Making a Statement on Gun Control

In the wake of last month’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which resulted in 17 students and teachers being killed and another 17 injured, gun-control activists, frustrated with their relative failure to enact sweeping bans and restrictions on firearms ownership, resorted to scapegoating the National Rifle Association and its supporters, and launching a social media campaign to pressure companies that offer certain services, discounts, or other perks to NRA members to sever their relationships with the organization.

Many have even absurdly claimed that the organization, devoted to preserving individuals’ inherent and constitutionally protected right to self-defense, was a “terrorist organization,” and that it had “blood on its hands,” because one disturbed young man used a gun to cause a horrendous tragedy (notwithstanding numerous opportunities and failures of federal and local government authorities to intervene, and possibly prevent such an attack). Moreover, despite the media hysteria and predictable drumbeat for more gun control surrounding each and every school shooting, the number of kids getting shot and killed in schools has actually declined significantly since the 1990s, as have crimes rates (including gun crimes) generally.

Economic Equality—Socialism’s Unattainable, Undesirable Pie in the Sky

Socialism’s greatest appeal springs from its promise of economic equality. Many people, upon their first encounter with the ideology, find this promise the very heart and soul of justice. Yet, completely apart from whether such an outcome could or would ever be attained in practice, a great and insuperable problem remains: in a world where individuals always differ enormously in personal attributes and circumstances, in personal conduct and social constraints, it is difficult to think of anything more unfair than forcibly ensuring that in spite of all these differences, everyone ends up with the same income or wealth. The whole idea is an ill-considered, falsely attractive attribute of pie-in-the-sky socialism even if it were possible to bring it about.



Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute and Editor at Large of The Independent Review. His latest book is Taking A Stand: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Economy.

Against the Whole Concept and Construction of the Balance of International Payments

The root of a great and destructive economic misunderstanding can be traced to an accounting statement known as the balance of international payments. As the name suggests, this accounting statement rests on the idea that nations (in the form of individuals, firms and other organizations, and governments) trade with other nations (similarly composed). But the aggregation of the individuals, firms and other organizations, and governments in accordance with the country in which they are located sets in motion a basic misunderstanding.

In reality, individuals, firms and other organizations, and governments trade with other such entities, some of which are located in the same country and others of which are located in other countries. The location of the trading partners has no economic significance whatsoever. Trading entities enter into exchanges voluntarily, each one in each transaction anticipating a gain from the trade. Hence, in expectational terms, every such trade entails a gain from trade, or in other words an addition to the trader’s wealth.

On Socialism’s Rhetorical Appeal

Socialism’s appeal has always lain primarily in its vision of living in a fantasy land, a land of lollipops and lemonade, a land where everyone has plenty and all have the same. Aside from the utter impossibility of attaining such abundance without private property and free markets, this vision has a fatal element of abstraction from the realities of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. It declares that “society” or “the community” will own all the means of production, but in reality this communal ownership always boils down to de facto ownership by a political elite with untrammeled power and a determination to obliterate individual rights, first private property rights, then all other rights, including the entire litany of civil rights. Socialism is a mythical, impossible ideal employed as a rhetorical enticement to mobilize large groups in favor of collective action that leads ultimately if not immediately to their own enslavement. That so many young people in the West now regard socialism as the most desirable form of political economy is a tragedy in the making.


Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute and Editor at Large of The Independent Review. His latest book is Taking A Stand: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Economy.

Florida Becomes First State to Offer Student Safety Scholarships

Florida is now the first state in the country to offer students scholarships to attend safer schools.

Last week Governor Rick Scott signed legislation creating the Hope Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships to public school students victimized by an array of safety incidents, including:

  • battery,
  • harassment,
  • hazing,
  • bullying,
  • kidnapping,
  • physical attack,
  • robbery,
  • sexual offense,
  • threats,
  • intimidation,
  • or fighting at school

“Every child in Florida should have the opportunity to get a great education at the school of their choice so they can achieve their dreams,” said Gov. Scott upon signing the bill into law (HB 7055).

The Two Types of Socio-economic Problems

Socio-economic problems take two forms: one form is fake; the other is real.

The fake problems are bandied about by special interests, chief among which is the government itself, in a quest to acquire greater power and wealth at your expense. Obviously, in a just and sensible world, the government should never undertake to solve fake problems. Its doing so is at best wasteful, at worst destructive.

