being on the government payroll carried with it no special moral authority. Nor should it. Yet I have seen a growing tendency in some circles to see tax eaters (of all varieties) as morally better than the people whose taxes pay them. This makes no sense. It's not as if working for the government is like working for a religious order.
Maybe it is. I mean, if there is to be such a thing as moral authority, then someone has to have it, right?
MORE: Speaking of two Americas, I enjoyed Glenn Reynolds' comment this morning:
I think there are two Americas: Those who manage to enrich themselves by exploiting legal technicalities, and those who do not.More legal technicalities, more exploitation?
UPDATE: My thanks (from Alaska where I'm on vacation) to Glenn Reynolds for the link!
posted by Eric on 06.22.07 at 09:34 AM
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