alcohol barrel basement beer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Introduction:

 

There is a tendency to assume that regulation is implemented for the betterment of society. Consumer protection measures and other regulations are seen as necessary for the common good. Safety laws typically require amendments to product design which would result in costly alterations. Ironically, there are some unlikely beneficiaries of safety regulations.

As economist Bruce Yandle came to find out while working as for the Federal Trade Commission.  To his surprise, many industry representatives actually were on board with these regulations. They were even concerned that that government agencies would abolish these laws. Yandle found this to be quite counter-intuitive many safety regulations impede efficiency (Yandle, 1983, p.2) [1]. The true benefit of such restrictions was the reduction in competition (Yandle, 1983, p.2) [2]. Larger corporations would be able to financially withstand the new safety requirements.  For smaller companies, these restrictions operate as a barrier to entry. Regulations can put severe hardships on small businesses that have a cartelization effect [3]. Eliminating competition without even violating the Sherman Antitrust or the Clayton Act.

These consequences are the byproduct of what Dr. Yandle has dubbed the Bootleggers and Baptists effect.  It is the phenomenon in public policy where improbable coalitions are formed to achieve the same goal. This analogy is drawn from Baptists wanting to prohibit liquor sales on Sundays for moral reasons. The bootleggers in tandem supporting this restriction due the eliminating the competition of legitimately licensed bars and liquor stores (Yandle, 1983, P. 2-3) [4]. Bootleggers are able to advocate for their own self-interest under the aegis of the moral concerns of the Baptists. Forming a dynamic where moral concerns provide cover for those who can enrich themselves. As the Bootleggers are criminals and laws are not a deterrent for them. A law banning liquor sales on Sundays will deter law-abiding alcohol vendors. Leading to us to question who the true beneficiaries are of any zealously petitioned regulation.

 

This essay will be the first installment of a continuous series of real-life applications of this theory. Considering the wide breadth of practical examples there will be many essays to come. The first essay will be dedicated to the impact of the 1968 Gun Control act.

 

Who are the Baptists and who are the Bootleggers:

Baptists: Gun control Baptists

Bootleggers: Domestic gun manufacturers

 

Parameters of the 1968 Gun Control Act: 

This specific piece of gun control legislation was popularly believed to be in direct reaction to the civil unrest of the turbulent 1960s. Political press mounted after the assassinations of high profile political figures. Including president John F. Kennedy and  civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr [5]. The fervor to pass gun control laws only was compounded by a series of inner-city riots that occurred throughout the course of the decade [6]. Some commentators have even hinted towards gun control measures in the 1960’s being racial bias [7]. More extreme civil rights advocates such as the Black Panthers were well known for regularly carrying semi-automatic rifles.

 

Slain public figures and the raucous carnage of urban riots superficially like an appropriate context for restrictions on gun ownership. After all, the outcry for gun control laws came out of concern for the safety of the public. However, was this 1968 law evenly applied to all gun makers and vendors? Not exactly. The legislation tended to skew in favor of domestic gun manufactures. Dating back to the late-1950’s domestic gun companies in New England’s “gun valley” expressed to local politicians concerns over foreign competition (Newhard, 2015, P.2) [8]. Blatantly exposing the desire stifle competition from foreign producers. Much of the gun control rhetoric of the 1960s was pointed at imported guns. The emphasis that Lee Harvey used an Italian mail-order purchased rifle to kill JFK (Newhard, 2015, P.4) [12]. Complaints of “surging” numbers of cheap guns being imported into the United States. Blurring the line between genuine concern for public safety and protectionism.

 

Beyond the salient nature of the protectionist proclivities of U.S. gun makers, there is also some evidence that the legislation was disproportionately angled at foreign gun producers. It can be argued that there were some asymmetries the parameters of enforcement in the 1968 bill. Restrictions were established for vendor licensing, mail-order arms purchases, and the sale and transportation of imported weapons (p.4-8) [9]. Heavier licensing fees were directed at mail-order gun vendors (Newhard, 2015, P.2) [10]. Many may argue that placing such restrictions on mail-order sales were worth the price of keeping firearms out of the hands of children. Such a stance ignores the implicit benefit of domestic producers. Mail-order prior to the internet was the main avenue for obtaining European rifles and pistols. Making more difficult to purchase anything from Beretta but guns from Ruger could easily still be bought brick and mortar.

 

It can be speculated that shortly after the bill was signed that there may have been deliberate delays on the approvals of gun importation licenses. The bill was signed into effect in October 1968  and gun dealers had a deadline of December 15th (Newhard, 2015, P.5)[11]. Anyone versed in economic-behavioral patterns or just plain common sense could foresee the litany of vendors racing to get their licenses prior to the law passing. Despite the upsurge in requests for licenses, government officials dragged their heels when it came to approving them. It was suggested at the time to be a means of preventing a “flood of foreign handguns” into the country prior to the enactment of the new law. This circuitous form of bureaucratic activism did more to hurt small firearms dealers than did promote public safety.  Small-time foreign gun dealers found it easier to stop selling guns than continue to comply with the new laws (Newhard, 2015, P.4) [13].

 

Final Thoughts on the Dynamics of this B&B Dynamic:

This example is a classic example of ignoring the incentives of invested interests.  I would argue that this is a defining feature of most Baptists and Bootleggers relationships. On one side you have the advocates compelled by moral convictions. Who unwittingly provides the veiling moral cover for the self-interested bootleggers. If the bootleggers ever directly advocated for the policies that benefited them without the moral smokescreen they would be derided by the average voter.  Doing so under the guise of the common good the story changes.

