The Case Against Prohibition

Over at Catallarchy, Patri Friedman makes the case against drug prohibition, in a way that doesn’t rely on the ideas of personal liberties, natural rights, or any other theoretical basis:

I think all this talk of incentives and local vs. global control is making way too complex an argument which in this case is completely unnecessary. The reason why we should legalize drugs can be summed up in four words:

Drug prohibition doesn’t work.

It doesn’t matter if we can handle drugs, or if, as Parker claims, we use them irrationally. It doesn’t matter who suffers from drug use (mainly the user, as libertarians argue, or society, as others argue). What matters is that passing laws and establishing Drug Enforcement Agencies has a demonstrably negligible effect on drug use – and a demonstrably terrible effect on civil liberties. It appears that order to actually eliminate drugs you would have to impose a completely insane police state – since nothing short has worked, including some moderately-insane police states (ie Singapore).

Yep, that about sums it up. Granted, I’m an adherent to the libertarian ideal of “it’s my body and I’ll do what I damn well please”, but that hasn’t exactly gotten us so far. And to a large degree, trying to make that argument against people who firmly believe that the government should have the power to protect us from ourselves isn’t going to be fruitful.

Sometimes you just need to pull the end-around:

This is a simple, pragmatic argument that depends only on empirical evidence whose conclusion is glaringly clear to anyone who looks at it seriously. Thus it is vastly superior to any libertarian invocation of personal liberty, incentives, or whatever. I believe in most of our pet theories too, but no one else cares, so when there is a universal argument why use one that will only apply to the choir?

Arguing over ideals only works with people who can convinced their ideals are wrong. Everyone has their own ideals, and objective proofs of right and wrong are hard to find. Facts, though, are much more stubborn, and at best we can argue over interpretations of those facts. When the facts are on your side, argue from the facts, and back it up with ideals, not the other way around.

  • mike

    I always start off with the “prohibition doesn’t work” argument…it’s rarely successful. People sidestep the issue and start talking about how “we’ll have tons of people using drugs and it will destroy families and…” at this point I usually stop listening. They refuse to accept the simple fact that it. doesn’t. work. Sometimes they eventually come around to actually thinking about the facts and at that point I’ll start discussing the ideals, but more often than not they can’t get past all the drug war indoctrination. They just can’t envision a world where drugs are legal; it’s beyond their comprehension. (I’ve actually got a post in the works about all that, but that’s a subject for another…post.)

    All that said, this is a very valid idea. Generally speaking arguing from facts is the best way…it’s just that college students sometimes have a little trouble accepting facts.

  • VRB

    When behavior is considered sin, the conversion is what’s important, not the facts.