Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 17, 2011

in Civil Society, Crime

… is from page 237 of (now GMU Law Dean) Daniel D. Polsby, “Regulation of Foods and Drugs and Libertarian Ideals: Perspectives of a Fellow-Traveler,” Social Philosophy & Policy (1998), Vol. 15:

The “externalities” case for regulating marijuana and hallucinogenics such as LSD, as near as I can make out, seems to involve the claim that they are, in effect, a solvent of republican virtue – that a self-governing nation cannot be a nation of pot- or acid-heads.  Though there is surely a great deal of truth in this claim, such harms are far too marginal, and the embedded concept of public good far too general and unbounded, to support any serious regulatory effort beyond keeping the ingestion of these drugs out of public places; certainly the potential harms associated with these drugs do not justify their management by criminal law.  Republican democracy beats out its competition only if one does not insist on brutal coercions aimed at ensuring that everyone will be mentally competent to participate.

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Greg June 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm

So do people think that if such substances were legal that the vast majority of Americans would partake? If not, wouldn’t there be an incentive to have a minority of people who, because of their cloudy mental state, could either be recruit-able to whatever cause non-users might fancy or at least be reliable to opt for a 7-Eleven ‘munchie’ run rather than the polling place.

While the above is clearly asked in jest….a more serious question concerns the status of our democracy at present. How many voters truly possess a sense of civic duty when it comes to voting?

Rick Hull June 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

> So do people think that if such substances were legal that the vast majority of Americans would partake?

Does it matter? Suicide is illegal in many jurisdictions — a concept I find laughable. I would have no problem striking this law from the books, regardless of the outcome. To answer your question — no.

> If not, wouldn’t there be an incentive to have a minority of people who, because of their cloudy mental state, could either be recruit-able to whatever cause non-users might fancy or at least be reliable to opt for a 7-Eleven ‘munchie’ run rather than the polling place.

Having trouble untangling this one. I’m not seeing what the incentive is, who is providing it, and who is receiving it. It sounds like you are saying drug users could be harnessed by non-users, and that drug users could be tricked into not voting. I’m having trouble treating the above as anything but a non sequitur.

> How many voters truly possess a sense of civic duty when it comes to voting?

Not this one. But I’m not much of a voter, I guess. What is my civic duty?

Greg June 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Easy there Rick Hull. Didn’t intend anything serious for you to try and untangle. Thanks for giving it a go though.

Rick Hull June 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Heh, I guess my tone was a bit combative. I didn’t intend that. But I was truly at a loss to see what you were getting at.

BCanuck June 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm

The Prohibition makes no sense and there are compelling and intelligent arguments for repeal below. But … Prohibition is the law(s) and laws are made politicians. Politicians are sometimes referred to as political ‘leader’s’ when really the vast majority are just followers who twist like a weather vanes in the political winds.
So the question to ask is why is the current political caste still supporting drug prohibition? What’s in it for them to defend the current ridiculous, destructive, pointless, hopeless War on Drugs?

vidyohs June 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Money. Lots of money. Big money, big big money.

Rob June 17, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Absolutely. It’s all about money and political favors. Well connected groups such as law enforcement unions and private prison systems lobby hard to make sure their members are taken care of though a flood of booty (i.e. confiscated tax dollars). Sadly, it’s a classic problem of scale…costs are spread over the whole population while benefits accrue to the few (who then have STRONG incentive to prevent change).

Dr. T June 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm

“… What’s in it for them to defend the current ridiculous, destructive, pointless, hopeless War on Drugs?”

A majority of voters in the USA support the war on drugs. Politicians in most regions who oppose the war on drugs are less likely to be elected or re-elected. It’s as simple as that.

Americans have not been libertarian for over a century. It seems that more Americans than ever support security (or, more truthfully, security theater) over liberty. I don’t believe that will change for a long time.

Geroge June 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Sadly, I have to agree. Look at the ridiculous debate about where to try terrorism suspects. Republicans stood up in droves to make the argument that civilian courts can not be counted on to provide a reliable verdict. I mean…is anyone else scared by the implications of this debate?

Dan J June 18, 2011 at 12:40 am

Shouldn’t be in civilian court, less it be a civilian like trial in Gitmo. Costs are ridiculous and secrets are revealed such as identities of agents and informants from around the world.
This will certainly be an ugly debate….. But they just need to kill all combatants…. Question in field and kill. Dead men tell no lies.

