Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A War Against Toasters

Last night, Lou Dobbs was very upset because we are losing the war against drugs. He wrote a commentary last week about how drugs are destroying our society. One has to wonder, then, why the online poll on his website is (currently) running 80% in favor of legalizing marijuana.

It's actually not that hard to see because any "war" against an inanimate object will either be won very easily or become something entirely different (and much harder to succeed). Suppose the US declared a war against toasters. Two things might happen. The first is that the American people will rise up against their bread-grilling overlords and smash them to bits. War fought and won. But the second is much more likely: it will stop being a war against toasters and start being a war between toast-lovers and toast-haters.

Some people like doing drugs. A few of them would be better off if they don't, but others are happier despite its costs. We all, in fact, do things that aren't great for us and we wouldn't want people to micromanage our lives. If you are willing to say that certain drugs are unhealthy and should be banned, you must do the same of smoking, drinking and fast food. There's surviving life and there's living life. Let them eat toast.


B Tween said...

The war on drugs is not a war on an inanimate object. Like the wars on poverty and terror, and the coming wars on trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, cell-phone drivers, speeder, road ragers and any other concept that leads to a practice that harms individuals, it is an effort in futility.

The "libertarian" view on such wars is that the government should recuse itself from involvement on either side. It's a cozy theoretical assertion that recuses itself from reality because the effect of abusing these things necessarily impacts innocent bystanders against their will.

Junkies break into homes and steal TiVos - violating the fundamental rights of others to be left alone.

People who eat diets high in trans fats and high fructose corn syrup get heart disease and it becomes incumbent upon the state to see that they are cared for through their obesity, diabetes, heart disease and premature death. That is unless you don't mind in Calcutta-like cities of morbidly obese people dying in the streets. (this is plausible because poor people eat garbage food and are paradoxically obese yet malnourished).

The cost to society must be measured, and there must be a demonstrably compelling state interest before a law can be created, because laws are liberty stealing devices. Consider the seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws.

People who drive cars or ride motorcycles have a much lower incidence of serious injury when they use seat belts or motorcycle helmets. This means that the state is obligated to spend less money on their medical care after they've been in an accident.

So, the loss of liberty represented in the state mandating they must protect themselves far outweighs their right to choose a more injurious path.

Drug addicts don't just hurt themselves. There is a tangible cost associated with their activity that the state has a right to stop.

But there's a big difference between a guy who smokes weed on the weekend and a meth tweaker who hasn't slept in 3 weeks.

So, rather than paint the entire group of illegal drug users with a single brush, approach it sensibly.

Legalize marijuana, sell tax stamps for it - just as we do with tobacco, and use that revenue to fund treatment programs that help meth addicts get clean and become productive members of society.

We have a tendency in this country to act on the other (non-libertarian) extreme by criminalizing otherwise harmless activities, for what I believe are two (government) self-serving reasons:
1) criminalization is an opportunity to expand governments power solely for the sake of expanding power, because the ability to deprive individuals of liberty is government's greatest power and,
2) as a form of corporate welfare. the corrections industry has been largely privatized over the years, our prison population has skyrocketed in the last decade, and a few large, politically well-connected companies have enjoyed windfall profits through government assistance.

Government and industry too closely intermingle, to the extent that Washington has merely become the legislative wing of a few large corporations. This imbalance has led to the hideous economic condition our country and our currency are in now and the time is coming when payment is due on our account.

So to your last paragraph... as long as taxpayers are funding the institutuins that smokers, drinkers and junk food eaters turn to for help when they get sick from their activities, the state absolutely has a right to regulate them, whether through criminalization or targeted taxation.

If it were feasible that we could deny people say diabetes or lung cancer or cirhossis treatmentt without becoming more of a third world country than we already are with our incredibly expensive low quality healthcare system, then fine.

But we can't. Our collective conscience, our liberal society, our humanity and our popular majority's Bible dictate that we can not.

So, what do we do?

David said...

It sounds like what would be best is if we stopped funding rehab clinics with state money. That way we can allow people to live their lives without feeling the need to micromanage them.

Illegal drugs and helmet laws all sound like nice ideas but it ultimately being nice in a very selfish way. If people want to risk their safety for a the thrill of heorin or greater comfort when they ride a motorcycle they should have that right.

Steve Irwin died not too long ago from a stingray to the chest. He knew the risks of his lifestyle but he went on anyway. He died doing what he loved doing. That's the most any of us can hope for.

B Tween said...

Steve Irwin is a bad example because a multimillionaire can afford a lifetime of the best private healthcare availabe. He is dramatically unlike the 99.999% of the population that laws affect. So discussing an exception to every rule is pointless. Let's broach reality...

You say "If people want to risk their safety for a the thrill of heorin or greater comfort when they ride a motorcycle they should have that right."... but what happens when it goes wrong, and they OD or crash?

Whether Smokey the biker wears his helmet or not is definitely his choice... but if he's unlucky enough to end up a quadraplegic from an accident, it is WE, the taxpayers, who foot the bill for 20 years of intensive medical care.

Over time that bill is millions of dollars.

We, the people pay it - unless of course your preference is to lay him out on the sidewalk in front of the hospital to fend for himself when own his money runs out.

IS that your preference?

Is the preservation of that liberty worth the cost in your tax dollars?

You position provides only for those two possibilities: calcutta or wildly higher taxes to pay for care for the junkies and bikers.

Which do you prefer?

David said...

Steve Irwin's wealth has nothing to do with his choices. He died the moment he was stung, just like some people die the moment they get into an accident. Both could have been saved by taking extra precautions but both decided to forgo them.

I agree that we shouldn't have to subsidize people's wrecklessness so why not just stop funding such wrecklessness?

Ideally (for me) we wouldn't pay for any one else's medical care. But here I think we can at least agree that if someone doesn't wear a helmet, they forgo taxpayer help if they get in an accident. That way we can have freedom with responsiblity and people can optimize between the two as they see fit.

B Tween said...

So, you're saying that you favor cutting off care for risk-takers who run out of money, and leaving them out on the sidewalk in front of the hospital to die?

David said...

Yes; when you fund recklessness you suggest a myth that people are not responsible for their action. If you stop funding it--if you stop making it so cheap--people will be more careful. It won't remove the unlucky people, but it will treat them as adults.

B Tween said...

Nothing wrong with a little tough love, but do you really want to kick people out of the hospital when their money runs out?
I mean, is there no room in there for humanity?
Ya know, that's why Bush even had to coin the term "compassionate conservative" - because compassion is disctinctly absent from the philosophy.

David said...

I'm not against charity or helping people. Don't confuse that with being against government funding. If you want to use your own money to help others, that's fine. But don't take money from everyone else to give to those you think need help. That's like saying if you don't buy me lunch, you're heartless.