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It's so TRUE that those who support the War on Drugs tend to favor stinginess when it comes to foreign aid!


"In that way the arguments *are* analagous in the relevant way, which leads to the question: if reducing "bad" behavior is the only principle that guides us, then what is so wrong with depriving Africans of AIDS medication if it reduces "bad" behavior?"

Every government program has unintended consquences which are "bad." So I guess every single goverment decision is "analogous." Heck, it's analogous just because it's a government decision. But that's just stupid, isn't it? It's a poor analogy without merit. Yes, someone can make the argument that you should leave countries suffering from AIDS on their own. But that has absolutely nothing to do with this debate anymore than any unrelated government action which produces unintended consequences. Hell, under these standards I could compare LEGALIZING drugs with withholding treatment for AIDS because both can be construed as having "bad" consequences on human behavior (unintended or not).


"Some of the asset forfeiture provisions contained in the Patriot Act are premised on that assumption, actually, that organized crime (including terrorist cells) operate rationally much as coprorations do."

I am talking about the common addict, not the head of a cartel, and not that organization as a whole. I know, you're going to say he's going to join up. I doubt it, and even if that were possible for a large percent of addicts (which it isn't), they would not be making the same money they did as drug dealers (legalization decreasing profits cheif among the reasons). And, again, I am not sure why I am even arguing on this point because Becker's proposal seems to assume that a large black market will not develop, so under Becker's rationale this isn't possible. The question stands--isn't he (or anyone who buys his rationale) worried about addicts stealing and engaging in violence to come up with the money more than they were before (because one of their main sources of revenue has been removed--illicit drug dealing). Does he support a goverment program to keep these addicts flush with drugs so they don't engage in criminal behavior?


Also, it is not feasible that engaging in the legal selling of drugs would yield anything close to what current drug dealers make. If getting a law-abiding job were enough (and sometimes it is) then we wouldn't see the problem of drug addicts resorting to criminal behavior to finance their habit, would we?


"It seems like a disagreement about morals. To me, anyway. I'm not sure that economic theory can bridge that divide."

Yes, I said as much earlier. I do not see this argument Becker has posited standing on its own, there are values behind it which he has not disclosed.

The morality, ultimately, comes down to how harmful drugs are to the mind, body, and spirit. Economic arguments can be made (reduced producticity, increased crime), however. Maybe Becker thinks drugs are largely benign, but I do not. I do believe it is the question which is really at issue, and even reaching a solution through an economic analysis would demand that such consideration be taken place (negative utility to the majority who disfavor drug use). Yet this is notably absent in Becker's proposal.

J Thomas

"It seems like a disagreement about morals. To me, anyway. I'm not sure that economic theory can bridge that divide."

Economic theory cannot.

Unless you assume that people choose what's good for them, how can you conclude that a free enterprise system promotes utility at all?

That assumption is at the heart of moral economic theory, and without it you are left with a peculiarly-abstract descriptive theory. And as the drug story shows, the assumption is wrong.


I very open to suggestions for change, but a legalization program, like Becker has proposed, will greatly increase consumption. That isn't fear-mongering, I have explained why I believe that, and I have engaged in debate with those who challenged it. I think it's pretty clear, especially in the longer term, that legalization will increase drug use.

Your point about sellers being involved in crime is well taken. That has some potential offsetting effects. Still, I think it is less applicable here then in countries like Columbia, where the cartels have enough power and autonomy that they can openly war against any who oppose them--including the government. Crime syndicates in the USA have an incentive to minimize unnecessary violence and crime, so they do not attract too much attention or leave too much evidence. I do not know which is greater in the USA, violent crime by users or by sellers. I would think users (just look at the data for violent crime under the use of intoxicants).

I also agree with your point that if use is legalized the person may be less likely to engage in unlawful activity. However, I think this effect is severely limited for highly addictive substances. Moreover, you may be overlooking the great variance in punishment for use versus distribution in the current situation which would suggest, under your theory, that addicts would be reluctant to take on selling to finance their habits even today. Again, I think the power of addiction makes "rational" thought a little harder reach.

So, I agree with a lot of the points you made, but still feel it is a definite possibility that crime may increase (even if diminished by some offsetting effects).

I think the burder of proof rests with those who presume the the laws of economics don't apply to drugs. I have said before and I will reitterate, that the debate is properly about whether or not the benefits of legalization outweigh the costs (increased drug use and all of its associated ills). Crossing your fingers and hoping time-tested economic principles just won't apply seems ill-advised. It's especially striking coming from Becker and Posner. If they are willing to allow increased drug consumption because the benefits of legalization in their estimation are great, then they should say so. But I do not get the impression Becker is ready to concede consumption would increase. That is my primary issue. And he refuses to engage the heart of the entire debate--whether decreasing drug consumption is a "good thing."


"It's especially striking coming from Becker and Posner."*

Strike Posner from that. His post was lucid and though I may disagree, I feel he has framed the debate in useful terms.


... Minus Posner's point about substitutes.

J Thomas

Palooka, you make some good points here. If drugs were legal the use might rise. And people who are often influenced by drugs may not act ractionally and certainly may not be rational while being influenced. (For that matter lots of people aren't particularly rational without drugs.)

About the first, here is a palliative that may help: When people are open about their drug use, there is more chance for third parties to observe the problems. When they get to watch people who abuse drugs looking stupid, unkempt, or dangerous they get the idea this isn't something they want to do. I admit this isn't working well for alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and dextromorphan, but it will work *some* and the worse the effects the more it works.

