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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Welfare, Guns, and International Perspectives

At the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Hyrum Lewis challenges conventional wisdom about the United States and Europe:

On his Jan 16 show, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria noted (transcript here) that America has a higher murder rate than most European countries. He then noted that America also has much higher gun ownership. The conclusion he drew, was that America’s violent crime is caused by high gun ownership.

But is it not just as likely that Zakaria has it backwards? That is, it’s not that America has a high violent crime rate because of its many guns, but it has many guns because of a high crime rate? The more violent the country, the more likely the citizens are to want to have means to protect themselves (weapons). This is certainly true of my experience—I and almost all of my neighbors own guns, and yet none of us has ever committed a violent crime. We own the guns in order to prevent the violent crime that we know is widespread in America. Without the crime, we would not need the guns.

Perhaps the same holds for welfare state. We assume that the European welfare states are responsible for the lower poverty rates in those countries, but it could be that the low poverty rate (which preceded their welfare states) allows the state to be so generous since there are fewer poor to take care of. In our country, which admits millions of impoverished immigrants and has a historically disadvantaged underclass, it is naturally more difficult to provide for them than it is for the Europeans (especially since the Europeans shipped many of their poor to the United States in past waves of immigration).