25 February 2011

It Cuts Both Ways

One of the more amusing aspects of neo-conservative political commentary, as typified by commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and most FoxNews contributors, is the tendency to point out the unintended consequences of state interference in markets.  One example of this that I recall was how Rush, a couple of years ago, pointed out how CAFE standards were responsible for the existence of the SUV.  What I find amusing about this sort of thing is how neo-cons are good at determining the negative unintended consequences of leftist governmental interference yet are otherwise incapable of applying the same sort of analysis towards conservative-sponsored governmental interference.  It apparently never occurs to conservatives that some of the obtrusive policies they support have had negative consequences.  Specifically, I refer to the war on drugs:

The crackdown on cocaine created the meth crisis, argues Mark Thornton, and now the crackdown on meth is producing more ill effects. New designer drugs are pouring in from the UK under the label bath salts, drugs so new that the state hasn’t even made them illegal. Meanwhile the potency gets higher and higher and each new drug deadlier and more wicked than the last, just as during Prohibition times.

One of the books in my reading queue makes a similar case about alcohol and pot.  From reading the dust jacket, it appears that the ban on marijuana has led people to use alcohol as a legal alternative to altering one’s mind.  This has apparently had the unfortunate consequence of sending death and injury rates higher than they need to be, for alcohol is more dangerous than pot in many ways.  Neo-conservatives seem to ignore this, as well as the analysis mentioned above, for they do not want to face the fact that their policy recommendations have done more harm than good even though the policy is based on traditional morals.

Like the environmentalists that sought to impose CAFE standards, they ignore two simple facts that doom them to failure every time.  First, they attempt to curb supply for drugs without ever realizing that the underlying problem is demand.  By this, I mean that it is futile to ban drugs because that simply doesn’t change people’s demand for them.  Demand for drugs exists irrespective supply, and will continue to exist even if all the current drug dealers are arrested and thrown in jail.  And there will always be enterprising citizens who find a way to profitably deliver the products demanded to the people who want them.

The second thing that conservatives tend to overlook is that the state is not an argument.  Banning drugs, as noted before, does not change people’s desire for them.  What little empirical evidence that exists on this subject indicates that it fuels people’s desire for them.  Simply saying “you can’t have drugs because lots of people who aren’t directly affected by your choice don’t like the idea that you have them, even though you don’t infringe upon their property rights when you use drugs” is simply an unconvincing argument for those who wish to do drugs.  And in this democratic society, this is exactly what the government is, in practice, saying to those who wish to do drugs.  Small wonder, then, that this method fails to curb demand.

And so, my advice to all conservatives that oppose the use and consumption of drugs is simple:  chill, man.  Banning drugs will not eliminate them; it will simply encourage users to find loopholes and other outlets.  Just follow the advice you give to liberals:  beware of unintended consequences.

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