George June 18, 2011 at 12:51 am

Now that would sure be convenient for a power-hungry government. Summary trial and execution….no questions asked. Sorry Dan…don’t buy the it’s too expensive line. Don’t see Gitmo being any less of a fiscal burden. Also, plenty easy to avoid “secrets” coming out…although once again, too easy as it is for an overzealous government to claim state privilege. Basically have yet to hear a good argument on why civilian courts can’t get the job done.

Dan J June 18, 2011 at 2:32 am

You haven’t been listening. Just kill them, already. Kill them in he fields. I hope asshole Obama asked for a live capture and was pissed off when the seals popped a cap in his ass.

Dan J June 18, 2011 at 2:34 am

Do it in your home town… And any and all CIA agents associated retire.

George June 18, 2011 at 8:52 am

Oh Dan. If I haven’t been listening, it’s because there nothing you’ve said worth listening to.

vidyohs June 18, 2011 at 8:55 am

Dan J, I believe you miss the point George made with his question.

“I mean…is anyone else scared by the implications of this debate”?

The point about the claim that civilian courts can’t be relied upon to give reliable (reliable in what context is strange word to use) verdicts has implication that bear more on you personally than it does on the terrorist, after all where would you be tried if you were charged with a crime?

Ahhhh, puts a different light on it, doesn’t it? Do you want to be dragged into a court where a jury can’t be relied on to give a verdict based on the evidence?

I agree with you that the terrorists should be tried in military courts, but like George the rationale and the rhetoric being presented should made you ponder your own situation, if what was being said about the civilian courts is not rhetoric but fact.

Dan June 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm

No, I understand what George is saying, condescendingly.
I have little to no concern for the combatants. And, yes I have concerns about the overreach of govt and potential abuses of govt in this regard, as I did with the invent of Gitmo for the folks. But, considering the overall situation, the individuals should not be put into the same place as American common criminals. The court room is a circus with these folks and I would be more weary of govt malfeasance and precedence being set in civilian courts as govt ABSOLUTELY MUST

Dan June 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm


MUST do anything to assure that the individuals do not go free. And under normal Constitutional law, many of these folks would go free under technicalities such as failure to have Miranda read to them or some kind of govt abuse from failure of govt to give them proper Religious rites.
As for George……relax………I am rarely solidified to my opinion so as to not listen (read) with an open mind. I merely wish to challenge…….and at times am short with my words, which come off on print as rude or obstinent.
The challenges to opinions assist in learning. Mao dung I rarely read, but Muirgeo I sometimes do for the opposition and challenge.

Dan June 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm

look, if CIA operatives and informants, leading to capture of combatants or our own operations that lead to the captures cannot be aired out in the courtroom. If They can manage this with and still find verdict, then do it in a corn field somewhere.
I tend to side with argument of Military on his one. We should not be inhibiting their actions or operations if we are going to continue to be involved, and with current information available, we are going to be for much of the foreseeable future.

Randy June 18, 2011 at 7:44 am

Dr T,

“Security Theater” – exactly. Politicians promise “security” in the same way that insurance companies promise “protection”. Its marketing, not reality.

tdp June 17, 2011 at 11:20 pm

I agree that it is unlikely that everyone would become acid head and stop voting/participating in the upkeep of society if drugs became legalized, but how exactly does arresting people for using heroin amount to “brutal coercion”. Horrors! We can’t use drugs! We’re being tortured by the state! To quote Monty Python: “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”

For examples of “brutal coercion”, see Zedong, Mao; Hitler, Adolf; Stalin, Josef; Mussolini, Benito; the Taliban; Khomeini, Ruhollah

Ryan Vann June 18, 2011 at 12:25 am

You are correct here; prison is such a lovely pasture to parade about in.

youarenotbeingcoerced June 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm

No, brutal coercion is the government attacking and imprisoning people who weren’t doing anything, not arresting someone for selling roofies. The fact is the law is the law and the penalties for drug use are clearly spelled out. If you don’t like them you can petition that they be changed, but knowingly breaking a law which is clearly spelled out and does not interfere with your ability to live a normal life (because you can be perfectly free and happy without pot), and getting sent to jail after being tried by a jury of your peers with the counsel of at least one lawyer may be a waste of prison space and law enforcement resources, but it is not “brutal coercion”. The government does not randomly throw people into prison (unless they think they might be terrorists, but that’s another issue).

