Weaponomics: The Economics of Revolutions and Small Arms

    C.J. Chivers, the NY Times War Correspondent and author of The Gun, has published a fascinating account of the limited supply and sky rocketing prices of small arms in Lybia.

    Photo by C.J. Chivers/The New York Times

    Chivers writes

    This spring in eastern Libya, the prices for Kalashnikovs and FN FAL rifles crested at top-dollar war prices – as much as $2,500 for a rifle in good condition. Even heavily used specimens fetched more than $1,500 each, said Alaadin Alsharkasy, one of the organizers of rebel weapon purchases in Benghazi, the rebel capital.

    What does all of this mean? At market prices, the rebels are paying as much as nearly $70,000 to equip perhaps 30 men with weapons for battle. And given that much of this money has been paid to fellow Libyans who are not exposed to the fighting but profit from it, these prices have been a source of anger among those who are actually taking the physical risks in this war.

    C.J’s article reminded me of a masters thesis1 I came across some time ago. In his thesis, entitled ‘Weaponomics: The Economics of Small Arms’, Philip Killicoat attempted to create a model to predict the prices of assault rifles in African conflicts. His regression model used the following variables …

    This attempt at modeling weapons prices was valiant, but Philip did not understand, or ignored, that a new AK-74 is going to be worth a lot more than a rusted beat up and stock-less AK, such as the one pictured above. This combined with his low sample of AK-47 prices, just 335 AK-47 rifle prices were observed, meant proving his hypothesis was not going to be possible. One thing that Killicoat said stuck in my mind …

    Assault rifles may therefore be considered a proxy for the cost of specific capital required to mount a rebel movement.

    In the case of Libya, the cost is going to be high as fitting out a 30 man platoon with rifles is costing $70,000.

    1. Killicoat, P. (2006, September). Weaponomics The Economics of Small Arms 

    Steve Johnson

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!