Please Don't Use 'Gun-Industry Job Creation' to Defend the 2nd Amendment
Some who argue against stronger gun control laws cite the Second Amendment. Some cite related libertarian concerns about restrictions on individuals. But a commentator and television host recently made what is perhaps the most absurd argument against gun control – that it will reduce jobs. Let’s take that right off the table. The purpose of jobs is to enhance our quality of life, not as a form of make-work.
In a recent tweet, Headline News host S.E. Cupp tried – and failed – to rebut the argument that lax gun laws were based on gun manufacturers’ desire for profit. As she put it: “The firearms industry has created 91,000 jobs over the past five years. That’s people, not profits.”
What she didn’t mention is that over the same period of time, about twice that many Americans died of gunshot wounds – including homicide, suicide, and accidents. Actually, it could be argued that the prevalence of guns in U.S. society creates far more jobs than Cupp says – if one includes funeral directors, hospital employees, grief counsellors and physical therapists. If all one focuses on is how many jobs are created, then we should be embracing worldwide pandemics, and welcoming natural disasters. They all provide jobs for somebody. But at what overall cost – both to quality of life and standard of living?
Of course, turning to the number of jobs an activity generates as a decisive argument is not the exclusive preserve of television hosts. In fact, it is the go-to argument for most politicians. That is why so many argue the need to save the coal industry – despite the fact that it is costlier and less efficient than natural gas and, increasingly, renewables. That is why so many politicians measure trade agreements – pro or con – by the number of exports they might generate. Exporting is a great thing, but the biggest advantage free trade gives us isn’t the ability to export so much as the ability to import. That brings down costs – both for consumers and intermediate producers. It is the fear of imports that drives domestic producers to compete more efficiently. Importing enhances specialization, and increases dissemination of information about new production methods and technologies.
Nonetheless, many politicians and commentators try to ask of every development: Will it create or reduce jobs? What they should be asking is: Will it create or diminish wealth, improve the standard of living, and increase quality of life? We do not live to work; we work to live.
In the 19th century, before the spread of electricity, cities used to hire people to go to every street lamp and light it in the evening. Electricity and computer systems eliminated those jobs – are we better or worse off? About 100 years ago, there were about 100,000 blacksmiths across the United States. Now, there are close to none – are we better or worse off?
Jobs are important – but mostly as a means of creating wealth, not as a way of spreading it. In fact, falling back on the argument that we need to create or protect jobs simply to provide people with a paycheck is not just economically backward, it represents a low regard for the economic potential of human beings. Imagine the economy as a balance sheet. Some feel jobs should be listed as an asset, which inherently means that people are a liability. We need enough assets (jobs) to cover our liabilities (people). In fact, it’s the other way around: People are our greatest asset; jobs are just tasks that need to be performed. And just like your to-do list, when a task is eliminated that does not leave you twiddling your thumbs. Rather, you take on new tasks. Similarly, when jobs are reduced or eliminated, that frees up labor and capital for other uses. When farming became mechanized it freed up millions to perform other jobs. When railroads were replaced as the primary means of transportation, it freed up millions more. And despite these improved technologies that make many jobs redundant, more people are working than ever – and living standards are higher than ever.
Cupp argues that 91,000 jobs is “people, not profits.” In fact, it is jobs, not people. Because people are just as liable to benefit when some jobs are eliminated, as they are when jobs are protected.
Regardless of your view on gun control, one argument that shouldn’t be taken into account is the number of jobs that may be shed. We don’t advance as a society by clinging to jobs. We advance by creating new ones.