Saturday, May 9, 2015

Words Have Meanings

M. Simon of Classical Values responded to a recent posting concerning Obamacare by linking to a piece by Milton Friedman "The Drug War as a Socialist Enterprise".  I confess to being so intrigued by the title that I read it to see where this came from.  Socialism has a meaning: government ownership of the means of production.  If Friedman's point was that there are two choices: free markets or command and control, this is true.  But prohibiting something is not socialism.  Many libertarian ideologues believe that drug prohibition is a net loss for the society emphasizing the substantial crime and corruption problems associated with prohibition.  They are completely correct that these costs are high.  Why have Americans been so interested in regulating intoxicants from the colonial period to the present.  Not because they have nothing better for the government to do; but because the social costs of intoxication are very substantial.  Drunks commit an astonishingly large fraction of the murders, rapes, robberies, and child molestations.  Other intoxicants have similar rates of problems.  If you want to argue that you favorite intoxicant (marijuana) isn't as bad as alcohol, you may well be right, but that is not an argument for legalizing pot and criminalizing alcohol.  It may be an argument for putting more emphasis on discouraging alcohol, but it is not a persuasive argument against regulation.

There are substantial public health problems associated with all the intoxicants: cirrhosis of the liver; schizophrenia; AIDS.  You might argue that these are properly the problems of individuals, and the government should not be socializing these costs.  But this is America: liberty is not an option.  Well before we reach the point where the population lets their drug addicted neighbors starve to death, the state will go bankrupt.

There are smarter ways to do this than how we do it; and there is no reason to abolish civil liberties in pursuit of a War on Drugs (which is really a War on Drug Users--what no air strikes?).  But pretending that prohibition is a form of socialism, is reminiscient of the 1960s, when everyone to the right of Mao was labelled fascist.


  1. Clayton,

    Honest question: why not penalize/punish the objectively bad behavior behavior instead of the item? (Personally, I do not care why a perpetrator does something/anything; my only question is "did he do it". Yes or no, case closed.)

    We do not criminalize money, we criminalize stealing it. If (what seems to be one of your arguments against decriminalizing substances) the subsequent behavior is objectively bad, then why not just punish that behavior?
    You are already "punishing" the person anyway, (for smuggling, possession, use, etc) not the substance or item.

  2. Good question. Because most people come to the conclusion that it is better to avoid the crimes happening rather than punishing someone after the fact. Prior restraint has its own problems, but support for it remains strong.

  3. Follow-up question:

    The "Prior restraint" argument is often used against firearms (wrongly), nonetheless, it is the same type of argument.

    Since we agree that prior restrain does not work with criminals and firearms, why would we think it will with any other item?

    For the sake of the discussion, I am not in favor of drug use. I simply think that the liberties that we have lost in this "war" is not worth the candle.

  4. You are correct in one sense and not in another. Prior restraint is generally accepted as a legitimate reason we prohibit convicted felons, people with mental illness histories, and children from buying guns.