Thursday, June 11, 2009

The economy and the recent shootings

There has been a spate of widely reported shootings lately. A gunman killed a security guard yesterday at the US Holocaust Museum. George Tiller, a man who performed late-term abortions was killed in his church last week, and a soldier in the US military was killed by a Muslim who was apparently angry about US foreign policy.

So do these shootings represent a trend that is here to stay? Already some are saying that these shootings are products of the dire economic times. I think this is interesting. There’s no question in my mind that a bad economy can increase desperation. People who have no jobs, no pensions, and are worried about how to stretch enough money to meet next week’s living expenses can be pushed over the edge to do crazy things.

Of course this is not the case for most people. But some subsection of the population will undoubtedly fall into extremism. During the Great Depression for example, demagogues like Father Coughlin and Huey Long commanded legions of followers. In Germany, the Great Depression and hyperinflation of the 1920s helped put the Nazis in power.

Still, I am a little hesitant to say that these shootings will represent a trend. Whatever the economy’s troubles, I don’t expect there to be another depression. Furthermore, I think we’ve made a lot of progress as a society in moving past racism and anti-Semitism. While there are still anti-Semites and racists out there, I believe the ones who would perpetrate violence are a fringe. Or maybe I’m just hoping.

Furthermore, people have been bombing abortion clinics even in good times. And the Muslim who killed the soldier seems motivated by radical Islam, although the bad economy might have caused him to convert in the first place. Still, I’m not ready to chalk this all up to the economy yet.

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