Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War

Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

“It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart in my new video. Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.

But “one problem kept cropping up,” he says in his soon-to-be-released book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.”

After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.

But what about the opioid epidemic? Lots of Americans die from overdoses!

Hart blames the drug war for that, too. Yes, opioids are legal, but their sale is tightly restricted.

“If drugs were over the counter, there would be fewer deaths?” I asked.

“Of course,” he responds. “People die from opioids because they get tainted opioids….That would go away if we didn’t have this war on drugs. Imagine if the only subject of any conversation about driving automobiles was fatal car crashes….So it is with the opioid epidemic.”

Drugs do harm many people, but in real life, replies Hart, “I know tons of people who do drugs; they are public officials, captains of industry, and they’re doing well. Drugs, including nicotine and heroin, make people feel better. That’s why they are used.”

President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. America’s drug war funds a prison-industrial complex. Hart says his years inside the well-funded research side of that complex showed him that any research not in support of the “tough-on-drugs” ideology is routinely dismissed to “keep outrage stoked” and funds coming in.

America locks up more than 2 million Americans. That’s a higher percentage of our citizens, disproportionately black citizens, than any other country in the world.

“In every country with a more permissive drug regime, all outcomes are better,” says Hart. Countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized, “don’t have these problems that we have with drug overdoses.”

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use. Instead of punishing drug users, they offer medical help. Deaths from overdoses dropped sharply. In 2017, Portugal had only 4 deaths per million people. The United States had 217 per million.

“In a society, you will have people who misbehave, says Hart. “But that doesn’t mean you should punish all of us because someone can’t handle this activity.”

He’s right. It’s time to end the drug war.

Open This Content

No, We’re Not All Antifa Now; But We Should Be

“I’ve occasionally encountered mass hysteria in other countries,” Nicholas Kristof writes at the New York Times. “In rural Indonesia, I once reported on a mob that was beheading people believed to be sorcerers, then carrying their heads on pikes. But I never imagined that the United States could plunge into such delirium.”

Kristof’s writing about panic over suspected “antifa activity” in the Pacific northwest, but I think he’s selling America short. We’re a nation built on mass hysteria. From the Know-Nothingism of the 1850s, to the Palmer Raids of a century ago, to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, to the New Red Scare (“Russiagate”) of the last four years, mass hysteria has been the perennial bread and butter of mainstream American politics.

I personally find the current freak-out over “antifa” — short for anti-fascist —  revealing.

With respect to fascism, there are three possible orientations: Fascist, anti-fascist, and politically neutral. If the whole idea of antifa has you up in arms, you’re clearly neither of the last two. Kind of narrows things down, doesn’t it?

Fascism isn’t an historical echo or a distant danger. It’s the default position of all wings of the existing American political establishment, from the “nationalist right” to the “progressive left.”

Those warring political camps are increasingly identity-based rather than ideological. They’re more interested in seizing the levers of power for the “correct” groupings — racial, sex/gender/orientation, economic, partisan, etc. — than they are in the nature of, and inherent dangers in, that power.

It’s that kind of vacuum of ideas that Lord Acton probably had in mind when he warned us that power tends to corrupt. And it’s certainly that kind of vacuum of ideas which the ideology pioneered, named, and described — “all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” — by Italy’s Benito Mussolini most easily fills.

Yes, many of those advertising themselves as “antifa” are just as much authoritarian statists — in a word, fascists — as their most bitter opponents.

And yes, both wings of the American political mainstream are  actively attempting to co-opt the term for their own uses at the moment — the “left” as a term of fake resistance to be channeled into business as usual voting, the “right” as an object of fear to be likewise channeled.

But false advertising, panic-mongering, and hostile takeoverism don’t negate the existence of the genuine article. If you’re not “antifa,” you’re “fa” or “fugue.” Pick a side.

Open This Content

Contra The Short, Simple Dismissal Of Libertarianism: Ideology (45m) – Episode 295

Episode 295 has Skyler giving his commentary on the subtopic “Ideology” from Mike Huben‘s “The Short, Simple Dismissal of Libertarianism“. He writes, “99% of libertarianism is obviously untrue or unacceptable for one or more of these reasons… How can we know that so easily? Here are some simple principles that make it obvious.”

Listen to Episode 295 (45m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

Open This Content

The Answer is Always Individualism

I just saw an article by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen called “It’s Time to Build.”

I’m both encouraged and troubled by it.

I’m encouraged to see anything promoting and celebrating human achievement, instead of just shitting on wealth and promoting envy.

I’m troubled because it begins with the premise that “We” have failed to do really big giant things. It’s a small step from “We need to build bold things” to a technocracy where everyone is forced to put their resources to uses dictated by scientistic managers with grand plans.

I’m troubled because Silicon Valley sometimes seems to long for any kind of “Big” effort, no matter how much of a boondoggle, or whether it’s backed by force or funded against citizens will via taxation.

It mentions how “We” need to overcome regulatory capture. Well that only happens if the state shrinks, and big, unified, central visions imposed on the populace die with it. You can’t reduce capture and also increase state-run Hoover Dam type projects. Silicon Valley is naive about Public Choice Theory and the way real-world political incentives play out predictably.

