March 26, 2005

Fighting the Wrong War?

Gary Becker argues that the war on drugs has failed and that alternate approaches involving legalization, regulation and high taxes might achieve current results along with other benefits without the large social and individual costs associated with the current prohibition.

Richard Posner generally agrees with Becker arguments:

If the resources used to wage the war were reallocated to other social projects, such as reducing violent crime, there would probably be a net social gain. For one thing, it is particularly costly to enforce the law against a �victimless� crime, more precisely a crime that consists of a transaction between a willing seller and a willing buyer.
In addition, he points out that:
The political source of the war on drugs is mysterious if, as I am inclined to believe, there is a legal substitute for every one of the illegal drugs:... is apparent that our society has no general policy against the consumption of mind-altering substances, and there seems to be a certain arbitrariness in the choice of the subset to prohibit.
To get a sense of just how large the failure has been on a global scale check out the maps that Michael Stastny has posted from the World Drug Report 20041. Note what country is either number 1 or 2 in usage for each category. Stastny has an interesting supposition about his government:
Maybe Austrian authorities know that watching TV does more harm to your brain and health than taking drugs once in a while and that stigmatizing long-term users doesn't help either.
So, a war on TV instead of drugs? Well, no. We do not need any increased government intervention in media. But I would accept regulation and taxation of now illegal drugs as a first step out of the current quagmire. The proper long term goal is, though, to completely remove the government from any involvement in "transactions between a willing buyer and a willing seller."

Via Marginal Revolution where you can find more here.

1The report and the above referenced maps appear to overlook certain other popular drugs, e.g., alcohol!?

Posted by Steve on March 26, 2005
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