Buiter on Gun Control

Buiter on Gun Control July 16, 2008

Willem Buiter is one of the smartest economists in the business. Born in Denmark, adopted by the United Kingdom, he is a professor at the London School of Economics, a past member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, and a blogger for the Financial Times. He is also renowned for both his keen wit and his blunt no-nonsense maverick style. His reaction to the recent US Supreme Court on gun control will probably not garner too much respect in this country, but it fairly typically sums up the view in Europe, is consistent with the teaching of the US bishops, and has the benefit of being right:

“If ever there was an example of  an activist Supreme Court making law, indeed making policy, driven by the personal views, opinions, biases, prejudices, phobias and instincts of its members, this is it…..Second Amendment freedom – my foot.  The Second Amendment states that the armed forces ought to be armed.  I fully agree. The decision of the Supreme Court is not just wrong, it is evil. It will contribute to the ongoing dilution of the rule of law in the US, the growth of vigilantism, fenced, gated and caged communities, and ultimately the complete breakdown of any sense of community and society.

Fear and suspicion by all towards all will become the norm in a country with 200 million individual self-defence forces.  Only I myself can secure my safety against the imminent threat of violence/oppression from my fellow citizens and from the state.  Therefore I must be armed to the teeth.  Every gun in private ownership infringes on the rights and liberties of others.

The Supreme Court decision is a triumph of American infantilism – a monument to the country’s determination not to grow up. A nation that cannot get itself motivated and organised to ban the use of silly boys’ toys that kill, main and wound countless thousands every year is clearly not ready for self-government.  Perhaps another century or so under benevolent colonial rule might help.  The Brits had a go at it and failed.  I suggest the Danes.”

How ironic that it takes a Dane to lament the downsides of a Calvinist culture in America.

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  • You found a European economics professor who agrees with you about American constitutional law and this is supposed to persuade us of something?

    What does a European professor of economics know about the law, the American Constitution, judicial activism, Calvinism, or the second amendment? It is clear from this quotation he knows next to nothing about these matters.

    Additionally, his arrogant, condescending tone suggests he is not much concerned with reasoning, but only with expressing his strong feelings.

  • blackadderiv

    If ever there was an example of an activist Supreme Court making law, indeed making policy, driven by the personal views, opinions, biases, prejudices, phobias and instincts of its members, this is it.

    I wonder what his opinion is of Roe v. Wade.

  • Katerina

    He had a couple of good points, but I had to force myself past the arrogant rhetoric. I agree with his main argument, but he doesn’t do a good job in proving his point. I was expecting more of a economics professor when I first clicked on the original post.

  • SB

    He might be a good economist, but his level of political and constitutional analysis is at the level of a rude and uninformed 10-year-old. He doesn’t seem to know anything about the American Constitution or political system; nothing about the history of the Second Amendment; and he obviously didn’t even read the decision that he’s purporting to criticize (or else he’s lying about it). The only thing he brings to the table here is a collection of silly insults (“loonies,” “lunatic fringe,” etc., etc., etc.).

    Why would you praise this guy’s analysis, rather than any number of more levelheaded and informed commentators? You don’t see Blackadder or me gushing over the likes of Ann Coulter.

  • I’m a little concerned about “the business” of economists if this guy is an example of incisive thinking. That the founding fathers would have added an ammendment stating “the army should be armed” and accidentally refer to the army as “the people” does not pass the laugh test. (Though I suppose on that basis we may assume that only the army has the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievences and that only the army has a right to not be searched unreasonably.) Fortunately, I think we can take it instead that you simply have very poor judgement in determining who is smart.

    I’m also a little concerned that you say his writing reflects the teaching of the bishops — given that he calls for the sophisticated nations of Western Europe to colonize and exert power over the “infantile” peoples in other parts of the world. Have you suddenly become a fan of colonialism? Have the bishops?

    I shall have to consider these teachings very seriously…

  • SB

    Moreover, his substantive points are so exaggerated that they lose all plausibility. For example:

    1) Claiming that the Supreme Court decision will lead to “ultimately the complete breakdown of any sense of community and society.” All the Supreme Court said was that the government can’t completely ban handguns; but the government is free to regulate guns in many other ways. That’s going to cause the “complete breakdown of any sense of community and society”? So has society experienced “complete breakdown” in any of the many states and nations that fail to completely ban handguns? Buiter shows a remarkable obliviousness to the fact that he’s making such a wild assertion about empirical reality without any evidence.

    2) His statement: “What was the response of the two leading candidated [sic] for the US presidence [sic] to this assault on the right not to be shot by your unfriendly neighbour?”

    Aside from the fact that the guy can’t even spell, his rhetoric is rather hysterical here. The right “not to be shot” by your neighbors is already protected by a number of laws against murder, assault, etc.

    3) “Every gun in private ownership infringes on the rights and liberties of others.”

    The overwhelming majority of guns in private ownership are used for peaceful hunting and target practice, none of which infringe on anyone else’s rights.

  • SB

    Maybe the main problem here is the differing cultures of America and Europe, thanks to long-running historical reasons . . . i.e., for centuries, those courageous Europeans who preferred liberty and self-reliance instead of religious oppression and monarchist tyranny tended to escape to America. Thus, Europe is now more dominated by timid whiners, scraping and debasing themselves before state power.

  • SB

    I know, I know, that’s insulting and reductionist, but Buiter’s column is so full of even more ignorant stereotypes that it seemed an appropriate response.

