Free Markets, Free People
I don’t know if this is a bit of clever semantics or a real shift in policy, it’s just too early to tell, but if true, it may signal the beginning of a move toward sanity as it concerns drugs:
The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.
In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.
“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”
But, of course, that’s precisely what a “war on drugs” has to be – a war on users, suppliers, growers, processors and the supporting network of people who get it from A to B. That’s precisely what we’ve been fighting from its inception and it is a war that’s being lost. It is time to consider the problem again and approach it with a different strategy. After all if input (I) + process(P) = output(O) and you never vary I or P, how can you expect O to ever be any different?
The Obama administration is likely to deal with drugs as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice alone, with treatment’s role growing relative to incarceration, Mr. Kerlikowske said.
Drugs are only a “criminal justice” problem because government chose prohibition – a policy that had been tried and failed miserably decades before – over a more rational and sane approach to drug use. There is no reason that a program that is much less of a threat to all of our freedoms and liberty shouldn’t be tried in the face of the miserable failure of the “war on drugs”. Perhaps then we’d see the violence inherent in the market created by government prohibition, as well as world record incarceration rates, subside dramatically. We can do this much, much better than we’re doing now.
New administration, same lame approach:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday pledged to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mexico in its violent struggle against drug cartels, and acknowledged the U.S. shares blame because of its demand for drugs and supply of weapons.
She said the United States shares responsibility with Mexico for dealing with violence now spilling across the border and promised cooperation to improve security on both sides.
And it’s your fault:
“I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility,” Clinton told reporters, adding: “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”
Of course, if we had control of our borders and drugs weren’t “illegal”, we probably wouldn’t be seeing the slaughter on the border now, would we?
Look, I know, as does everyone who reads this blog, that the sudden realization that it is the prohibition that drives all of this violence and not the demand, isn’t going to suddenly dawn on the politicians. The lessons of 1920′s prohibition have apparently been lost on them. The lawlessness, the gun violence, the flouting of the law by a majority of the population – all were essentially eliminated with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
I’m not going to make the argument that drugs are good for you, harmless or something I’d want my grandkids to do. But I understand, despite all of that, that our approach – prohibition – is an abject failure and the war on the border is simply a manifestation of that failure.
The key to winning this war is to take the profit motive for criminals out of the equation. For most observers that seems self-evident. No profit, no war. No war, no need for guns and killing.
Yet governments seem to resist that obvious point. Instead they wage “war” on the producers, suppliers and users. But the profits, propped up by the government prohibition, are so obscene that the replacement of producers and suppliers taken out of the “business” is almost instant. And the size of the user population is such that only low single digit percentages of them are ever caught and prosecuted. It is, relatively speaking, a low risk business with very high rewards for the producers.
In reality, a criminal business is motivated by the very same things as is a legal business. It responds to the same sorts of market incentives as a legal business. The market, however, isn’t created by natural demand and regulated by competition. Instead, the market is one created by government prohibition. No prohibition, no “illegal” demand. No illegal demand, no possibility of the obscene profits enjoyed and no real appeal to a criminal enterprise or syndicate.
So calling for more of the same in terms of addressing this problem seems insane. As long as the prohibition remains in place the profit motive for the criminal gangs remains in place as well. And as long as the profits are large enough to more than offset the losses incurred in the distribution process (and the fight with governments and police), they will continue in their “business” until such a profit motive disappears. And as long as the price of drugs remains reasonably low and readily available (and the enjoyment remains high), and the population wanting them remains large, demand will remain pretty constant.
As has been demonstrated for decades, governmental efforts to stem both supply and demand through prohibition has been a pitiful failure. Yet here we are, getting ready to double down on this horribly failed policy.
In reality, this is again a manifestation of the nanny state. It is a determination by government that something it has decided is detrimental to individuals should be denied them. Instead of approaching the issue as it did with alcohol, our government has eschewed the lessons learned and the success of that effort in favor of the approach it is now taking.
To most rational people such an approach seems absurdly irrational. Yet there is no serious debate within government circles about the failure of the present approach or discussion of alternatives. And that’s in the face of evidence that drugs are now being used to finance terror organizations.
Something has got to change. And it needs to change quickly, or what you see on the border now will only grow worse. We’ve talked about how governments can distort markets. What you see now is a classic example of the results of such a distortion.
UPDATE: New York is trying something different in terms of combatting drugs. Although still not signed into law, the Governor and legislature have agreed to legislation which would dismantle much of the ’70s era “mandatory sentencing” laws and put more of an emphasis on treatment:
The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.
The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.
New York’s drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment.
“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal.
“To me, that is the restoration of justice.”
To me, it’s a start.