January 22, 2005

Lots of us are Tullock fans.

He has a reputation as a nasty jerk, but it is just not true. Plus, even if it IS true that he can be mean-spirited in the attack, he is absolutely gleeful in defense, and impossible to offend. For me, that matters a lot.

He has certainly affected my own teaching. For my Public Policy class, I talk about the relation between mandating safety equipment and human risk-taking behavior. Everyone knows the Peltzman story (Peltzman, S., “The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation,” JPE, 83:677, 1975.), but it is hard to get across to students.

So, I use the "Tullock Steering Column" to get the idea across. (Yes, Gordon really said this, many times; see p. 4)

I ask, innocently, if mandating safety equipment makes cars safer. The kids sense a problem, but of course the answer has to be "yes", right?

Wait, maybe not. I pull out a bona fide, 1944-era Army issue bayonet. It's 18 inches long, and looks like a small sword. I attach it to a toy steering wheel on one of those toy dashboards my kids used to have, which I now use for class.

And, I ask: with this Tullock Steering Column, would the number of accidents go up, or down? And, the answer is, way WAY down. In fact, all aspects of driving behavior would be much less risky.

In my evaluations, the students may recall nothing else. But they remember this, and the "point" of the story. Thanks, Gordon!

Posted by Michael Munger at 11:32 AM in Economics

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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