The example of the 1968 Gun Control Act touches upon a point made by Bruce Yandle back in 1983, there is a demand for regulation. There is an economic dimension to the supply and demand of regulation produced by the government. When there is a profound increase in market competition many major companies favor regulation. Yandle cites technological changes, demographic changes, significant changes in factor costs, and new information as being factors swaying the demand for regulation (Yandle, 1983, p.3-4) [14]. Often there are anti-competitive consequences of imposing new safety regulations. Time and money are required to adapt business practices to the contingencies of compliance. This will often be devasting to small businesses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Bootleggers & Baptists- Part I- Gun Control Act of 1968

    1. Thank you. This will be an ongoing series. I was really inspired by the concept. I have too agree I really like the paper. Clear, direct, and creative.

      I have only recently came across yandle’s paper. My interest in political economy was more self-directed ( I never took an economics class in college). I have slowing accumulating more pieces to the puzzle.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that the “process of discovery” (to paraphrase the great Karl Popper) is a laborious and unpredictable one. For my part, I re-discovered Yandle’s paper several years ago at a workshop given by our mutual friend and public choice theorist Todd Zwyicki. Now, everytime someone proposes a new piece of legislation, I always apply the Yandle Test: who are the Baptists (the moral do-gooders or what I have called in a different context, “ideological rent-seekers”) and who are the Bootleggers (the economic interests who stand to benefit if the law is enacted)?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Self-discovery has brought me down some interesting philosophical, theoretical , and ideological avenues.

          I glad that professor Zwyicki has assisted in renewing your interest in the theory. It is compelling in the sense that it is intuitive and counterintuitive simultaneously.

          I think most people question the motives driving the political process. Until, a law legislated that the individual perceives that it is in their best interest. For example, few people question the rationale behind a regulation imposed in the name of safety. It is the labeled as being just plain common sense. However, this is a superficial way of looking at the situation.

          It is wise to step back and question who the covert beneficiary is behind the law. To apply that same incredulity leveled at politicians and direct it at advocacy groups ( interest groups , lobbyists).

          It amazes me how many safety regulations that pass are skewed towards industry insiders. I wouldn’t be surprised if safety regulations have indirectly accounted for more antitrust exceptions than any formally sanctioned.

          A regulation may not be in place for the right reasons. Also, it may not even perform the function it is purported to do. Then again it that is a while other issue.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Excellent points. The classic formulation of the question — “Cui bono?” — shows us the wisdom of the ancients. What I like about Yandle’s contribution to politics is that the answer to “Cui bono?” can consist of both “ideological rent-seekers” (e.g. Baptists) as well as traditional economic rent-seekers (e.g. Bootleggers) and the motives of the latter part of the coalition are not so public-spirited.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Yandle certainly addresses who benefits. Now this might be fairly obvious and I am merely paraphrasing Yandle, however, it appears as if the ideological rent seekers provide cover to the economic beneficiaries.

          Without the guise of moral imperative obscuring the economic incentives. The bootleggers would not be nearly as successful. The general public tends to be very skeptical of those motivated by the potential of high profit margins. Making the Baptists the better spokespeople for any given cause.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Haven’t read your paper yet. Work has been crazy. It sounds interesting.

      I take issue with academic journals refusing to publish it. After all, you are a social scientist and scientists need to acknowledge their findings regardless of whether the results are controversial. Granted , I know you are a lawyer by trade. Those studying Jurisprudence are most certainly social scientists. It isn’t an isolated discipline. It intersects with economics, philosophy and so much more.

      I look forward to reading it with an open mind. It’s a shame that there is this variety of censorship impacting serious research.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I read it. I can see how someone who is motivated by ideology or emotion could misinterpret your paper.

      Psychological abuse is much more difficult to prove than physical abuse ( as you mentioned in the paper). The waters are muddied by the layer of subjectivity potentially distorting the perception of abuse. Depending on how you frame it a minor disagreement could amount to abuse. Something that any honest person would agree is an overreaction.

      Due to the hearsay context of mental abuse, it makes the perfect strategical tool to level the playing field. Because of the high costs of pair bonding there is a lot to lose. A jilted lover may wanting to torch the bridge to spite their partner makes sense. The extensive emotional , temporal, monetary, biological investments appear to have been squandered. She invested all of those resources (some of which are intangible) for him to merely run off with Sally.

      I have also witnessed custody disputes being weaponized in a similar manner. Use the kids as collateral to punish the ex-spouse for cheating , pursuing divorce , etc. The unfortunate facts are laws designed to protect women can also be used as means of institutional vengeance.

      Also, nice work on coining “ideological rent-seeking”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! And yes, child custody battles are a paradigmatic example of the strategic use of family law. Law professors (myself included) spend a lot of our time dreaming of the perfect set of rules, but those rules are going to be gamed!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Considering the flaws of human nature I don’t think that we can create rules that can’t be exploited. Someone can always manipulate a loophole. The rule no longer functions as intended. However, it is laudable goal to attempt to perfect rules that protect property and validate contract enforcement.

          When rules become arbitrary , enforce ordinances that criminalized “ victimless crimes”, or otherwise infringe upon harmless personal interests they become unjust. However, I believe you and I are on the same page.

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.