Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fear Nation

"Danger! Danger! Danger!"
America, we have a problem. This is a problem that you won't find on the news. So if you wait for your favorite news channel to tell you what the problem is, you'll just grow old. And most likely scared. Either way they won't tell you not because they're hiding the problem, but because for the most part they haven't a clue. Yes, there's irony in there somewhere. But let me use one of the many recurring bad news subjects that they report about frequently, to find our problem.

In 2007, a Harvard Law article concluded that there was no proven correlation between gun control and murder or suicide. I'm surprised I have not heard the pro gun lobby promote the article more. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, here's my problem with the logic used by the authors of the study: one of their central arguments revolves around the United Kingdom, and the fact that the UK already had a relatively low gun death incidence before tight gun control laws. Therefore, the fact that after tight gun control they still have a low incidence compared to the US disproves a correlation. The problem with that logic is that it ignores a different kind of law: that of supply and demand.

The US has one of the least restrictive marketplaces in the developed world, something at least half of Americans see as a global competitive advantage. In many ways I believe it is a healthy competitive advantage. But I am also convinced that when you elevate any man-made system into demigod status you've just set it up for failure. There is a reason the American founding fathers set up a system of checks and balances: no one, not even the free market, should ever be above scrutiny.

So let's scrutinize the market for one moment: a basic marketing course teaches that to penetrate a market with as much of your product as possible you have to be able to touch at least one emotional trigger in your customer-buyer. One of the most common emotional triggers is fear. The business of fear is one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, but especially so in the more deregulated marketplaces. 

In case you're not familiar with emotional branding or fear-based selling, here is a short list of industries that thrive on it: insurance, pharmaceuticals, retirement / financial planning, alarm and security systems... you get the point. Now, to be clear: just because you work in any of those industries does not make you a bad person. In fact, a lot of good comes from those industries, no doubt. But just like all individuals are imperfect, so is the marketplace we create.

One more free-market dynamic before I tie it all together: private media cannot exist without advertising revenue. So for example: in America, if you frequent travel channels on television you will notice a lot of advertisement from airlines, hotels, and related travel products and services. And if you frequent news networks like FOX News and CNN, you will notice a major amount of advertisement from fear-promoted products and services. Firearm manufacturers don't advertise on mainstream TV in the US, but they benefit vicariously from 24-hour fear-based news programming. Without any significant restrictions, the average American can go from a FOX News Special Report to an AR-15 assault rifle in about an hour. 

If you follow the gun control debate in the US, you will notice that the pro gun lobby emphasizes the word "ban" over "control". You will also notice that what follows is a message of fear about freedom lost. In a highly deregulated marketplace, the result is highly predictable. So are firearm sales profits.

So what does any of that have to do with gun control in the UK and a Harvard University study? This: the UK has and always had more market restrictions than the US, and therefore the flooding of its marketplace with any product, including guns, has always been a much more difficult endeavor. All the government of the UK did years ago, as it realized that there was a real danger of its marketplace being flooded with firearms, was to preempt the move.

How is the UK market more restrictive than the US? Higher levels of government involvement, higher overall taxes, higher cost of living, higher cost of doing business, and a culture that has not embraced the marketing of fear as profusely as the US has. Yes, America: freedom does indeed have a price, and blood is not its only currency.

I think it's ironic that Harvard Law did not consult with its top-ranked business and economics school next door. Surely they would have been reminded that the laws of supply and demand almost always predetermine the laws of a government. Gridlocked gun control by itself will never work in the US. Only a paradigm shift collaboration between fair gun control and a mass detox program against a culture of fear-addiction will solve our problem.

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