In yesterday’s Human Events Online, the usually sensible John Hawkins offers a piss-poor defense of the War on Some Drugs. Hawkins writes:
Libertarians often attack the war on drugs as a waste of tax dollars and an infringement on personal liberties. That is misguided thinking that comes from trying to apply unworkable theoretical concepts in the real world.
Either that, or it is “misguided” thinking that comes from trying to examine the actual effects of a government program, rather than judging it according to its proponents’ intentions. Libertarians also attack the war on poverty. Is that misguided thinking that comes from a theoretical concept that poverty is a good thing (“povertarianism,” perhaps)? [Yes, some looneytarians also attack the war on terror, but that's another issue altogether. If you think you can defend yourself against terrorists as easily as you can against drugs, try "just saying no" to a terrorist sometime.]
For example, you often hear advocates of drug legalization say that we’re never going to win the war on drugs and that it would free up space in our prisons if we simply legalized drugs. While it’s true that we may not ever win the war against drugs — i.e. never entirely eradicate the use of illegal drugs — we’re not ever going to win the war against murder, robbery and rape either.
Here we have a cheap attempt to score a rhetorical point with a creative definition. Of course we will never completely eradicate anything. World War II went a long way toward rolling back fascism around the world, but it didn’t eradicate it completely, and no one argues as a result that the War on the Axis Powers was a failur.e. A more sensible working definition of “winning” is improving the status quo. Banning drugs almost certainly causes some potential users to go or stay straight. It also causes a hell of a lot of violent crime, and probably causes its share of police corruption as well. The question is how much crime and how much of our civil liberties we are willing to give up, in exchange for how much of a reduction of drug abuse. If you think the trade-off is a good one, the War on Some Drugs is already being won. If you think it’s a bad trade-off, it’s not, and query whether it ever can be.
But our moral code rejects each of them [murder, robbery and rape], so none — including drugs — can be legalized if we still adhere to that code.
Flaming non sequitur, that. Does Hawkins seriously mean to argue that we as a society should prohibit everything that a majority of the citizenry believes is morally wrong? If all the laws against real, victimful crimes accomplished was to make us feel like our laws were in sync with our moral code, there wouldn’t be much point in prohibiting those activities, either. The reason we ban these activities is most of us don’t care to be murdered, robbed or raped, and therefore, we’re safer as a society when those predisposed to murder, rob or rape us are locked up where they can’t. If the prospect of your neighbor abusing drugs concerns you nearly as much as the possibility of becoming the victim of a violent crime, then Hawkins’s analogy may work for you. If it doesn’t, it’s a worthless analogy.
If we legalized drugs, we’d be able to tax them and bring in more revenue for the state. But, how is that working out with alcohol and cigarettes?
Extremely well, but that inconvenient fact undermines Hawkins’s premise, so let’s not talk about that. Instead, let’s quickly change the topic and hope no one will notice:
In 2004 and 2005, 39% of all traffic-related deaths was related to alcohol consumption and 36% of convicted offenders “had been drinking alcohol when they committed their conviction offense.”
These statistics are suspect, as they tend to rely on post hoc ergo propter hoc (after the fact, therefore, because of the fact) reasoning: if an accident or crime happened, and one of the drivers or the perp had been drinking, drinking must have caused the crime or accident. Often it does, of course, but not always, which is why these numbers tend to get inflated. That said, no one seriously disputes that DUI is a problem, or that some people who are merely a-holes while sober become violent criminals while drunk, but who in his right mind argues that either fact justifies a return to National Prohibition? I guess it’s easier to burn down the whole cotton-pickin’ haystack than to search for that needle, but geez.
When it comes to cigarettes, adult smokers “die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.”
Whew. For a minute there I thought he was about to trot out some statistic about how many criminals or negligent drivers smoked cigarettes (or worse, breathed in second-hand smoke) before committing their crimes and/or crashing their cars. Still, so friggin’ what? If someone likes smoking enough that he’s willling to trade 14 years of his life, and God knows how much money and smelly clothes along the way for the habit, that’s his prerogative. If people insist on saving Social Security by dying at retirement rather than collecting a check for years to come, why stop them?
But, will we ever get rid of tobacco or alcohol? No, both products are too societally accepted for that and perhaps more importantly, the government makes enormous amounts of revenue from their sale.
Yeah, sin taxes. That’s the ticket. ‘Cuz we know no government would ever attempt to tax an illegal product or make any effort whatsoever to prevent kids from drinking or smoking. What’s the legal drinking age in your state? Probably the age of adulthood, 18, right? No? Younger still, so the state can maximize its revenue? Oh wait, I almost forgot that all 50 state legislatures equally weighed the pros and cons, and independently concluded that the way to make the most money off of alcohol is to prohibit sales of the product to anyone under 21, and that the federal government loves it revenue so much it once banned the stuff completely. My bad.
Do we really want to be sitting around 10 or 15 years from now saying, “Gee, we’d like to get rid of heroin, but how could we replace the revenue we make from taxing it at an exorbitant rate?”
Hell, yes. Compared to the status quo, I’d love to have THAT problem, as it presupposes that we have a way of getting rid of heroin. We don’t, or after this many years of the War on Some Drugs (one of which is heroin) now there wouldn’t be any left to get rid of.
Never trust any statement prefaced with “of course.” Of course he wouldn’t have had to say “of course” if this really were an of-course.
the number of people using what are currently illegal drugs would skyrocket if they were legalized, so we’d see a new wave of drug-addled burglars if we “legalized it.”
