NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

A modest proposal

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary school shoot­ings of Decem­ber 14th, many are call­ing for reform of gun con­trol laws, stronger gun con­trol laws, a re-intro­duc­tion of the assault weapons ban, and so forth.

These are wor­thy con­ver­sa­tions that should be had.

To them I would add anoth­er idea.

On Sat­ur­day, author Mau­reen John­son tweet­ed:

@maureenjohnson: Just a thought about teachers/school staff: I think a LOT of them would throw them­selves in the line of fire to save chil­dren.

I don’t doubt for a sec­ond she’s right. Do you? Con­trast that with what we pay to teach­ers for doing their job.

As a soci­ety, we have appar­ent­ly decid­ed that fos­ter­ing the future pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of future gen­er­a­tions is worth about $40,000 per year. I think that’s insult­ing­ly low, but that’s the sit­u­a­tion and I’m not here to take on the ques­tion of what qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion is real­ly worth.

But I also can’t help notic­ing that teacher con­tracts aren’t ever nego­ti­at­ed with the explic­it recog­ni­tion that teach­ers may at times be asked to lay down their lives for our chil­dren. At least, I have nev­er once heard of that hap­pen­ing. (If you have, leave a com­ment. I’d love to hear about it and what the out­come was.)

Yet clear­ly, as Columbine, Vir­ginia Tech, and Sandy Hook now show, teach­ers clear­ly deserve haz­ard pay.

I don’t mean that face­tious­ly at all. These are peo­ple who, although that isn’t what they were trained for at all, do at times make the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice for the sake of oth­er people’s chil­dren.

How can you put a price on that?

Set­ting sen­ti­ment aside, it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble to put a price on that. The only ques­tion is what’s that price, and how would we pay for it?

How much?

The ques­tion is essen­tial­ly “how much do you have to pay some­one to do a job that may get them killed?” For­tu­nate­ly, we have a good point of com­par­i­son: defense con­trac­tors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accord­ing to one study com­mis­sioned by the Aero­space Indus­tries Asso­ci­a­tion, the answer is about $80,000 per year.

Fig­ures vary—some less well sourced num­bers I found ranged as high as $100k for truck drivers—but $80k is a rea­son­able val­ue for this analy­sis. As a rough cal­cu­la­tion, teach­ers there­fore deserve an addi­tion­al forty grand in haz­ard pay.

Fig­ures from the 2000 cen­sus indi­cate there were 6.2 mil­lion teach­ers in the Unit­ed States. Mul­ti­ply by $40,000, and that’s two hun­dred and forty-eight bil­lion dol­lars. Almost a quar­ter of a tril­lion dol­lars. Fair enough.

How would we pay for it?

Well, since the haz­ard to teach­ers seems to come pri­mar­i­ly from guns, let’s ask the gun-sec­tor of the econ­o­my to pay for it.

The ratio­nale for this is sim­ple. Firearms, as a prod­uct cat­e­go­ry, induce a degree of harm on soci­ety as a whole. As we saw in Con­necti­cut, at times that harm is mon­strous. Yet the gun sec­tor is not required to make good on that harm in any way. The fact that the gun sec­tor is per­mit­ted to exter­nal­ize the true costs in blood and tears of their prod­ucts rep­re­sents an almost a quar­ter-tril­lion dol­lar annu­al sub­sidy, result­ing in gun prices that are far, far low­er than their true eco­nom­ic cost.

How much is that per gun? Well, exact annu­al gun sales fig­ures are hard to come by. The FBI doesn’t track gun pur­chas­es direct­ly, but only back­ground checks for gun pur­chas­es. Of those, there have been 16.8 mil­lion so far in 2012. Grant­ed, this is an imper­fect metric–not all back­ground checks result in an even­tu­al pur­chase, and con­verse­ly, one buy­er can pur­chase mul­ti­ple guns. Search­ing for “total U.S. gun sales” gives fig­ures any­where from 4.7 mil­lion in 2006, to 14 mil­lion in 2009, to 10 mil­lion in 2011, from a vari­ety of sources.

Since there’s no way to count, we have to esti­mate. Giv­en the uncer­tain­ty in the avail­able fig­ures, and that the lat­ter num­ber is from the Nation­al Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion (a group who, one pre­sumes, has some informed basis for that fig­ure), let’s go with 10 mil­lion. From there, the math is triv­ial.

$24,800 per gun

So that’s my mod­est pro­pos­al: 248 bil­lion divid­ed by 10 mil­lion. To elim­i­nate this gun industry’s quar­ter-tril­lion dol­lar sub­sidy; to stop the de fac­to prac­tice of allow­ing the gun indus­try to exter­nal­ize the true costs it impos­es on soci­ety; to give teach­ers the haz­ard pay they so rich­ly deserve for accept­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ty of lay­ing down their lives for our chil­dren, all we have to do is insti­tute a $24,800 fee on each and every gun sale in Amer­i­ca.

It’s sim­ple, straight­for­ward, and fair. It is quite lit­er­al­ly noth­ing more than ask­ing those who would buy guns to pay the true cost of them.

If you dis­agree, if you think that’s too much to ask, that’s fine. It’s a free coun­try. Just answer me this: whose lives are you say­ing aren’t worth it?

Teach­ers’ or children’s?

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