Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chart Of The Day

So someone explain this to me: how can any honest conservative who decries governmental intrusion into our lives whilst trumpeting that private enterprise is so much more efficient support a program that has utterly failed going on four decades now? Bonus points if your explanation doesn't include the word "hypocrisy".



Jerry Critter said...

Well, if you mean Federal Drug "Price" Control, it seems to be working. The price of cocaine is at an all time low.

JBW said...

There was a time when that would have been music to my ears, Jerry. Thankfully it's not much of a concern anymore. Personally, anyway.

B to the D said...

Well, I'm not a conservative, nor do I spend time decrying gov't intrusion, however you can't say this chart proves the war on drugs has failed. Sure, price has probably come down due to more supply, but would that supply have been 4X if not for the DEA? Are high drug prices even a stated goal of the DEA? I highly doubt it.

Of course, I realize you didn't commission any research, and this handy chart is merely something you spotted elsewhere in the internets. But you did get me thinking about drugs and the war against them. I get the whole personal freedom angle, but what about all the unintended consequences, the negative externalities legal drugs would create? In the same way I'm glad the gov't regulates chemical waste, I actually like the gov't regulating people getting wasted by chemicals because I don't want those people wasting me and my family on I-5.

I know, I know, alcohol is legal and obviously creates a hazard on our roads, but tht doesn't mean I want to add to the mix. It's always nice to think about drug legalization as simple bong hits on your own couch, but it doesn't always work that way.

James, I recall you recently commented that you are all for personal freedoms that don't encroach upon others - I'm not sure legal drugs is such a case.

JBW said...

I don't point to this chart as definitive proof that the war on drugs has been a failure, BD; I see it as merely one symptom of that failure. One would assume that the stated goal of the DEA is to decrease illegal drug use by Americans. Drastically reduced prices are antithetical to that goal and the fact this is inversely related to the drastically rising costs of enforcement only points to more failure.

And I think you might be conflating drug use with personal responsibility. Just as I would never advocate getting behind the wheel after six martinis or after working sixteen straight hours all night at the office I similarly don't advocate doing so after hitting a bong or shooting up heroin. The government regulates getting wasted by chemicals by saying, "You're allowed to drink martinis or stay up all night but just don't drive if your judgement or motor skills have been impaired", yet hitting a bong and shooting up heroin are illegal whether you're driving your car or not.

I am indeed all for personal freedoms that don't encroach upon others and I don't see a conflict as that relates to drug legalization. You don't want people getting behind the wheel when they're impaired: neither do I. The difference is that I don't mind people being impaired in their own homes, whether that impairment comes from cannabis, heroin, alcohol, sleeping pills, or holding one's breath until you pass out doesn't matter to me and I definitely do not think that it's government's job to regulate what I do in my own home. Again, once I leave my home and get behind the wheel that's a different story. Society then has a vested interest in government regulating my behaviour but only then.

B to the D said...

But it's not a symptom of any failure. It *could* be, but you have no idea what the state of drug prices would be if the fabled War on Drugs had not been waged. My point is only that this chart proves absolutely nothing. It's provacative, it tries to make a statement, but at the end of the day it doesn't provide any basis for a rational argument.

As for the personal responsibility point, you're right. While I may be wrong, my gut tells me a meth-head is more likely to mess up I-5 than an alcoholic.

I agree drug policy shouldn't only be there to prevent choices that some feel others should not make. As long as there aren't externalities, gov't policy should not be guiding personal decisions. I guess I'm just not convinced that cocaine at Wal-Mart (cuz you know they'd have the lowest prices) wouldn't have some negative impact on society.

JBW said...

Agreed BD, it *could* be a symptom of failure or it could not be but knowing what I do about the basic economic theory of supply and demand (which is admittedly most likely less than someone with an MBA) I doubt that the price of cocaine would rise if it suddenly became legal.

We can look to the prohibition of alcohol and several other historical examples showing that black markets artificially inflate the price of goods and that those prices drop when those goods are no longer illegal because the artificial pressure on the supply has been relieved, so by extrapolation the more the government spends trying to limit the supply of drugs the more those drugs should cost unless the program is indeed a failure. This is assuming as I did above that the stated goal of the DEA is to decrease illegal drug use by Americans and that they are attempting to achieve this goal by artificially inflating drug prices to prohibitive levels combined with the threat of bodily incarceration and monetary fines. I think that's a basis for a rational argument.

And even if you were able to prove that cocaine would be worth double what it was in 2007 if it were legal, would most Americans find a $14 billion bill for the war on drugs worth that extra $122 a gram? How much money can we throw at a program for four decades before it officially becomes a failure? And remember, this is all while illegal drugs are the cheapest, purest and most readily available they've ever been. Do you think that doubling the budget for the war on drugs would make any difference on that count? Or at least enough of a difference to justify the incredible cost?

And remember also that the cost is paid in human lives and blood as well. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are incarcerated every year for simple possession and each fined tens of thousands of dollars in the process. This ruins countless lives and costs thousands of people their jobs, most of whom are relatively harmless individuals and have never committed any other crime in their lives. And that's not counting all of the lives lost to violence and street crime caused by the illegality of drugs. All of these costs must be factored in as well.

As for personal responsibility, I won't debate the relative driving prowess between tweakers and alcoholics with you (although one would assume that the tweaker is more alert) but it goes without saying that I would not like either behind the wheel when they're under the influence. My problem with the laws as they now stand is that the tweaker could be arrested even if he wasn't endangering anyone else's life. You can make the argument that arresting him might potentially save a life at some point in the future but I'm pretty sure that pre-crime isn't against the law yet.

I think we mostly agree that the roll of government is not to influence personal choices and responsibility but I've never made the argument that cheap Wal-Mart cocaine wouldn't have some negative impact on society. Perhaps it would, just as cheap Wal-Mart alcohol, tobacco, saturated fats, sugar, caffeine, spray paint, drain cleaner and prescription medicine might as well.

We must weigh that impact against all of the other costs the war on drugs inflicts on this country and its people to ascertain whether the net effects of that impact are indeed negative. Also, in a free society we give responsible adults the right to choose what that impact will be instead of making that choice for them. All I'm advocating is that there be a consistent set of laws pertaining to the use of all of those substances and that anyone who chooses to use them responsibly can do so without fear of fines, incarceration or worse.