Book Review: Dr. John R. Lott's ''Freedomnomics''

By Chad D. Baus

For most firearms enthusiasts, the name John Lott is synonymous with one thing: More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws.

When that book hit the market in 1998, it quickly became recognized as what is perhaps the best critique of gun control ever written.

Having endured a term and a half of what was possibly the most anti-gun presidential administrations in history, gun owners at long last could point to a high-profile, scientific treatise based on data for all 3,054 counties in the United States during 18 years from 1977 to 1994. Lott had published data proving what they had instinctively known all along - that states with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest drops in violent crimes, and that concealed handgun laws reduce violent crime.

Since that best-seller, Lott, who earned his Ph.D. in economics from UCLA in 1984, hasn't failed to deliver further red meat to his new pro-gun fan base. Released in 2003, The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong proves that assault weapons bans and "one-gun-a-month" laws actually increase crime, details flaws contained in "gun-free school zones" and "safe storage" laws, and provides stark evidence of anti-gun bias and selective reporting of acts of self-defense by the media.

And just last year, Lott authored Straight Shooting: Firearms, Economics and Public Policy.

There can be no minimizing the significance Dr. Lott's research has had on the fight to improve and defend gun rights in America. But in his latest book, Dr. Lott proves that he has even more to offer to our country.

The book Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't, has the potential to impact our country in more powerful ways than More Guns, Less Crime ever did.

Consider some of John Lott's more explosive findings:

  • Legalized abortion actually leads to more crime.
  • Price discrimination by drug companies actually saves more lives.
  • Honesty in business leads to more profits.

    Freedomnomics not only shows how free markets really work, but proves that when it comes to promoting prosperity and economic justice, nothing works better.

    "Economic, criminal and political policies work best when they direct individuals' natural motivations toward a common good. These policies allow people the freedom to profit from their own work and create meaningful disincentives to committing crimes. Because a modern economy is so complex, those tasked with devising regulations to govern it frequently create more problems than they solve," Lott explains.

    Politically active gun owners will enjoy Freedomnomics' examination of how campaign finance restrictions keep incumbents in power, how secret ballots decrease voter turnout, and how women's suffrage led to a massive increase in the size of government. Lott also examines the motives behind Democrats' recent efforts to restore voting rights to former prisoners: namely that "it looks as if virtually all felons are Democrats."

    Also striking is the section revealing why affirmative action in police departments leads to higher crime rates, and how reduced physical strength standards for new police hires increase accidental shootings by police.

    Fans of Lott's previous work on gun control laws will enjoy Freedomnomics for its discussion on gunlocks and safe-storage laws:

      It seems in disputable that requiring gun locks on handguns saves lives. President Bush clearly thinks so - although he may be perceived as a trigger-happy Texan cowboy, his administration distributed more than 32 million gunlocks by the end of 2005. Furthermore, Bush approved the 2005 federal legislation helping to protect gun makes from reckless lawsuits, a bill that also required that all handguns be sold with locks. State officials are increasingly adopting this view - eighteen states now impose criminal penalties on individuals whose guns are used improperly by juveniles. Unfortunately, all these efforts are counter-productive because gunlocks and [safe]-storage laws cause more deaths than they prevent. (emphasis added)

    In Freedomnomics, John Lott credits the death penalty's deterrent effect as one of the most important factors (along with right-to-carry laws) in driving down crime rates in the 1990s:

      The vast majority of recent scholarly research confirms this deterrent effect. Generally, studies found that each execution saved the lives of roughly fifteen to eighteen potential murder victims. Overall, the rise in executions during the 1990s accounts for about 12 to 14 percent of the overall drop in murders.

    There is much more to Freedomnomics than Crime and Punishment, and the following are teasers for some of the discussions which make the book a must-read:

  • "For every Enron, there are thousands of companies of all sized in America that play by the rules...there is a reason why gas prices spike even before a natural disaster hits, why monopolies exist in our economy, and why liquor is so expensive at bars and restaurants. The answer is a little more complex than "corporate greed," but all these examples are really just instances of a free market acting efficiently."
  • "Many people cite corporate greed of monopoloy power as the only possible explanation why gas prices began rising in even before Hurricane Katrina hit land and disrupted oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. After all, why should prices at the pump increase before the company's costs have gone up? ...Let's consider the more difficult questions. Look at the motivations of individual consumers and speculators. If a powerful hurricane is forced to hit...people expect that has prices are going to rise after the storm hits, then the difference in the price today and the expected post-hurricane prices creates the opportunity for consumers to save money today...Speculators do the same thing. They profit by buying gas when it is cheap and selling it for a higher value after the hurricane. What's more, by doing so, these speculators are performing a valuable economic service - they are removing has from the market at a time when it's plentiful and adding it at a time of shortage later."
  • "Gas isn't the only product facing constant calls for price controls. The current debate over pharmaceuticals is another example. This industry is subject to price controls in every industrialized country in the world except for the United States. For years Americans have enviously eyed cheap drugs just over the border in Canada. ...U.S.-based drug companies spend vast sums to develop new drugs, and Americans pay high prices for them. ...Americans who comprise just 5 percent of the world's population, account for 50 percent of the world's spending on drugs. In effect the U.S. is underwriting the cost of a critical chunk of the world's R & D on drugs. ...Allowing price controlled drugs to be sold in the U.S. would instantly lower the price of drugs, causing pharmaceutical companies to cut back on inventing new medicines."
  • "In the free market, those who only see the incentives of professionals and corporations to rip off their consumers are only considering one type of incentive. They miss the complex and fascinating process of how markets tend to evolve to solve cheating problems without government intervention. ...The free market isn't perfect, but that isn't the right standard by which to judge it. The government is hardly perfect either. Markets not only increase our wealth, they also increase our freedom. And so long as people have the freedom to act on their own incentives, the U.S. economy will continue to embody the best, most creative, and - I would dare to say - the most honest aspects of our society."

    Freedomnomics has something for just about everyone. It addresses some of the most debated issues of our time in a manner that is understandable, even when it turns conventional wisdom on its head - which is just about every page.

    In the words of Edwin Meese III, former U.S. attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, "This book is essential to those who seek to understand liberty." The newly-released book recently reached #63 on the best seller list. Let's help push it to the top!

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