Cutting Through the Fog

By David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant & Joanne D. Eisen

America's 1st Freedom, January 2007. This article is excerpted from Does the Right to Bear Arms Impede or Promote Economic Development? 6 Engage 85 (2005, issue 1)(journal of The Federalist Society). PDF version. HTML version.

Anyone who has visited the United Nations and seen the sculpture on the outside pavilion of a revolver with its barrel twisted into a knot immediately understands that the U.N. is a fervent enemy of self-defense rights.

In order to justify arms confiscation, the U.N. and its allies have taken up yet another misguided battle cry--the claim that firearms in civilian hands impede economic development.

According to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "These weapons of personal destruction impair economic and social progress and impede our best development efforts." The global media dutifully wring their hands about what Africa News calls "the catastrophic costs to social and economic development of the deadly trade in small arms."

At the simplest level, there is an obvious connection between SALW (small arms and light weapons) and underdevelopment: Firearms are among the small arms used in war.

Although wartime can be a period of economic development in countries that are producing goods for the war (as in the United States during World War II), it is rare for countries where combat is taking place to advance economically during the fighting. The costs of prosecuting war are high, and war resources would better serve in promoting human development. In addition, the costs of rebuilding damaged infrastructure are often high, as are the human losses.

However, the obvious fact that warfare impedes economic development during wartime does not mean that small arms per se impede economic development. Indeed, the history of the United States, Switzerland and Great Britain (during the Industrial Revolution), among other nations, shows that robust economic development and a strong right to arms are entirely compatible. The mass production of firearms, in fact, helped lead American business into the Industrial Revolution.

If it were true that small arms impede development, then a study of the data would show that development proceeded faster in the Third World before the proliferation of small arms than afterward. But the data, in fact, does not support the claim that guns harm economic development.

No one really disputes that, on a global scale, there was a huge increase in the availability of all small arms and light weapons (including firearms) after the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Gun prohibition activist and scholar Lora Lumpe explains: "Several trends in the 1990s gave prominence to the issue of gun-running. Newly opened borders, massive post-Cold War arms surpluses and the rapid expansion of free trade contributed to arms availability and the ease of smuggling."

Yet in 1961, long before the proliferation of weapons in Latin America, the region was failing to develop economically. That year, President John F. Kennedy created the Alliance for Progress, an assistance program for Latin America, in an attempt to jump-start the region's torpid economies.

American taxpayers spent billions and billions of dollars in the effort, but according to economists who studied the region, development was sluggish even after Kennedy's massive aid program was implemented.

Fact is, development failure in Latin America long preceded the proliferation of arms in that region. In sub-Saharan Africa, there was a similar pattern of failed development prior to the influx of firearms.

The 1980 Lagos Plan of Action observed that Africa had been economically stagnant for decades, ever since decolonization. "Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate, or satisfactory index of general well-being, in the past 20 years."

William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, and Ross Levine, professor with the Finance Department at the University of Minnesota, write, "Africa's economic history since 1960 fits the classical definition of tragedy: potential unfulfilled, with disastrous consequences."

If the hypothesis that firearms caused an impediment to development is accurate, then the economies in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa should have failed only after 1989, when firearms--especially automatic Kalashnikov rifles--started inundating those regions, not during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Blaming firearm ownership for economic development failure is just another tactic that Third World governments and the United Nations use to divert attention from their own responsibility for economic disaster.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the year 2002, infectious and parasitic diseases killed 11,122,131 people worldwide.

The economic impacts of widespread disease dwarf any economic effect from civilian possession of firearms.

The link between malaria and poverty is well established. The World Health Organization states that malaria is "a major constraint to economic development."

Researchers John Luke Gallup and Jeffrey D. Sachs reported, "Not only are malarial countries poor, but economic growth in malarial countries over the past quarter-century has been dismal.

Growth of income per capita from 1965 to 1990 for countries with severe malaria has been 0.4 percent per year, while average growth for other countries has been 2.3 percent, over five times higher … ."

Malaria infects up to a tenth of the world's population, who suffer 300 million to 500 million episodes each year. Malaria destroys much of the human capital necessary for economic growth.

Shockingly, the United Nations has taken a leading role in hindering the prevention of malaria by actively encouraging a worldwide ban on DDT. In addition, government officials in affected areas have hampered the distribution of anti-malarial mosquito bed nets, a measure proven to reduce occurrences of the disease.

For example, taxing the purchase of imported nets has, in some cases, doubled their cost--placing them beyond the means of many poor people. In Tanzania, a program to supply cheap nets to the poor was delayed as government officials fought over its administration; one can interpret the delay as choosing which official would be able to steal a share of the donated funds.

It is arguable that broad-spectrum use of DDT for agricultural purposes during the mid-20th century was harmful to the environment, but rather than limiting DDT use, the United Nations is actively encouraging a worldwide ban on DDT. Donald Roberts and his co-researchers demonstrated that there is a "powerful relationship between DDT-sprayed houses and malaria rates … When large numbers of houses are sprayed with DDT, malaria rates decline … ." They explain that there is a huge difference in safety between the spot use of DDT in homes and the previous indiscriminate use of the chemical in agriculture.

