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Archive for June 28th, 2010

I’m somewhat conflicted by this BBC story from New Zealand. I want prison to be a miserable experience so that there is a strong deterrent effect. Yet anything that keeps prisoners calm is presumably good for prison management. The guy who sent me this story included a comment that a smoking ban will increase the lifespan of prisoners and that will increase the burden on taxpayers (at least for those serving life sentences). I’m enough of a budget geek that this is a compelling argument for me. Give them all unfiltered cigarettes! (except, of course, the ones in jail for victimless crimes, all of whom should be immediately released).
New Zealand is to ban smoking throughout the country’s prisons from 1 July 2011, Corrections Minister Judith Collins has announced. The announcement has prompted concerns that violence in prisons could increase if prisoners are denied tobacco. But Ms Collins dismissed the warnings and said high levels of smoking were a risk to staff and prisoners. About 5,700 prisoners – two-thirds of the current total in New Zealand prisons – are smokers. …Former inmate Shenelle Ngatai told TVNZ that cigarettes were like gold in prisons, where they are used as currency. She also said that jails would become more corrupt if cigarettes were taken off prisoners. …Denying inmates their “fix” would lead to an increase in violence between desperate prisoners, she added. Human Rights lawyer Michael Bott agreed that the ban would cause more problems than it might solve. “They are going to be very frustrated, very dangerous; it’s a toxic dangerous environment, made even worse by such foolishness as this,” he told 3News in New Zealand. However, Ms Collins insists that the smoking ban will have other advantages. It would make it easier to put more than one prisoner in each cell, she said, and reduce the number of prison officers suing the government for being exposed to second-hand smoke.

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John Lott is one of America’s leading scholars of gun rights and the 2nd Amendment. His Foxnews.com column explains today’s ruling in favor of the Constitution and explains how the 2008 Heller decision led to less murder in Washington, DC.
With another closely decided 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled today that state governments are not able to ban most Americans from owning most types of handguns. The court ruled that firearms are “essential for self-defense.” The court found that if the Second Amendment indeed protects an individual right to own a gun, the notion that the government can’t ban all handguns is the minimum protection the Constitution can offer. …When the “Heller” decision was handed down in 2008 striking down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban and gunlock regulations, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley predicted disaster. He said that overturning the gun ban was “a very frightening decision” and predicted more deaths along with Wild West-style shootouts and that people “are going to take a gun and they are going to end their lives in a family dispute.” Washington’s Mayor Adrian Fenty similarly warned: “More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence.” Yet, Armageddon never arrived. Washington’s murder rate has plummeted — falling by 25 percent in 2009 alone. This compares with a national drop of only 7 percent last year. And D.C.’s drop has continued this year. Comparing Washington’s crime rates from January 1 to June 17 of this year to the same period in 2008, shows a 34 percent drop in murder. This drop puts D.C.’s murder rate back to where it was before the 1977 handgun ban. Indeed, the murder rate is as low as was before 1967. Other gun crimes have also fallen in Washington. While robberies without guns fell by 7 percent, robberies with gun fell by over 14 percent. Assaults with weapons other than guns fell by 7, but assaults using guns fell by over 20 percent. …Neither the latest justice, Sonia Sotomayor nor the next potential justice, Elena Kagan are sympathetic to an individual’s right to self-defense.

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In his Washington Post column discussing a crisis of confidence among economists, Robert Samuelson correctly notes that Keynesians don’t seem to have the right answers. But he concludes that other schools of thought are similarly befuddled by current events. What he writes is not terribly objectionable, but it’s almost as if he thinks the fiscal debate in the economics profession is limited to the spend-now-and-forever Keynesians and the all-that-matters-is-the-budget-deficit proponents of “austerity” (which often is just an excuse to raise taxes, as I explain here). I gather Samuelson’s not familiar with the Austrian theory developed by scholars such as Mises and Hayek. Unlike the Keynesians and the crowd at the IMF, the Austrian school is not baffled by world events. The Austrians are not so foolish as to think they can predict the economy’s short-term fluctuations, but they were the ones who correctly warned against the intervention and spending that created the current mess and they can take a certain grim satisfaction about being proven correct. And they have the only intelligent prescription for what should be done now – namely, that politicians should get out of the way. After all, the crowd in Washington created the mess by doing too much and doing more of the same bad policies will – at best – further reduce the economy’s long-term prosperity.
 
Economics has become the shaky science; its intellectual chaos provides context for today’s policy disputes at home and abroad. Consider the matter of budgets. Would bigger deficits stimulate the economy and create jobs, as standard Keynesianism suggests? Or do exploding government debts threaten another financial crisis? The Keynesian logic seems airtight. If consumer and business spending is weak, government raises demand through tax cuts or spending increases. But in practice, governments’ high debts impose financial and psychological limits. …There’s a tug of war between the stimulus of bigger deficits and the fears inspired by bigger deficits. …The disconnect between theory and reality seems ominous. The response to the initial crisis was to throw money at it — to lower interest rates and expand budget deficits. But with interest rates now low and deficits high, what happens if there’s another crisis?

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