David R. Henderson  

Hayek in Tucson

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On January 12, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi stated the following about the Tucson shootings:

Whether it's the people who responded immediately very courageously, whether it's the first responders who came to the scene in a matter of minutes, whether it's the hospital staff that's taking such beautiful care of all of those who were endangered - we are deeply grateful to all of them.

In other words, the people whom she calls "the first responders" didn't respond first. That's not a knock on them. They couldn't. The first responders were the Congresswoman Gifford's intern, Daniel Hernandez and the people in the crowd who ran at Jared Loughner and held him down. Here's what Wikipedia says about the latter:
After the gunman ran out of ammunition in the first magazine, he stopped to reload, but dropped the loaded magazine from his pocket to the sidewalk, from where bystander Patricia Maisch grabbed it. A bystander clubbed the back of the assailant's head with a folding chair. The gunman was then tackled to the ground by 74-year-old retired colonel Bill Badger, who himself had been shot, and was further subdued by Maisch and bystanders Roger Sulzgeber and Joseph Zamudio.

This illustrates one of my themes that I push in my classes and on this blog: that the people in the position to act on information are typically people who are present and not those who are distant. That's one of Hayek's big points in his 1945 classic article, "The Use of Knowledge in Society."


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Silas Barta writes:

I'm sorry, but this is a bit of a far-fetched application of the Hayekian insight. Yes, in an emergency, the people most capable of handling immediate exigencies are going to be right there. But then, "being local" to the situation, with all the attentant knowledge of the victims' exact appearance, didn't e.g. enable the bystanders to fix gunshot wounds or perform brain surgery better than the medical professionals that were off site.

(There were doctors at the scene, to be sure. By coincidence. Still not supportive of the Hayekian thesis.)

Yes, local knowledge is generally crucial and hard articulate usefully to a central body. Yes, Pelosi is trivializing non-governmental heroes who were instrumental in containing the damage the shooter could do.

But to use the shooting as an vindication of Hayek's insight ... is somewhat of a stretch.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Silas Barta,
Good point about surgery. But notice that the police had no role in saving people's lives.

Joe Cushing writes:

This could have been a good post without the tie to Hayek. It could have just been a simple point that the police cannot protect everyone. This is really an argument for arms rights.

fundamentalist writes:

Excellent application of Hayek! I tell my family that the police cannot protect you; they can only pick up the pieces after the crime.

Silas Barta writes:

Right, fundamentalist, I'm sure that has no effect on the incentives for (or level of) crime whatsoever. I bet a private law society would never have after-the-fact punishments because they would correctly realize how pointless they are. (???)

drobviousso writes:

Joe Cushing - Would you be happier if the example was an economic, instead of security, example? There are many trade opportunities that are time limited and can only be realized by people on the scene. A web search for "Hurricane" and "gouging" will turn up lots of examples.

Schepp writes:

I would add that the 4th Hi-jacked plane on 9/11/2001 was foiled by the same means. Passengers on the plane taking action, communicating with families not the TSA or the Air Force. They managed this without one single congressional hearing or even a fire drill prior to the event.

My comments are made with great reverence to the American heros that acted on that flight. While foiling the terrorist intent, they did pay the price of their lives.

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