This One Weird Trick for Legalizing Marijuana

Governor Andrew Cuomo “insisted Monday (April 1) that New York will pass a law to legalize recreational pot before the Legislature adjourns in June,” The New York Post reports. He’s been promising legalization for some time. Many New Yorkers had hoped the measure would be included in this year’s state budget.

What’s the hold-up? “You still need to control and regulate,” says Cuomo. “You don’t want 14-year-olds having access to marijuana, so how you do it is frankly the tougher part of the equation. In the rush of the budget, we couldn’t do it intelligently.”

News flash for Governor Cuomo and New York’s legislators (and for politicians in all the other states lagging the legalization trend): Those 14-year-olds already have access to marijuana. So does everyone else.

Sure, the price of “illegal” marijuana might be slightly higher than the price of “legal” marijuana (to make the profits worth the risk of going to jail), but anyone who wants a bag of weed can get one in a New York minute.

And they’ll still be able to get it after legalization, no matter what byzantine regulatory schemes the politicians come up with and no matter how solemnly they aver that those schemes are “for the chilllllldren.”

Here’s a weird trick for legalizing marijuana:

Legalize marijuana.

Yes, that’s really all there is to it.

If you feel some irrational need to “protect the children” from a plant, set an age limit. Problem solved.

Yes, they’ll ignore it.  Just like they ignore the age limits on alcohol and tobacco. They’ll ignore it even if you only allow it to be sold in licensed facilities. They’ll get fake IDs, or find helpful adults, or just buy it on the black market like they do now. They’ll ignore it, and they’ll ignore you. But hey, knock yourself out.

Confused about how to tax marijuana? Fine — DON’T tax it. Or at least don’t tax it any differently than any other similar plant. Deem it a non-taxable food, or a taxable confection, or a taxable houseplant. There, you’re done.

There’s nothing complicated about this. People have used marijuana for millennia. New Yorkers have used marijuana since there have been New Yorkers. They’re using marijuana now and they’ll be using marijuana a hundred years from now.

The only relevant question is whether or not they should go to jail for using it.

The only correct answer to that question is no, they shouldn’t.

Legalize it, New York. All you other states, too. Let’s get this silly war on a plant over with. The plant won. The plant has never not been winning. Surrender already. It’s good policy, it’s good politics, and it’s just the right thing to do.

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Liberty isn’t Utopia

Statists. You can’t even get them to ask (or acknowledge) the right questions.

Whether the topic is “borders”, drugs, guns, rights, or socialism, they address all kinds of peripheral questions which seem to legitimize more statism when answered, but they avoid the real questions which would completely invalidate statism.

Is it intentional or are they really that ignorant? I honestly don’t know, and suspect it is some of both.

For example, I recently heard one arguing against ending prohibition because when the “laws” against Cannabis are loosened and the cartels’ profits go down, the cartels turn to smuggling opioids. What? How does that justify propping up the failure which is prohibition? All you’ve managed to point out is that if you relax prohibition in a piecemeal way, the cartels will focus on those areas where the profit motive is still high due to continued prohibition.

When you sink that deep into statism, you can’t seem to see beyond statism.

So, look at my crude graph . Sorry, it’s not to scale or painted (a lame Back to the Future joke).

See how I readily admit there are still problems with a condition of zero statism (total liberty)?


Utopia isn’t an option.

But statists don’t like that admission and it’s a deal-breaker for them. Liberty would have to be Utopia with no problems at all for them to accept it in place of their favored statist Dystopia– no matter the specific issue.

Obviously, death– with no more problems for the dead– will result from increased statism long before total statism (whatever that may be) is achieved, but the exact place where that happens will vary from individual to individual and is hard to pin down. Use your imagination to adjust the exact scale of the graph.

We live somewhere along the line between zero statism (liberty) and total statism. The exact spot is debatable, but it’s irrelevant for my point. Wherever we are, there are problems– more problems than there would be under liberty. But statists don’t like liberty so that option is unthinkable and invisible to them. They advocate more statism to solve the problems which exist; most of which are worsened due to statism. They will claim that with added statism, the total problems will decrease. That’s not reality. More statism equals more problems.

But, because there are problems, and they can see ways to justify more statism because of those problems, they are blind to solutions which don’t mean more statism. They won’t even ask questions which might risk opening their eyes to the reality.