  • SB

    The most stunning irony here is Buiter’s claim that the Second Amendment was meant only to ensure that the “armed forces ought to be armed.” In fact, the Second Amendment was intended, at least in part, to provide the common people with a means of protecting themselves against European would-be tyrants like Buiter himself!

    Thus, prominent early commentators on the Second Amendment said things like this:

    The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic, since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers, and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.

    Or this:

    Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every Kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.

    Or this:

    As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.

  • The state comes to remove the bodies. As the old saying goes, before 911 dial 357.

  • Thanks for the friendly plug. Just a couple of factual corrections. First, I was born Dutch, not Danish. Admittedly, both countries are flat and overrun by blondes. Second, I was adopted by the USA before I was adopted by the UK. My current two passports are American and British.

  • jh

    Wow what a great article. The Supreme Court was wrong he declares. I have to admit his look at the text ,past court precedent, views at the time of the amendment, and other legal analysis is just overwhelming on this article. Of course the Supreme Court was wrong he just proclaimed it.

    Who needs all that messy infantile legal anaylsis

    “supported not even by the selective reading of history cited in support of this view, or by the apparent mind-reading abilities of the Justices when it comes to the original intent of the framers of the Amendment. In truth, their opion is supported only by the simple arithmetic of a 5 against 4 headcount.”

    Wow even critics of the opinion said it was weel argued case on both sides. I am glad though he has straighten me out

  • Morning’s Minion

    Yeah, all reactions as expected. When SB talks about the founding of America and its relationship to Europe, he should refer to the kinds of anti-establishment Protestants who dominated, and their prevailing anti-Catholicism. Maybe he should trace the connection of the so called “right to bear arms” from this philosophy.

  • SB

    Yeah, if you post a silly and uninformed rant that makes Ann Coulter look modest and reserved, people who know something about the law will object. Surprised?

    I don’t mind liberal commentary on the Second Amendment decision if it’s intelligent and informed. Here’s a good example of the sort of thing I mean, from Jack Balkin at Yale: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/07/heller-and-constitutional-right-of-self.html Notice how he makes a rational argument; how he doesn’t wildly label people as lunatics for no reason; etc. Isn’t that marvelous?

  • Too bad Buiter didn’t actually read the US, the Bill of Rights, or what the SCOTUS wrote; he obviously is all mouth and no knowledge.

  • I’d call Dr. Buiter’s screed “puerile,” but that’s not fair to kids with crayons.

  • Sigh.

    So very pathetic.

  • Toby Esterhase

    Wait, there was a reference to Calvinism in that quote? Or am I missing something?

  • Gun control is important. You want to hit your target, after all.

  • TeutonicTim

    MM – Get over it already. You lost.

    “We’ve lost the battle on what the Second Amendment means,” campaign president Paul Helmke told ABC News. “Seventy-five percent of the public thinks it’s an individual right. Why are we arguing a theory anymore?…”

    Paul Helmke, Brady Bunch President.

  • kalle anka

    Yes. MM has lost, possibly because he didn’t arm himself sufficiently with modern implements of destruction. But, sadly so, many more people have lost and are losing every day. Whatever happened to turning the other cheek? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the instinctive reaction to defend your own until you or whatever evil attacks you dies. It’s how species survive. Still, I remember being taught (admittedly in Europe) that responding to violence with violence only breeds more violence, and we get nowhere closer to a peaceful solution. A look at the Middle East (or many other regions in the world) more than illustrates this points. But what about killing a tyrant you may ask. Yes, there are difficult questions, though I’m not convinced that a reasonable answer to such questions requires every household to have the right to bear and stockpile arms. Guns don’t kill people you may argue. Very true, but people with guns do sometimes. For me, the underlying question is why do people want to arm themselves. Do they really feel that their democratic government is failing to provide security. This probably gets to one root of the matter: Europeans have more faith in their government than U.S. Americans. The right to bear arms is simply one facet of this. As a European, knowing that the person in the other car could be carrying a gun makes me feel less secure. The other driver, if she/he is from around here, probably feels safer. How he/she reconciles being armed with the sermon on the mount I don’t understand. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Peace be with you.

  • movin game to game

    At the common sense level, the US will not search and seize the millions of weapons of US criminals without a search warrant that requires probable cause. Ergo… street cops cannot search a corner full of what they know are drug dealers because they do not have probable cause and because the dealers are keeping their drugs and guns in a nearby garbage can in order to deny ownership. Ergo the cop must see a sale to arrest on drugs…but still can’t charge for the gun until such moment that it is removed from the garbage can by the dealer when retiring at 4 AM. Thus our criminals will always have guns….so in that context….good people need guns to oppose for example home invasions. Bishops will not admit this because they are vogueing Love and vogueing requires spin and requires an audience of lemmings.

    Ergo…to remove guns from non criminal citizens who seek to protect their homes from the millions of criminal guns that the US is not going to seize….. in our US context is criminal itself. New York I think is about to have another buy back program during which they will give $200 to anyone who turns in their guns. Those criminals who spent over $200 for their Glocks or Taurus pistols from Brazil…. of course will not be moved.
    Catholic Bishops never have to talk street reality and rather flee into theology where one can be ideal and non truthful about the street ….by omission.

  • TeutonicTim

    “As a European, knowing that the person in the other car could be carrying a gun makes me feel less secure.”

    Than you better be scared ALL the time because the bad people that will carry guns don’t give a damn about your laws or you security, and they could be anyone.

    At least in the U.S. when concealed carry laws are enacted, you might have a lawful good person with a gun to save you from the “bad guy”

    Seriously, what is so “upsetting” about being prepared to keep yourself safe? It sure beats *hoping* that the murderer or rapist is “nice” to you.