3 thoughts on “Institutions: Formal and Informal

  1. Pingback: Review: The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion | Economics & Institutions
  2. I’d agree with your comment on Galanter’s work. This would explain why most civil cases are settled out of court, formal constraints are not necessarily more effective than two people just sitting down and coming up with an agreement. An example of that would be the Buffalo Creek Disaster where the Pittson (a parent corporation of Buffalo Mining Company) and the citizens of Buffalo Creek came to a multi-million dollar settlement figure to avoid bringing the case to a long, arduous trial process. It also prevents the courts from being overloaded with cases that have been brought to trial. I am curious to hear your views on arbitration.

    I totally agree with Putnam’s statement that it’d be nice if people could come together with they have disputes and have a civil debate and discussion on the issues. I wish that they could be respectful during debates and we could solve problems that way. To branch off of his point a bit, I think it’s a shame that people can’t act in this manner, particularly when discussing politics. They resort to personal attacks and fallacious arguments to support their points.

    I also agree that intolerance and discrimination are on the decline, but I think we have a long way to go. You can look no further than the racially insensitive remarks that some individuals made when Obama ran for President. Telling him to “Go back to Kenya” or holding strong to the view that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen (even after he produced a birth certificate). I know that those extreme views are not representative of the general opinions of the average American today; but I simply want to bring them up to point out that everything is not perfect with race relations. There are numerous examples from the Confederate Flag flying in front of the State House in Columbia to the “stop and frisk” laws in New York.

    I agree with you to an extent that informal institutions need to be addressed before formal institutions can improve society. However, there is a comment I would like to address that you made about gun control. Before I proceed to my next point, I want to first send out my condolences to you, your family, and your community for suffering through the shooting. I believe that senseless acts of violence are preventable and no one should have to suffer the tragedies associated with gun violence. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your community.

    I would not go as far as to relate those informal norms to gun violence. I would acknowledge that there are definitely some cultural norms that need to be addressed, such as our violent culture in general, our ignorance on mental health issues, and even our lack of sufficient background checks on people who own dangerous weapons. I agree with you in a broad sense that there will never be enough laws or law enforcement to constrain every act of violence in a community. But surely you would acknowledge that limiting the amount of guns available to the general population, particularly military grade weaponry and the enormous gun clips that are available to those responsible for the shootings, would be helpful to limit the amount of gun violence in America. I mean, the NRA would argue that we need to arm “more good guys with guns to stop the bad guys with guns”. I disagree with that statement and the philosophy behind it. If we have more guns in anybody’s hands, that will do more harm than good in terms of violence. The good guys with guns will either have to threaten the bad guys that they will use their guns or they will simply use them and more innocent lives will be at risk in the crossfire. Also with more guns in circulation, there is more of a potential to cause accidents (such as a little 4 year old gaining access to a handgun and accidentally shooting her brother or sister). I acknowledge that there are safety features to combat this problems such as gun safes, trigger settings, the safety feature of a gun, etc. However, I would still argue that more guns is a net negative more than a positive. Therefore gun control may not be the end all solution, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    Thanks for your thoughts and opinions on this matter.

    -R. Reid

    • R. Reid,

      Thanks for your kind words and your insights.

      On the gun control issue, I think this is an issue that is quite muddled in the public discourse. I am skeptical.

      I am skeptical of our need to bear arms to defend ourselves from the government. The time may come, but the risk seems remote. I don’t see why high capacity magazines are necessary for basic self-defense or sport.

      On the other hand, I’m not sure that most of the high profile mass shootings that are cited as reasons to limit the availability of guns would have been any different if the assailant had been required to substitute one deadly instrumentality for another. Most of the mass shootings either don’t involve assault weapons or would not have been any different if two handguns had been used instead. Moreover, driving a car through the crowd of people would have accomplished the same end. I am very sensitive to the senseless loss of life, but I question whether these killings are as “preventable” as many Americans so blithely believe. It seems that if a gun were unavailable, a morally or mentally compromised person could adopt many readily available and easily substitutable instruments to accomplish the same grievous end. Given how easy it is to kill–we are so fragile after all–I am surprised by how so many well meaning people simply assume that things would be so different if the assailant had lacked access to a gun or a certain type of gun.

      Certain types of crime might be reduced if guns were really less readily available. I have in mind here crimes where the gun is used more for leverage and intimidation. But in those cases where the object is to kill and destroy, it seems odd to me to suppose we can remove the threat by removing the gun.

      I could be wrong. What troubles me is the high degree of certainty on both sides of the debate.


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