Currently, the United Nations and its gun-prohibition NGOs are trying to eliminate guns from civilian homes because of the danger that they supposedly cause to children.

In terms of the number of children killed, brain-damaged or crippled, however, malaria-bearing mosquitoes are a vastly greater threat to children of the world. Yet the United Nations, by promoting DDT prohibition, has deprived Third World families of a major tool they could use to protect children from malaria.

The European Union, which is also a major advocate for global gun bans, further intensifies the pressure on Third World nations by threatening to ban agricultural imports from countries that allow the use of DDT.

The callousness of the EU and U.N. anti-DDT campaign is almost unfathomable--the environmental risks of in-home spraying of DDT are slight; the devastation of malaria is enormous.

According to the WHO's statistics, malaria alone was responsible for 1,222,180 deaths in 2002; in some years, the annual figure is 3 million deaths. The World Health Organization reported that 1,098,999 of the deaths in 2002 were children under the age of five. In the last several decades, the number of deaths caused by the DDT ban may exceed even the number of deaths from genocide.

Niger Innis is the national chairman of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the son of NRA Board member and core founder Roy Innis. Along with Paul Driessen of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, core has been fighting very hard for the life-saving reintroduction of DDT in malarial regions.

Happily, CORE is making progress.

Uganda has announced that it will resume use of DDT, and the World Health Organization has acknowledged that the spraying of indoor walls with DDT is a good anti-malaria strategy. Opposition from many First World environmentalists, however, remains fierce, because they apparently consider preventing minuscule risks to Third World birds to be much more important than saving the lives of Third World children.

A similar pattern of economic devastation is associated with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As with malaria, much of the growth of the aids epidemic is due to government corruption, which has starved local communities of needed funds by siphoning off huge percentages of donated monies. For example, up to 30 percent of World Bank funds donated for AIDS drugs are stolen by corrupt government officials.

The prevalence of theft has created an atmosphere of mistrust among donors that has led to a reduction in funding.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), "Recent estimates indicate that the pandemic has already reduced national economic growth rates across Africa by 2 to 4 percent a year." Malaria has been retarding development for decades, and now AIDS is making things even worse.

In 2002, HIV/AIDS was responsible for 2,821,472 deaths, and more than 370,000 of the annual aids deaths occur in children under the age of five.

The most fundamental cause of underdevelopment is not privately owned firearms, but bad governance.

Zambia is an example of a country in which development should have been robust but was just the opposite, despite the absence of SALW and armed conflict, and despite relatively low violence rates. When Zambia achieved independence in 1964, there was reason for hope. Rich with copper deposits and a healthy agricultural sector, Zambia received $3.2 billion in development aid from the World Bank.

Zambia's people are now among the poorest in the world, because theft of the country's resources for personal and political gain by the country's leaders has greatly hindered development. The national government is plagued by more than 20,000 "ghosts"--people on the payroll who do not exist, and yet whose salaries are diverted to the ruling class.

Kenya, rich in natural resources, is another example of a country in which development should have proceeded robustly, but did not. Like Zambia, Kenya imposed centralized state planning under the pretext of efficiency and fairness. In practice, centralized control of the economy not only stifled business incentive, but became a tool of kleptocracy (a form of government that amounts to rule by thieves).

The BBC estimates that the cost of corruption in Kenya is $1 billion each year--nearly one-fourth of the country's annual budget. A survey by Transparency International found that an ordinary Kenyan must pay an average of 16 bribes every month just to carry on normal life.

Like Zambia, Kenya can hardly blame its four-decade development disaster on the civilian ownership of firearms. Rather, the kleptocratic government has actually promoted ethnic violence--because tribal conflicts distract the people from their justifiable anger at abusive, centralized state power.

Once known as "the jewel of Africa," Kenya is a current economic and crime disaster caused by four decades of tyranny. It was a mistake for the world diplomatic community, including the United Nations, to treat Kenyan Dictators Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, and Zambian Dictators Kenneth Kaunda and Frederick Chiluba, as if they were legitimate heads of state, when they were in truth nothing more than extraordinarily successful organized crime bosses. As St. Augustine asked, "If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?"

Even Annan admits, "Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development." Warfare and the proliferation of Kalashnikovs and other SALW are merely symptoms of the disease of bad governance.

Blaming the lack of development on the presence of small arms exacerbates the problem of poor governance because the focus on small arms helps bad governments distract attention from government policies (such as gross corruption and ethnic persecution) that actually do cause underdevelopment.

In fact, firearms in the hands of responsible citizens can sometimes be part of the solution to underdevelopment by providing victims of tyranny the means to remove harmful governments.

The U.N. and the rest of the global firearm prohibitionists should stop trying to disarm the victims of tyranny. It is long past time for the international community to return its attention away from civilian disarmament and toward the noble goals on which the U.N. was founded--the protection and advancement of human rights, including secure property rights, for everyone--in order to create conditions that optimize the potential for development of all the peoples and all their countries.

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