Saturday, April 08, 2006

Prohibition: Utopian or Realist?

Two recent stories caught my attention.

Two Air Marshals Plead Guilty to Drug Smuggling

Drug War Dropout Calls Effort A Failure

It seems to me that it’s a near universal consensus that the “War on (some) Drugs” is a complete and total disaster, creating far more problems than it even pretends to focus on solving. I say near universal, because, as usual, the conservative right-wing, as delusional as ever about their ideological focus, continues to dogmatically assert that we “need” the wage a “war on drugs” because the consequences would be…well, the end of the world itself.

It’s funny. I know a guy at work – a red-blooded, dyed-in-the-wool, Conservative Christian Republican – who insists that libertarianism is “utopian”; that freedom leads to “chaos”; and that human nature is fundamentally base, and perhaps “evil”, which is why we need a powerful State to reign in mankind, and mold human clay into a more nobler, visionary creature. The State, it would seem, is our salvation from utter ruin.

Oh…did I say he was a Marxist? Well…he won’t admit it, but he sure sounds like one. (Of course, all Republicans do.)

But is liberty really “utopian”? Or is it utopian to give power to politicians and bureaucrats (who, the last time I checked, were made from the same clay as you and I), and expect them to solve society’s problems? Is it utopian to take the view that the State is somehow above the rest of us, staffed only by altruistic saints who will wield their power to vanquish “evil-doers”, and other societal undesireables, all the while, never attracting the corrupt and the morally deficient – or at the very least, serving to eventually exploit and corrupt the shortcomings of even honorable men (and women)?

One of my favorite political-economists of all time, Frederic Bastiat, once wrote :

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them. The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are "just" because law makes them so.
In the stories above, I see a paradigm of how the War on Drugs is affecting our law-enforcement community. In the first example, the economic incentives are severely overpowering, providing a temptation for these two individuals to break down. Notice, they weren’t smuggling computers, or leather jackets, or any other legal product. The fact that they could make a quick and easy $15000 by smuggling a couple pounds of an illegal product is a clear example of the results of our public policy. Without drug prohibition, there wouldn’t be the huge, black market profits, which make themselves available to tempt our law enforcement professionals to turn corrupt.

In the second, we see the other side of the coin. A law enforcement official plainly sees the futility of the goal and walks away. While, he should be commended for not going the route of the first two, his indictment of the “war on drugs” should send a message to day-dreaming Conservatives everywhere. When someone on the frontlines, someone closest to the problem, relays intelligence back to the decision-makers, that the project is a complete waste of time, how “utopian” is it to insist that the decision-makers can still solve the problem, they just need better, smarter, or tougher people to make the decisions. (And for the record, this isn’t a case of one “lone” cop, breaking ranks. Check out the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website, a burgeoning organization of former officials that recognize the stupidity, and counter-productivity of Prohibition.)

Libertarians are usually laughed at or pigeon-holed because opposition to drug prohibition has been a staple of the movement for a long time. Many Conservatives tell me, “I would be a libertarian except for…(fill in the blank)”, with that deal breaker usually being drug prohibition (and so they continue to support big government Republicans). But as I ask my friend, who values “law and order” above all…doesn’t Bastiat have a point, that if you ask the State to start prosecuting people for victimless behavior, that you engender a general disrespect for “law and order”?

So who has more respect for “law and order”, the Libertarian or the Conservative? Who is more “utopian”, and who is more realistic?


Blogger Wulf said...

What a great point. I will make sure I give you credit when I use it in conversation - and you can be sure I will.

12:33 PM  

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