About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It's Time We End The War On Drugs

40 years of the War on Drugs has enhanced the power of the state, eviscerated our property rights, eroded our personal freedom and radically disturbed the peace.
Federal, state and local law enforcement officers fight this War on Drugs in the vain hope that American citizens will not destroy their lives by abusing drugs. Yet today the nation is awash in drug abuse. What began as a noble effort to protect American citizens from themselves has backfired. It’s a good bet that today the average citizen is more likely to be injured by violence that attends the drug trade than by drug use itself. This is the true tragedy of the War on Drugs.

Simply put, the War on Drugs outlaws the civility, order and property rights inherent in a free market in drugs. It drives the demand and supply of drugs underground where, by definition, criminals reign supreme. As a result, the black market in illicit drugs is riddled by dog-eat-dog violence. Countries where illicit drugs are produced are terrorized by drug lords. Countries like the United States where illicit drugs are demanded and consumed are terrorized by drug pushers who menace grade school play grounds and lurk in suburban neighborhoods. Gangs of drug dealers routinely shoot up urban neighborhoods. Police efforts to end the drug trade result in SWAT team terrorization of innocent families, corrupted cops, wanton property confiscation and the incarceration of a good percentage of American citizenry.
In the face of this mayhem, there are among us those who still defend the War on Drugs. They contend that the billions (some say trillions) of tax dollars spent fighting this noble War is worth it. But surely it is not worth the ever growing number of dead and wounded in our streets.
Just the other day on a national radio talk show a pundit casually commented that he is against ending the War on Drugs because he has too many friends who suffer from addiction to illicit drugs. This intelligent, compassionate man missed the point entirely! The point is that the War on Drugs has been raging for 40 years and it has not prevented his friends from buying and using illegal drugs!
The truth is that the War on Drugs, because of the economics of the black market, proliferates drug abuse and encourages the use of “home brew” drugs, like crack cocaine and crystal meth. These offshoot drugs are even more corrosive than the drugs originally outlawed.
The economics of the black market are simple: When a government outlaws drugs, it severely restricts supply but it doesn’t make drugs or the demand for drugs go away. Those who demand drugs can still buy them on the black market but at a price far higher than the free market price that would otherwise obtain. In short, government prohibition drives up prices and profit margins. Huge profit margins are the only reason pushers can afford to deal drugs to children. The high price of illicit drugs is the only reason meth heads risk life and limb to make their cheap brew. By dealing in illicit drugs violent criminals can earn fantastic amounts of money by doing what they do best, breaking necks. The criminal manufacturers, distributors and customers they extort are beyond the protection of legitimate law enforcement.

If the government were to legalize drugs, free market producers (including backyard growers), enticed by huge profit margins, would enter the market. The supply of drugs would rise. Prices would fall. In time profit margins would shrink as supply adjusts to demand. Only the most efficient and consumer-oriented producers and distributors could successfully compete. This is the way of the free marketplace. This is the way of the law of supply and demand.
Drug lords may enjoy cracking heads and killing people in order to make a fantastic sum of money, but would they continue cracking heads and killing people for miniscule profit margins? Common sense and experience argue against it. Organized criminals are powerless in the face of the law of supply and demand.

Today, nobody extorts or murders beer manufacturers and distributors. Why? The reason is obvious: beer manufacture and distribution is legal. Thus, the profit margins of beer manufacture and distribution are set by the free market not by thugs. Profit amounts to a few cents on the dollar, a far cry from the enormous profits of black market bootleggers during the era of alcohol Prohibition.

From 1920 to 1933 the American federal government fought a War on Alcohol. The outcome of this war was remarkably similar to the outcome of the War on Drugs. This should not be surprising because the laws of economics apply everywhere and always to trade in all manner of goods and services. During Prohibition the manufacture and distribution of alcohol was driven underground. The price of alcohol increased. Profit margins drastically increased. Organized crime moved in by means of terror and extortion. Gangsters grew very, very rich.
Sound familiar?
However, when Prohibition ended, there was no longer big, easy money to be made bootlegging alcohol. Organized crime left the alcohol trade and moved into gambling and prostitution, where big, easy money could still be made due to continued government prohibition of these activities. Since crime no longer paid, many ex-rum runners went “legit” and integrated back into legal and honest society.

While some alcohol-related violence continues to this day in legal bars and night clubs, these few instances of violence are the result of individual, personal disputes. Machine gun-toting, organized gangsters no longer gun down innocent bystanders in the streets over the beer trade. The extent and proliferation of alcohol-related violence today is drastically reduced because the profit-motive from running illegal alcohol no longer exists.
History doesn’t prove economic theory; economic theory explains history and predicts the future. Thus, when the drug trade is legalized, we know the extent and proliferation of drug-related violence will be drastically reduced.

The bottom line is that if people want drugs, they will get them one way or the other. Black market killers and thieves will be eager to supply illicit drugs because only they are willing to extort and terrorize in order to earn enormous profits. The logic is indisputable. The history is illustrative. The only question is, given the logic and history of the matter, why do common sense Americans still insist on a wrong-headed policy that allows the law of supply and demand to work against them, a policy that guarantees that the only people allowed to profit from the drug trade are the dregs of our society?

The War on Drugs is a classic case of economic illiteracy and unintended consequences. It’s time the laws of economics worked for us instead of against us.
It’s time we end the War on Drugs!

1 comment:

John Galt said...

Excellent presentation.
The crux of any possible success on the War on Drugs is contained in the Economics of the trade.

Exorbitant profits feed the cycle of violence and corruption that makes the trade possible. This
exorbitant profits are only possible because of the prohibition status of the trade.