If you have been brutally thrown into prison with no cause by the federal government, then I apologize. Otherwise, I suggest you travel to a prison in the Third World to gain some perspective.

Chucklehead June 19, 2011 at 12:44 am

I am too stoned for a coherent comment.

vikingvista June 19, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Men with guns grabbing you, cuffing you, kidnapping you, throwing you in a cage, and all the time promising to use whatever violence is necessary, including murder, if you should dare defend yourself is not brutal coercion? Don’t you have a dictionary handy?

DG Lesvic June 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Prof. Boudreaux,

Here’s the question of the day:

What is the difference between the War on Drugs (or, on Peaceful People) that you deplore and the Keynesian War on an Honest Dollar that you and the other Keynesian Austrians here, Selgin and Catalan, have enlisted in?

Your War on the Dollar, inflating and debasing the currency, has been been prompted by the concern you share with the Keynesians for “sticky wages.”

So far as they were a consequence of political measures, such as minimum wage laws, a pure Austrian would simply repeal the laws and not join the Keynesian War on the Dollar and an honest currency.

So far as they were a consequence of a market factor, say, the time it took the workers, faced with a falling money supply, to adjust their wage expectations and demands downward, they were a self-inflicted pain, and like that of “drug abuse,” nobody else’s concern.

What makes the one self-inflicted pain an Austrian and libertarian concern any more than the other?

KD June 18, 2011 at 4:43 am

Whenever you declare a war on drugs, or a war on poverty, or a war on the $, who are you declaring war against? When you declare war, it is (by definition) a war against people. The war on drugs is a war against people. The war against poverty is a war against people.

A real war against drugs should be easy to win because it’s a war against an inanimate object that can’t fight back. If I declare war against an ashtray, I will be the greatest military hero since Alexander the Great.

Ultimately, the war on _____ is a war against people.

Questions June 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Wouldn’t the difference be that the “War on the Dollar”, as you put it, does not involve the use of tax dollars? That seems to obvious though.

SaulOhio June 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I know for a fact that George Selgin is very much against inflation. Have you read his “Less Than Zero”?

What war against the dollar are you talking about?

Mr. Econotrian June 18, 2011 at 2:19 am

Isn’t republican democracy more threatened by people who believe in the voices of non-existant supernatural God(s)? Or people who believe I’m socialism? Plenty of worse things than people who smoke a few joints now and then.

The truth is I know plenty of people who hold down high-paying jobs that smoke G and do acid occasionally. And they manage to get out and vote.

Tom June 18, 2011 at 3:33 am

To the extent that the use of drugs/intoxicants endangers others, it is defensible and necessary to forcibly prohibit that endangerment. Possession or ingestion do not themselves constitute endangerment.
Reasonable (eg BAC of .14) prohibition of public intoxication is good policy.
“War” on possession is nuts.

brotio June 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Reasonable (eg BAC of .14) prohibition of public intoxication is good policy.

I disagree. If you do something negligent because of a BAC of .14, and you cause damage to another, then you should be held accountable for that negligence. If you haven’t harmed anyone, you haven’t committed a crime.

tdp June 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Well that’s already what happens since the only way you will be arrested for public intoxication is if you are behaving in a manner that harms others (DUI/DWI) or is a public nuisance (disorderly conduct)

brotio June 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm

That’s not what happens. If you fail a random DUI checkpoint test, whether you’ve harmed anyone or not, you will be arrested and prosecuted.

Simply driving drunk does not harm anyone. If you drive drunk and cause an accident, then you’re negligent, and you should pay for your negligence.

tdp June 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Wouldn’t it be better to prevent such accidents from happening? if you see a guy throwing knives at things you don’t wait until he hits someone to lock him up. Driving drunk means you are far more likely to cause an accident and your very presence on the road is dangerous. It is not that much of a hardship to not drive when you’re blitzed, and the accidents that can be prevented are worth it.

brotio June 19, 2011 at 12:21 am

Wouldn’t it be better to prevent such accidents from happening?