The real problems themselves take two forms: one form is attended by calls for the government to “do something” to solve the problem; the other form is not attended by such calls. This latter form is, in our time, quite rare, the prevailing assumption being that the government should involve itself in solving any and all real problems, even minor, mostly contrived, and trivial ones.

If the problem is real and the government undertakes to solve it, the result in nearly every case will be that special interests, especially the government itself, will be further empowered and enriched and, on top of this insult to justice and prosperity, the real problem will be made worse rather than solved, setting in motion further calls for government intervention and creating an endless chain of action and reaction leading toward a leviathan state.

So, regardless of the nature of the perceived problem, the default preference of those who cherish their freedom and seek to retain the wealth they have legitimately acquired is that the government do nothing. Cases in which this default option is not optimal are probably too few to merit much consideration.


Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute and Editor at Large of The Independent Review. His latest book is Taking A Stand: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Economy.

Give Freedom a Chance

One of the typical responses to criticism of a government policy, program, or other undertaking is the demand for an answer to the question, “What is your alternative?” Often this challenge demands a blueprint or other detailed plan for the alternative to the governmental status quo. Absent such a fully articulated plan, one’s criticism is often dismissed as mere carping by someone who has no idea about how to replace the present government undertaking.

My own alternative is simply freedom. Get the government completely out of whatever it is now doing so badly, whether it be educating youth, protecting the public from crime, or keeping the economy in flourishing operation. Of course, the critic is likely to dismiss this answer on the grounds that it constitutes nothing but a shibboleth, a magic word that is taken to solve all the problems even though it lacks any definite plan or arrangement for a solution.

This response, however, only reveals that the critic does not understand how a free society operates or what may reasonably be demanded of its supporters. The essence of freedom is the unrestricted ability to make changes without the government’s permission and without spelling out how all the various elements of the change will operate or be brought about.

Some Thoughts on Arming Teachers

Since the tragic Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a number of proposals have been made for arming teachers as a way to prevent future tragedies like this. Could they be effective?

Some recent ideas would make armed teachers first responders who could confront and perhaps neutralize a school shooter. Some proposals would require teachers to take firearms training to be certified as qualified to use firearms at school. Sometimes teachers would retain possession of those firearms; other proposals would lock them in a box that would be accessible to certified teachers in the event they were needed.

There are many issues that might be raised regarding the details of the various proposals, but they all have two serious drawbacks. First, they assume that teachers would be competent responders who would be able to neutralize a school shooter. Second, they shift teachers’ roles from protecting themselves and those around them to seeking out and confronting someone who is a serious threat.

Teachers are not law enforcement officers, and as civilians under attack, they should not be expected to confront a shooter, and would almost surely be ineffective if they tried.

Free Market Think Tanks, Persuasion, and Big Data

Free market think tanks are in the business of expanding individual liberty. This often requires persuading people to think differently on certain issues. That said, think tanks invest few, if any, resources in studying the science of persuasion. What is the best approach to change people’s opinion? How do people change their opinion and why? New evidence from big data provides insights into these questions.

Evan Soltas is a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an economist in New York City and former Google data scientist. Together, they’ve researched Google search data, which they call a modern day “confessional box,” to gauge public sentiment on controversial issues.

Soltas and Stephens-Davidowitz argue that people type things into Google searches that they would not feel comfortable telling a pollster. People are less guarded in Google searches and, therefore, this data may provide purer, uncensored insights into people’s thoughts than answers to survey questions or public postings on Facebook. Anonymous aggregate search data are unprecedented views into the human mind.

The Gender Gap: Discrimination or Choice?

If you were to learn that the way to achieve gender wage parity is to build a less gender-equal society, would you be in favor of it? Two recent studies provide strong evidence that the wage gap between men and women has little to do with gender discrimination and everything to do with women being free to discriminate in how they spend their time.

The first, “The Gender Earnings Gap in the Gig Economy: Evidence from over a Million Rideshare Drivers,” draws on detailed information from a million Uber rideshares and finds a roughly 7% gender earnings gap between men and women drivers. As all decisions reside in the hands of the drivers themselves, clearly employer or consumer discrimination can not account for the gap. The study’s authors conclude:

We find that the entire gender gap is caused by three factors: experience on the platform (learning-by-doing), preferences over where/when to work, and preferences for driving speed. This suggests that, as the gig economy grows and brings more flexibility in employment, women’s relatively high opportunity cost of non-paid-work time and gender-based preference differences can perpetuate a gender earnings gap even in the absence of discrimination.