Hawkins appears to have pulled this argument out of his butt. Of course (no, really) legalization would lead to some increase in use, but the main reason this is so obvious is basic economics: lower the cost of anything, and someone will start doing it. But lowering the cost of doing it also removes the principal motive for druggies to become burglars today. No one burglarizes a house for a can of beer, an aspirin, or any other substance available cheaply on the open market.
Now, maybe you think that’s not the case. Some people certainly argue that if illicit drugs were legalized, their usage would drop.
A few crazies argue that, sure. How about addressing the more sensible proposition that a textbook increase in drug use (which most of us still wouldn’t do) would be a small price to pay for removing the motive of most serious, violent crimes in this country?
However, the fact that drugs are illegal is certainly holding down their usage. Just look at what happened during prohibition. Per Ann Coulter in her book, “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)”:
“Prohibition resulted in startling reductions in alcohol consumption (over 50 percent), cirrhosis of the liver (63 percent), admissions to mental health clinics for alcohol psychosis (60 percent), and arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct (50 percent).” — p.311
That’s what happened when alcohol was made illegal.
Correction: that’s part of what hapened when alcohol was made illegal. Another part had something to do with the mob, if memory serves.
However, on the other hand, if we make drugs legal, safer, easier to obtain, more societally accepted, and some people say even cheaper as well, there would almost have to be an enormous spike in usage.
“Some people say?” Has any serious economist ever argued that legalizing anything would not result in that product being safer or easier to obtain? Whether it would be “societally” (assuming that is a word) acceptable is a tougher question. I don’t think acceptance automatically follows from legalization. One could envision a policy of ending prohibition while redirecting efforts to persuading people to find something better to do voluntarily. Freedom, what a concept.
Certainly that’s what happened in the Netherlands where “consumption of marijuana…nearly tripled from 15 to 44% among 18-20 year olds” after the drug was legalized.
But, some people may say, “so what if drug usage does explode? They’re not hurting anyone but themselves.” That might be true in a purely capitalistic society, but in the sort of welfare state that we have in this country, the rest of us would end up paying a significant share of the bills of people who don’t hold jobs or end up strung out in the hospital without jobs — and that’s even if you forget about the thugs who’d end up robbing our houses to get things to pawn to buy more drugs.
Even setting that aside, we make laws that prevent people from harming themselves all the time in our society. In many states there are helmet laws, laws that require us to wear seatbelts, laws against prostitution, and it’s even illegal to commit suicide. So banning harmful drugs is just par for the course.
That’s an interesting twist on the usual slippery slope canard. Usually its adherence argue that we shouldn’t start down that slope or else we’ll soon end up at the bottom. This is the first time in recent memory that I’ve heard anyone argue that we should continue all the way to the bottom because we’re already halfway down anyway.
And make no mistake about it, drugs do wreck a lot of lives. Of course, drugs aren’t the only things that wreck lives and not every person who does drugs ends up as a crackhead burglar or a dirty bum living in an alley. Heck, Barack Obama, a man some people would like to see as our next President has used cocaine — and doesn’t it seem like every few weeks we read about another celebrity who comes out of rehab and goes on to have a successful career?
Sure, that’s true. But, every person who plays Russian Roulette doesn’t end up with a bullet in his head either.
Look at the flip side of the equation. How many homeless people are drug addicts? How many women have had crack babies?
Plenty. How many of those turned out to be such a big deal after all the initial hype. Just last week on American Idol, didn’t a crack baby just get the coveted “welcome to Hollywood?” Besides, looking at the flip side is a cheap political stunt that could be used to prove almost anything. How many homeless people once attended public schools? How many of them ate fast food at McDonald’s? How many once abused marijuana, smoked tobacco before that, which in turn was preceded by coffee, all the way back to mother’s milk? If Hawkins’s logic holds any water, the War on Milk is long overdue.
How many people are in jail today because they got high and committed a crime? How many lives have been wrecked in some form or fashion by drug use? There’s probably not a person reading this column who doesn’t know someone who has faced terrible consequences in his life because of drug use.
Sure there is: me. Off the top of my head I can think of two people who have faced bad or terrible consequences because of alcohol use, and one who did because of long-term tobacco use, but I don’t know any who have suffered from any of the drugs in the cross-hairs of the War on Some Drugs. Not that this matters, really. The point is not whether drugs are bad, mmmkay, but whether the laws prohibiting them leave society in a better or worse overall position that we’d be in if the government left well enough alone. There’s not an easy answer to that question, but it is the question that needs to be addressed, and one Hawkins, like all too many of his fellow prohibitionists, ignored entirely.
That’s why once, way back when William Bennett was the drug czar, he responded like so to a caller on the Larry King show who told him that he should “behead the damn drug dealers.”
“I mean what the caller suggests is morally plausible,” he said. “Legally, it’s difficult. But somebody selling drugs to a kid? Morally, I don’t have any problem with that at all.”
Not sure what trotting out past examples of William Bennett’s lunacy is supposed to accomplish, but all it does accomplish – in my case, at least – was to show that anti-drug zeal can warp somebody’s mind almost as badly as the drugs themselves can.
Bennett was right then, he’s right now, and my guess is that most parents, upon finding out that someone was peddling drugs to their kid, would agree with him. Since that’s the case, do we really want the federal government to take over the role of a pusher and get our kids hooked on drugs to make a profit? No, we don’t.
It’s a poorly kept secret that we got rid of Don Rumsfeld for asking too many stupid rhetorical questions and answering them in the next breath. Do we really need someone else to take up that habit in print? No, we don’t.