How Low Can You Go?


Our last issue described PaineWebber's "happiness index" for bonds, which goes up when unemployment increases. But unemployment, we've now learned, can prolong your life too. Our impeccable source is a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research: "Are Recessions Good for Your Health?" by Christopher Rohm (NBER Working Paper No. 5570). Rohm finds that recessions do indeed promote good health, at least if you're young; in fact, according to an NBER summary, "a one percentage point rise in unemployment lowers the predicted death rate of 20-44 year olds by 1.3 percent." Strangely, however, unemployment seems to have no effect on 45- to 64-year-olds and just a slight—though still positive—effect on those over 65.

Here's the breakdown on the good news. With 1 percent more unemployment, deaths from car crashes drop by 2.4 percent, from homicides by 1.5 percent, from liver ailments by 0.8 percent, and from heart disease and cancer by 0.2 to 0.5 percent. On the other hand, suicides go up by 0.7 percent—but, then, you can't expect everything to go right when people lose their jobs.

Next questions: Does higher unemployment also raise school test scores and promote belief in God? Send your grant applications to the Clear Conscience Commission, Federal Reserve Bank, Washington, D.C.


Speaking up for the police, James Bovard recently caught our notice with a column in the Wall Street Journal about a little-noticed side effect of legislation adopted last September by Congress to restrict the ownership of guns by people convicted of domestic violence.

The Lautenberg Act, as it is known (in honor of its chief Senate sponsor, Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey), bars the ownership of a gun or ammunition by anyone convicted of a misdemeanor involving the use or attempted use of physical force against a family member or intimate partner. (Legislation passed in 1968 prohibited gun ownership by those with felony convictions.) One problem with the law, according to Bovard, is that it does not make an exception for police, and he cites an estimate by the director of a criminal justice program at Eastern Kentucky University, doubtless an incontrovertible source, that if there were accurate reporting of police domestic violence, "10% of the nation's law enforcement officials (70,000 individuals) could be found guilty and thus banned from possessing a firearm under the new law."

With friends like Bovard, the police hardly need critics. On the bright side, we hadn't realized that when police officers get called in on cases of domestic violence, the chances are so good that one of them will have the kind of personal experience that encourages genuine sympathy with the offender.

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Bovard also questions whether or not there was really an "epidemic of wife killing" that justified "disarming" men, and he points out "according to FBI statistics, the rate of women killed by husbands or boyfriends since the mid-1970s has fallen almost 20%." Of course, public and private efforts to protect battered spouses (including laws barring firearms from those convicted of domestic violence felonies) could be having an effect, and the new law might have even more. But never mind: Evidence of success counts against liberal reforms just as strongly as evidence of failure.

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