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What is the methodology used by folks who argue at the same time that:

(1) We should NOT push hard for laws that require voters to present valid identification (the proposed laws are more nuanced than that).

(2) WE SHOULD push hard for laws that require valid identification (and background checks) for people who wish to purchase particular types of guns and related equipment.

Note that we’re not asking here whether either position has or does not have merit. Perhaps the answer is simply about the differing magnitudes of the potential negative external costs of each. You tell me.

12 Responses to “You Surely Do Not Need an ID to Read This Site”

  1. ZT says:

    “Perhaps the answer is simply about the differing magnitudes of the potential negative external costs of each. You tell me.”

    Let’s be good econ students and think about this *marginally.* I think that’s where the key difference is.

    Elections are a public good. The most valuable form of this good is an unbiased one. (Yes, I know you hate voting– please bear with me nonetheless.) If an election is manipulated by even a small amount, its legitimacy suffers significantly. (Even if you think democracy is sh**, you’ve got to believe that biased democracy is even more sh**.) Look how relatively small de jure restrictions on voting rights were able to screw blacks in the South. Gerrymandering and other effects magnify small differences. We know that political campaigns from both parties deceive voters about what the legal requirements are whenever it’s too their advantage. If it’s $5 (equating time with money) harder to vote, and that burden is distributed unevenly, that’s not an average of a $5 loss per voter. That’s a loss of $5 per voter plus each district resident*Utility(election legitimacy.)

    So let’s compare this marginal cost to the marginal benefit. What marginal benefit? There is no empirical evidence of fraud on any significant scale. Moreover, even if there was fraud, there’s no evidence that it disproportionately favors one side or the other.

    Guns, on the other hand, are not. There is a net negative externality according to the preponderance of the empirical evidence. I’m not saying that’s a slam-dunk argument for banning guns (there are substantial private benefits to owning a gun as well as rights-based arguments) but it’s something to consider. Furthermore, let’s break down the private benefits, public benefits, and public costs of guns:

    Positive externalities:
    1. Responsible hunting (I come from a part of PA where white-tailed deer are a genuine menace)
    2. Crime reduction (It’s probably insignificant compared to other effects, but I’ll put it here for the sake of argument)
    3. A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.

    Private benefits:
    1. Crime reduction (self defense)
    2. Responsible hunting
    3. Fun

    Negative externalities:
    1. Committing crimes
    2. Accidents

    What do all the positive externalities and private benefits have in common? With the possible exception of fun, they’re not something you do overnight. Greater regulation/background checks have a small impact on your utility. It’s not time dependent– if you need your new gun and you need it *now,* you aren’t a seasoned hunter, you don’t know much about self defense, and you certainly aren’t part of the Militia.

    What about the negative externality? It is time dependent. Criminals who want to commit crimes of passion/opportunistic guns want them quickly. The bigger problem is straw-salesmen who buy loads of guns and resell them because there are no waiting periods or monthly quotas. The marginal utility of an additional gun per month to a legitimate gun owner (as Wayne LaPierre would say, a “good guy”) is diminishing. Not so for a “bad guy,” or at least, not nearly as much so. The same goes for gun accidents– people who aren’t willing to wait probably aren’t very responsible.

    • jb says:

      “There is no empirical evidence of fraud on any significant scale.” But it would seem that the magnitude of scale to justify voter ID would face a very low threshhold if it is the case that “If an election is manipulated by even a small amount, its legitimacy suffers significantly”. After all manipulation can result no just from”small de jure restrictions” on legitimate voters but from voters who vote fraudulently. As we know, it is hard to explain why anyone votes to begin with given the virtual certainty that their vote will not make a difference, so it would not take much for honest voters to be discouraged from voting by even a “small” amount of fraud (e.g. dead guys voting).

      • ZT says:

        Well that’s true– if fraud did outweigh the costs of voter ID, then voter ID would probably make sense as a policy. It’s just that while the costs of voter ID are small, the costs from actual voter fraud appears orders of magnitudes smaller. I’d argue, though, that fraud via biased institutions is a lot more worrisome than the potential for unrecorded individual fraud. Even if that weren’t the case, that would mean both positive and negative voting externalities from voting are equally susceptible to small changes in the rules. That’s different from the situation with gun rights, where the negative externalities are clearly a lot more sensitive to small increases in regulation than the benefits are.

