The answer to life, the universe and everything, including gun violence and world peace, is (once again) 42

Tyler Cowen notes that roughly 42% of all the guns in the world are owned by Americans. And America accounts for about 42% of global military spending. He then says something extremely interesting and provocative:

I see those two numbers, and their rough similarity, as the most neglected fact in current debates about gun control.

I see many people who want to lower or perhaps raise those numbers, but I don’t see enough people analyzing the two as an integrated whole.

I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts.  But I do often ask myself “should America be a less martial country in in its ideological orientation?”

That is, owning guns and policing the world (and occasionally invading it) are symptoms of something deeper. His diagnosis is a militaristic culture. I’m not sure that’s true, but I would be interested to read more.

If true, it begs the question of how martial cultures develop or change. Germany and Japan changed immensely, having followed the classic path of “decisive military defeat of your genocidal and megalomaniacal leaders.” Perhaps there is another way for the rest of us.

Update: Dan Drezner has a great reply. Read it.

15 thoughts on “The answer to life, the universe and everything, including gun violence and world peace, is (once again) 42

  1. As long as we’re looking at loosely correlated things, the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans (including “leaners”) is…drum roll please… 42%.

    (Measured last month – http://www.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx).

    I wouldn’t interpret these statistical coincidences as being indications of militarism per se—after all, a very small and shrinking portion of our country is actually connected to the military in any direct way—so much as the individualistic, me/us-first attitude that permeates much of conservatism. It’s the same thinking that promotes “stand your ground” laws, wants to drown the federal government in a bath tub, and resists affirmative action or anything else seen as a hand-out to a specific group.

    But the bigger question is: So what? How do you change that? And where I differ with Cowen is that I think specific policy issues (like gun control) is exactly the place to change that.

  2. A pet peeve from my intercollegiate parliamentary debate days: begging the question is a logical fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question), so “begs the question” doesn’t mean “X made me ask Y, which is an interesting question” (also see http://afterdeadline.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/begging-the-question-again/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0).

    I only bring it up because it’s incorrectly used here twice, first by Cowen, then by Blattman.

  3. Wow, 2 incorrect usages of ‘beg the question’ in one post! The pedant’s day is complete