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,


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

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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