Over time we'd develop a culture that could partly deal with it. I knew someone who told the following story: She used to smoke marijuana occasionally, and she went to live in france. After she'd been there a year or so the topic of marijuana came up and she said it wasn't so bad, it was kind of fun. But her french friends said it was for losers, it was something that only lower-class people did. One thing led to another and they went out to the arab quarter and bought some, and on a dare she and one other person tried it. After one puff they were utterly incapacitated. It was like somebody who was used to wine coolers taking a shot of 120 proof vodka laced with ether. They couldn't move, they couldn't think, and their friends were embarrassed for them.

What I particularly got from that story was the french students saying "Ganja is for losers". This is something that american drug propagandists have been trying to spread for thirty years here, and in france the students actually believed it. They also believed that getting pie-faced drunk was for losers.

We might easily get a society that has a consensus that incautious drug use is for losers. But then, what about the losers? Our society generates a lot of losers who know they'll be defeated in all their goals before they die. If they think drugs are a self-destructive thing to do, they'll do them. Unless we find some way not to make so many losers, what can we do with them beyond finding some way for them to kill themselves that won't be very disruptive?

A few years ago I met some kids in Memphis. They were about 5 years out of high school and didn't particularly have any prospects. All of them lived with their parents. Most of the girls had one child each which their parents kept when they went out to party. (They didn't believe in abortion, and were more careful after the first child.) The majority of the guys were unemployed. The one who introduced me to the others was working as an electrician at the base, supervising convict labor. One of them had joined the marines and would go to iraq after his training, several others did likewise later. In the meantime they partied. I listened. "Hey, when we were out last night I did Needle Turn at 85, where were you? You didn't do it. And then I did the jump at 90, and you didn't? Where were you? And when the police came I outran them, it got up to 120, where were you?" He sounded like people didn't really listen to him, and I listened carefully and said, "I think maybe he cares whether he lives or dies." The guy said, "Yeah! That's it exactly!"

The next morning we got word he was dead, he'd slammed his motorcycle straight into a stone wall. They said it couldn't have been an accident, he was a great driver. But he had taken a heavy tranquilizer. I felt responsible, I'd listened to him and maybe he wouldn't have had it so clear otherwise. The guy who sold him the drug felt responsible. The girl who'd had an argument with him felt responsible. The friend who'd gone off with a girl instead of staying with him felt responsible. Lots of drama. He left behind a wife and a 2-year-old child, he'd married her though she was living with her family until he could get a job that would pay for an apartment.

If it wasn't drugs it would be something else. Unless we can quit making people think they're losers they're going to act like losers.


"Again, why do you think crime rose during Prohibition of alcohol? As Dr. Miron illustrates, because lawmakers ignored the time-tested economic principle (and obvious common sense) that "prohibitions create black markets.""

Thats the root cause, the proximate cause is the insidious effect that prohibition has on ordinary law enforcement. People involved in the drug trade either directly or indirectly as associates or consumers are extreemly leery of the police. This creates a downward spiral of fear mistrust and prejudice that makes ordinary law enforcement almost impossible.



Good points. The problem is you are making assumptions about positions I have never taken. THere are, of course, many costs to prohibition of drug use and the "War on Drugs" which is necessary to maintain deterrence and limit supply. I am sensitive to those costs and concerns, and the "right" answer is one which alludes me. As I said, I think there is great room for improvement, and I open to reform proposals.

But it seems Becker, and even yourself, treat the likely (in my view certain) increase in drug consumption too dismissively. If you conclude that the increase in drug use is acceptable after a cost-benefit analysis, well, then we disagree but I can respect that determination. That seems to be Posner's view on it. It's true that some of the resources from tax revenue (and from savings from enforcement) could go to demand reduction programs, but I don't see that fully tempering the forces which legalization would release.


oppss. alludes=eludes. :)


I think you are neglecting the possibility that one comes to a conclusion that prohibition is justified even if it leads to many problems.

Because, for reasons stated at length already, I think legalization is certain to cause an increase in drug use, I favor the status quo, even with its flaws.

It is interesting that Posner doesn't entertain this bizarre fantasy that consumption won't change (or the stranger fiction that it will decrease), but still justifies his position on legalization. That strikes me as a reasonable position. I've said what I am going to say, and so have you. Ciao.


fling93: But even if your wish comes true, I think your feared increase in drug usage would be far outweighed by a certain and significant decline in homicides. But I guess you disagree, preferring death over drugs.

Palooka: ...prohibition is justified even if it leads to many problems.

Well, it looks like my guess was right.

Jim S

It's certainly interesting that many posts assume that legalization means that there would be no attempt by other means to solve problems created by drug abuse as opposed to drug use. I drink beer occasionally. Sometimes if I'm not driving I might consume more than I would if I had to get behind the wheel of a car. Does that make me an alcoholic? No. But the assumption of those promoting the status quo is that any use of any drug that is currently illegal automatically equates to drug abuse and addiction. If in fact we legalized drugs and then took an approach towards any problems of treating them as public health and economic issues we'd probably get further and use fewer economic resources in the attempt. The flaws in the reasoning of those defending the current system are put on display by a post claiming that in a country of fewer than 300,000,000 people legalizing drugs would result in fully one-third of them suddenly going out and becoming users. Does someone who posts something so over the top even realize how ridiculous it sounds?




I recently saw the movie "Traffic" and was wondering what others thought about how well the movie represents actual social/political policy regarding drugs, family dymanics, and models of addiction??


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