        I’m not sure why the potential for others’ votes counting extra would decrease the motivation to vote. It could motivate people more, or it could have little effect. (If 5% of others’ votes are counted double, that only dilutes my vote by about 5%.) Certainly both parties exploit existing loopholes, which could even things out. Voter ID laws have the potential to tilt the entire playing field in one direction, as opposed to making it equally easy for both sides to play dirty.

    • jb says:

      Also, let’s consider the statement that “relatively small de jure restrictions on voting rights were able to screw blacks in the South.” Presumably you are referring to poll taxes, literacy tests and the like. Those strike me as far more onerous and restrictive than simply having to show a photo ID to demonstrate that you are who you claim to be.

      There is in fact evidence that in Georgia, when voter ID laws were implemented, that turnout by blacks actually increased, a demonstrable marginal benefit assuming that larger voter turnout is the objective. One explanation is that voter ID improved voters perceptions of election legitimacy.

      • ZT says:

        I’m not sure that they are. Those taxes were pretty small in absolute terms. And– unlike taxes– the burden to get an ID doesn’t fall equally on the population.

        I’m receptive to the argument that voter ID laws don’t actually have a significant effect in real life, but I still think that’s a happy accident, and the burden should be on the proponents of such laws to prove that there’s a problem first. And I don’t think numbers from one election are enough, but at some point there’ll be enough data for an actual controlled study. Also, it appears that Heritage is playing games by showing absolute numbers instead of percentages: The proportion of hispanics who voted actually decreased. http://www.brennancenter.org/blog/analyzing-minority-turnout-after-voter-id

        • jb says:

          Well we just disagree. It just seems silly to me that the “burden” should not be on anyone who wants to vote to simply prove that they are who they say they are. Do you really think anybody who can fog a mirror (felons, illegal immigrants, people who have voted already) should be able to show up and vote unless someone can prove they are INeligible? I am also unclear as to why elections should be considered a public good.

  2. Speedmaster says:

    And I also can’t buy a single beer or board a place without ID.

  3. Speedmaster says:

    And I saw this on Twitter a while back:
    “Those that want to ban guns are the first to use guns to take them away.”

  4. Harry says:

    I got your test, Alex.i had problems getting on TUW last year when I had a non-upgraded iPhone 3 with the old operating system, and I think WordPress may have had a hacking problem, the elections drawing near. Maybe Obama will buy you an iPhone 5, free broadband, and a router. Maybe you could get a $500 million loan, too, to make electric cars. Put Wintercow on the payroll as CFO, with a golden parachute.

  5. Harry says:

    Wintercow asked about the contradiction of principles, cleverly not weighing in on either side.

    Regarding security, we are obliged for civility to provide an email addy to make a comment on this great blog. Doing this is not the same as providing the social security numbers of your whole family, who in turn would be wiped out by a hacker. I assume that Wintercow could nuke me from his site.

    Even though cynics, and WC and I are often cynical, think our vote means little, in some close elections, some local, some statewide, it means a lot. In Minnesota a few years ago Al Franken won when votes were discovered in the Mesabi range, along with who knows how many votes of students from New York who also voted for Jerry Nadler, and Franken, my name is Al Franken, won by a few hundred votes.

    Meanwhile there is Acorn, which deliberately signs up dead voters and live voters for whom they cast votes. There are Philadelphia wards where hundreds of votes are cast before the polls open, in alphabetical order. Every bit of this is evil.

    Show me a peoples’ democratic republic and this goes on all the time, where some get more votes than others, Once you accept the premise that corruption serves equality of result, you are cooked.

  6. chuck martel says:

    What’s the real benefit of background checks? Even people that fail a background check failed one for the first time. Everybody that’s ever done anything has done it for the first time. On the other hand, what logic says that someone that fails a background check will ever perform the act that caused that failure again? What would Thomas Szasz have to say about background check failure? And, if a person is convicted of a felony, they are automatic background check failures. In other words, their punishment is permanent. A fifteen-year old kid can be convicted of sexual assault that will make require him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. I would suggest that he join a gang of real desperados since he’s considered one.

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