Monday, January 14, 2013

At What Cost? (Part III)

People who say that "it is worth any cost to save one life" are liars or idiots (which includes President Obama).  So, take a deep breath yourself because you have probably said that.  Hopefully, you fall into the idiot category instead of the liar category.  Sure it sounds good on the surface but what of the ramifications?

The speed limit was changed from 55mph to 65 mph to 75 mph and deaths and accidents increased.  But we traveled to places safer.  Maybe you are the one that still travels at only 55mph because it is saver.  I doubt it. So that must not be worth the cost to save one life (or 1000 lives).  10% less travel time for 300 million people is just too high of a cost.

Surely the cost of water bottles isn't too high to save one life?  But society seems to disagree.  We have water bottles that have minute amounts of chemicals that could kill you.  But the convenience must outweigh the cost of lives saved.  So maybe there is a price.

Vaccinations have been one of the largest contributors to increased longevity in the 20th century.  Yet portions of the population still refuse to get vaccinated and pretend it has no other affect on the population at large.  Even worse, we jump on unsubstantiated bandwagons claiming they cause autism or other diseases.  People claim doctors are poisoning our children.  That's just reprehensible.  Unfortunately, it also shows that some costs are too great for some people to save one life.

Alcohol is related to many kinds of deaths - violence, car accidents, diseases, etc.  Yet, we already had this discussion in America and decided that a glass of bubbly or a pint of brewski WAS too high of a price to pay to save one life. Some may argue that prohibition wasn't really enforced, but that then begs the question: what was the point of the law in the first place if society wasn't willing to enforce it? (We could ask DC the same question since they have chosen not to prosecute David Gregory for willfully breaking the law on national television.)

This argument of spending any amount to save one life is coward's moral high ground.  Am I so special that my family or my country should go into unrecoverable debt to keep me alive?  No, I'm not that narcissistic.  But what about your child, or my child?  Let me answer again, no, no, and NO.  There is a price that we are willing to pay to save a life, but there are also plenty of prices we aren't willing to pay and many times when those are monetized, it is shockingly low. (I have seen figures from some "safety" laws that put the value anywhere from $50,000 to $20 billion per life).

This argument has been used in any number of "safety" issues over the decades, most recently for stricter gun control.  Usually the issue is so ill defined that only a callous person would reject the argument, but I reject it. Every single time. No matter the issue it is attached to.  So let me start off by setting the record straight.  No person in their right mind wants to kill children. Ever.  It takes a special kind of demon to perpetrate that evil.  And it is evil, whether you believe in God or not.  Killing children is evil! But nearly as evil is the demonization of people who don't share your viewpoint by trying to claim they (or me) want children killed.  Human nature guides us into making monsters of our enemies.  That doesn't make it right.

So hopefully we agree that killing children is wrong.  Killing any innocent person is wrong.

There is lots of talk about figuring out what we can do to reduce gun crimes.  After all, most murders in the US are committed with guns.  So lets look at what the cost will be? Assuming that any law proposed is 100% effective at eliminating rifles (through bans/confiscation/registration/etc.), would murders go down?  Theoretically.  Because about 400 murders are committed with rifles each year, we could reduce our murders by that much.  At 12000 murders a year, this is a drop in the bucket, but perhaps one worth doing.  Except that is not as simple as 12000-400=11600.  In order for this to be true, we have to believe that none of those murderers wouldn't have substituted a different weapon.  So the equation becomes 12000 - 400 + Sub = ??,???.  If all we are doing if limiting rifles, there are plenty of handguns (which are the most frequently used murder weapon anyway).  Knifes, clubs, and bare hands have proven less deadly; but explosives and fire have proven more deadly.  So, theoretically the number may go up!

What about other effects?  Those have costs too.  Even assuming 400 less murders happen, and none of the substitution weapons cause death, those knives, clubs, hands, fire, and explosives will cause injuries.  So, aggravated assaults go up, which means, overall, the violent crime rate has not changed.  We have just substituted 400 of one type for 400 of another.  But murder is more serious right.  Is it comforting to a rape victim to say, "At least he didn't kill you?"  That's a shallow argument for "less" murders.

The law abiding are also going to be affected, presumably from less access/availability to defensive firearms. Rifles are used defensively.  How much is anyone's guess, but every organization that has studied the issue finds their use at least 100,000 times annually and perhaps up to 2.5 million times annually (guns are used in about 600,000 crimes annually). So if the 100,000 is correct and only 1% of these foiled crimes now become violent crimes, then we have added another 1,000 to the violent crime list. So violent crime has now gone up.  Admittedly, 400 murders will not result, the majority will end up being robberies and aggravated assaults with murder and rape making up probably less than 30. But overall, the country is less safe.  Violent crime has increased.  So, is it worth it to save 390 lives a year only to affect the life's of 1410 other people?

If you believe that it is worth any cost, ask yourself, "How many extra rapes is one less murder worth? How many years of nightmares of children seeing mom and dad assaulted in their home should we trade for one less murder committed with a gun?"

Some like to point to England with their 50 gun murders a year as an example for the US to follow.  Really, so you would be satisfied if the US only had 300 gun murders (adjusted up for population)?  Say that to yourself, "I would be satisfied with 300 gun murders a year."  I wouldn't be, I want 0 murders.  Would you be willing to trade more violence (but less death) in the US for a lower number of gun murders? Kids being maimed by a psycho with a molotov cocktail is preferable? Even if it is 10 times as many kids?

Sorry, that logic defies my understanding.  It is a comparison that a rational person cannot make. Trading one for the other is not fair, regardless of the multiplier you apply. I want less crime (I care not whether it is committed with a gun or with bare hands).  So I continue to research ways that we have reduced crime and advocate those (suprisingly, probably the largest decrease in crime has nothing to do with our control, but involves the relative population size of 15-29 year old males to the rest of the country).  Poverty is a large indicator, yet we aren't implementing any policies that will help bring jobs to the inner cities (on the contrary, we are doing the exact opposite in a lot of cases).

A lot of crime is drug related.  Its another cost that people are unwilling to pay.  Would you support legalizing drugs if it could be shown that there would be an overall decrease in violent crime? Some countries have and not seen an explosion of drug use and a decrease in crime.  Unfortunately, this shibboleth remains in our country so that no one seriously characterizes what the affects would be.

Figuring the cost of some policy is extraordinarily complex, and so most of us are content to just look at it as X-Y=Z.  Sociology and Criminology will never be hard sciences.  X-Y rarely equals Z in the realm of the human mind.

1 comment:

  1. Great job putting out the hard questions. If only more people would ask themselves that. I can't fathom walking around saying, "I support less murder by guns and more aggravated assault because someone can't protect themselves with a gun." Defines logic.