I am ALL for big, massive, bold visions.

I want to terraform other planets. I want flying personal vehicles. I want limitless energy. But I know that such visions are only beneficial and not dystopian in a world where individual freedom trumps the desires of any small group of people. Those efforts and advances will only be wonderful if visionaries can persuade individuals to embrace and engage them voluntarily, and part with their resources to fund them without threat of force or artificial incentive.

Absent freedom, none of these big bold builder visions are inherently good and can quickly turn evil.

Some Silicon Valley types seem to want a world of endless tech innovation whether the market demands it or not and whether individuals choose it or not. A world controlled by the nerds. I am not accusing Andreessen of promoting this. But I do see an easy shift from his progress promotion to progress coercion, animated by the collectivist spirit of the age.

Anti-Silicon Valley types seem to want to steal all the money from the successful and prohibit people from progress. A self-defeating and soul-sick approach.

While I agree that anti-progress is awful, pro-“big ambitious projects” is not by itself a less scary ideology. Only individual freedom is. Progress nested in choice.

I once wrote about how Virginia Postrel’s Stasist vs Dynamist dichotomy (progress vs. tradition) is usefully paired with Thomas Sowell’s Constrained vs. Unconstrained vision (reality vs. utopia). I think it’s very applicable here.

Dynamism is only a force for good when nested in a constrained vision. Otherwise it becomes technocracy.

Article here. Chart below.

Open This Content

Is This Coronavirus the End of the End of History?

I recently finished Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society, a compelling argument that we live in a world that has become incapable of fundamental change.

From arts and culture (endless reboots – think Star Wars and Marvel) to political gridlock to technological stagnation (as Peter Thiel says, we wanted flying cars and got 140 characters), the world has remained shockingly same-ish since the 1970s. The international order in place since the end of World War 2 has continued with no significant signs of change, in what Francis Fukuyama once called “the end of history.”

Douthat ponders what might cause “the end of the end of history” toward the end of his new book. Could we finally break through with space travel, gene modification, or some other fundamental technological change? Will we have major religious revivals that stir the stale secular air? Will some new political ideology emerge to shake up how government is done locally and internationally? Douthat suggests it might be some combination of many scenarios, each feeding from the other. But he also argues that decadence – that fundamental lack of change – may be more resilient than we think. The inertia may continue for only God knows how long.

He may have spoken too soon. One of the more interesting things about the COVID-2019 coronavirus pandemic is how it might change the stable, comfortable routines that have existed in the US and the West largely untouched since the end of World War 2.

This does not necessarily entail good things. If large numbers of people are infected or die, or if quarantines continue long enough to kill of large sectors of private enterprise, or if governments or major corporations collapse, or if governments seize and hold major new powers over civil society, or if cities convulse with looting or martial law, or we will emerge into a different world and culture. This may seem hypothetical, but we’ve already seen a whole US state declare (relative) lockdown and major steps by the government to occupy voids left by the quickly evaporating economic sectors impacted by social distancing and home isolation.

Whatever happens, if trends continue, the world of the next few years will be very different from what has come before. And that is at least an interesting thing to watch.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Villages to Cities to Villages?

Humans used to mostly live in villages. Clusters of families where the adults did work and the kids roamed and observed and played and learned work by being around it.

With specialization, mass scale production, and technological advances the arrangement changed. People lived in neighborhoods or cities that were often much larger, adults commuted to cities during the day vastly larger still, and kids were shipped off to huge age-segregated clusters, before smaller immediate families came back together for dinner in the evening.

The benefits of technological progress are astounding and I wouldn’t trade them. The benefits greatly outweighed the costs, which is why just about everyone who had the chance chose it. But shifting living arrangements were (often) one item on the cost side of the ledger. It was sometimes necessary, not necessarily optimal.

With increasing automation, software, robotics, and information access, the equation is changing again. Humans don’t need to cluster together en masse for economic production. That means one of the costs we had to pay to get the benefits of economic progress has been removed. Now there is choice. You can do the commute to cities and office buildings while kids commute to age segregated schools thing if you want. But you don’t have to.

This is a pretty new choice. And so far, only a handful of early adopters see an seize it. People can now live where they want with who they want with kids and adults alike doing their work and play near the home. Most people still do not realize this is an option. They are wedded to the status quo by inertia, not necessity.

Recent voluntary and forced quarantines are waking some people up to this possibility. More people than realized can work from anywhere. People also realize how they might want to change their living arrangements if they were to continue this more flexible, work and learn from home arrangement. For example, you might want to choose your neighbors more deliberately if you’re spending more time in a village-like setting. If you and your kids social life and work life and learning will be more local, spontaneous, and collaborative, you might change the kind of natural environment you’re in. Climate, house type, access to outdoors, etc.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slow steady uptick in deliberate village-like communities. Clusters of families with some shared interest, ideology, religion, or profession who have adults who can work from anywhere on flexible hours and kids roaming around learning through mixed-age play and imitation.

It’s possible the reason few people do this now is that few prefer it. It’s also possible the reason few do it now is because they’ve been conditioned for several generations into the assumption that it’s not on the table. More short-term experiments in this type of arrangement could inspire more to do it.

Open This Content