If the penalties for negligence due to drunk driving are severe enough, that will do as much (or more) to prevent drunk driving than the presumption-of-guilt random checkpoints.

If you see a guy throwing knives at things you don’t wait until he hits someone to lock him up.

If he’s throwing knives at things he owns, then he’s not harming anyone. If he throws them at things that someone else owns, then he’s causing damage and should be prosecuted. If he’s throwing knives at people, he’s attempting murder, and should be prosecuted.

tdp June 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I agree, the “war” should focus on taking down cartels and dealers and ending the problems that lead to people using/dealing drugs, like living in an area where dealing is the only way to get money. Although I appear to be most decidedly un-libertarian on this issue since I only support legalizing pot, I agree with the basic premise that the war on drugs has been ineffective and I think users should not be imprisoned because it wastes resources.

David Daniel Ball June 18, 2011 at 6:51 am

As a high school teacher in a melting pot community my two cents follow. I acknowledge I may be wrong. I have had students who have died from drugs. Not because they were illegal, but because they were available. My state government experimented with harm minimization. So my students didn’t have to die from the effects of the drugs .. Help was available. It isn’t a perfect argument. Some of my students have died from alcohol too. Some committed suicide. It isn’t that I am a lousy teacher. It is about standards.
I am a wowser. I understand in 50′s US people warned (possibly hysterically) of the number of single parent families in African American families. Those numbers, if you look them up. They exploded. Interestingly, the wider US has similar numbers now as African Americans then. And legalized drugs are related. And I am aware I haven’t presented the link.

tdp June 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

What is your point, exactly?

David Daniel Ball June 19, 2011 at 12:52 am

Harm minimisation does not work as a policy. “The war on drugs” viz Zero Tolerance is the best, most compassionate way of dealing with the drug situation. It isn’t nice. There are casualties. But it is the best way. Let us say we can legalise drugs and restrict them to adults. Let us say we can get the government (or private industry) to produce the stuff for those who can afford it. Do you honestly believe that fewer people will die? That somehow there will be less crime as former drug lords realise they can’t make their money from exploiting people? Can you point to anywhere in space and time where that has happened? Yet I can point to places where Zero Tolerance has been applied and it works. Maybe the problem is not that the war on drugs has failed, but that too many people internationally profit from it.

MWG June 19, 2011 at 11:51 am

“Can you point to anywhere in space and time where that has happened?”

Portugal. They decriminalized the possession of all drugs. I believe they saw a ‘slight’ increase in MJ use, but an overall decrease in hard drugs and a doubling of those seeking help through rehabilitation.


David Daniel Ball June 19, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I concede you found a glowing article by a rag which notably embraces anthropogenic global warming theory/alarmism. I also note you resisted the urge to point to a wikipedia entry. However, I won’t concede my point which you didn’t feel you needed to address before making your post.
“Do you honestly believe that fewer people will die? That somehow there will be less crime as former drug lords realise they can’t make their money from exploiting people?”
Even the numbers put forward by the most willing of believers doesn’t show that drugs are safer or that crime is reduced. Only that numbers have stabilised. Compare and contrast that with NY’s Zero Tolerance experience and dealing with broken windows.
The issue hammered home in Portugal is that it isn’t criminalised any more. But that is no cause for dancing in the streets because the human tragedy from drug use is still not addressed. Marijuana is more powerful now than it has ever been, and the reporting of welfare workers and Psychiatrists is that the modern Marijuana has long term and short term effects which lead to mental disease .. paranoia, aggression, and abilities akin to long term drunks. Drug use is seen as being a cause in a substantial number of driving accidents. There are deaths from drug use and not all crime related. As I wrote before, even in harm minimisation states There is a reason to not use. Portugal offers so many health services to drug users. Even in the land of Nirvana people are discouraged from use.

Charles Landesman June 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

How does the good dean know about the extent of the harms actually produced by illegal drugs in comparison with the predicted harms produced if drugs become legal? When you become a dean, are you thereby permitted to guess in public?

tdp June 18, 2011 at 5:16 pm

How do we know the threat of nuclear war or terrorists using nukes will be worse if the nuclear nonproliferation treaty is abolished and any country that wants to build a nuclear arsenal can build one or buy nukes from other governments?

Scott G June 22, 2011 at 7:16 am

don’t mind this comment, just testing something

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