Thursday, January 12, 2006

Chris Rock, Economist

I was on a plane flight coming back from the annual meeting of the AEA (the American Economic Association) and the on-flight entertainment included a famous clip from comedian Chris Rock:
And everybody's talking about gun control, got to get rid of the guns...You don't need no gun control. You know what you need?

We need some bullet control.

Man, we need to control the bullets, that's right. I think all bullets should cost $5,000. $5,000 for a bullet. You know why? 'Cause if a bullet costs $5,000 there'd be no more innocent bystanders.

That'd be it. Every time someone gets shot, people will be like, “Damn, he must have did something...”

People would think before they killed somebody, if a bullet cost $5,000. “Man, I would blow your $!#@#$ head off, if I could afford it. I'm gonna get me another job, I'm gonna start saving some money... and you're a dead man. You better hope I can't get no bullets on layaway.”
The point of the routine--and it's one that comes up over and over again in economics--is that public policy objectives (like reducing the number of people killed by guns each year) can be achieved by manipulating the incentives people face. Furthermore, this method might be more effective than other policy instruments--for example, imposing a 48-hour waiting period on purchasing a handgun.

Can you try to use an economic model to formalize his argument? Here are some hints to get you going.

For simplicity, let's initially suppose that there is a market for killing people, in which the buyers are people with grievances and the sellers are professional assassins. These assassins need guns and bullets to do their work.

1. Consider the cost function for a single assassin (a firm). Is the cost of a gun a fixed or marginal cost? How would a 48-hour waiting period to buy a handgun affect the supply curve in the market for killings?

2. Again consider the cost function for a firm. Is the cost of bullets a fixed or marginal cost? How would a $5,000 per bullet tax affect the supply curve in the market for killings?While this is an outlandish example, it does shed some light on the incentives that people face, and how those incentives can be used to affect behavior. What other policy goals might be reached by changing incentives?


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