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Without Profit, There Would Be No Investment

Among the numerous fallacies embraced by socialism, one of the most notable is completely ignoring the value of investment and risk. Socialists love to talk about the value of “labor” and how profit is made on the backs of “labor,” but they ignore the fundamentals of human nature and of how the market actually works.

Labor doesn’t invest in building a widget factory. Labor doesn’t take the risk of widgets going out of style or being supplanted by something new in the market. Labor doesn’t pay for health and safety inspections. Labor doesn’t take the hit of depreciation.

Labor is paid first, before any profit is seen. Labor loses nothing when the factory burns down. Labor makes no investments and takes no risks, and therefore labor is not entitled to share in the reward. Labor makes a direct trade of time and skill for money. Beyond that, labor has no claim on the possible profits which a capitalist’s investment and risk may generate.

To be a laborer rather than a capitalist is a choice. It is a safe choice in which risk is traded for certainty and the possibility of profit is traded for the guarantee of wages. Most people are both laborers and capitalists. We engage in some direct trades of time and skill for money but we also make investments—be it in the stock market, bonds, cryptocurrencies, or even a loan (with interest) to a friend or neighbor.

Profit is not earned through labor. Wages are earned through labor. Profit is earned through investment and risk. The socialist sees this as unfair, but the socialist cannot explain why anyone would undertake a risky investment if there were no possibility of profit. Instead, the socialist is forced to embrace central planning as an alternative to all the productivity of the free market.

The socialist would have “the state” take on all the risk of investment in industry, infrastructure, research and development, and all other such things and then selflessly distribute the profits it will theoretically generate to the people—the laborers—regardless of what role or lack thereof they played in the generation of said profits.

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, as it turns out. Unlike capitalists, who regularly fail, go bankrupt, and lose everything, the state cannot afford to take such significant risks. The state lacks the motivation of the capitalist and so it recoils when faced with the same odds at which the capitalist would jump. Even if one ignores the corruption and inefficiency which are endemic to all states, the state is just too risk averse to make meaningful gains in any sectors where it has primacy.

The possibility of profit is what makes investment and risk worthwhile. Without it, there is no incentive for investment and risk, and without investment and risk, there is no societal advancement, no innovation, and no wealth creation. People aren’t going to risk their resources unless the reward for doing so outweighs the risk. That’s basic human nature.

Contrary to what you may have heard, socialism doesn’t “work on paper” any better than it works in practice. It just doesn’t work, period. Attempting to remove profit from human existence removes the motivation which drives humanity to improve itself. Even if socialism didn’t fail catastrophically (as it always has when put into practice), it would, at best, still lead to the devolution of mankind as productivity ground to a halt. That’s not a future anyone should advocate.

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Intellectual Property & Stealing Future Profits (30m) – Editor’s Break 115

Editor’s Break 115 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: resources and scarcity; the purpose of property rights; ideas as patterns of information; the attempt to apply property rights to non-scarce ideas in the forms of copyright and patent; why intellectual property makes everyone a thief; how intellectual property rights necessarily violate material property rights; the argument that copying ideas is to steal future profits; and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 115 (30m, mp3, 64kbps)

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On Intellectual Property

The hue and cry against “stealing” intellectual property makes a terrible assumption: that the creator or inventor is being robbed of something. What exactly are they being robbed of? Copying a creative work or building someone else’s invention does not deprive the originator of their work. When you steal someone’s car, they no longer have their car. When you “steal” someone’s story, they still have their story. On this point I hope we can agree, no theft has occurred. So where is the robbery? It is claimed that the robbery occurs when future profits are moved from the originator to the copier. Can robbery occur over future profits? If that is true, then wouldn’t other events that affect future profits also be considered robbery? May businesses compete without robbing each other of future profits? No, and that’s the point of competition, to “steal” profits from the other guy. Should competition be outlawed, like “stealing” creative works and inventions is? If we are to be consistent, then yes, it should be. What kind of world would that be when stealing future profits in every case is illegal? I don’t want to know. And that’s today’s two cents.

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“Sanction”: The Triumph of Ayn Rand’s Worst Idea

Ayn Rand is widely hated.  Indeed, if you made a list of thinkers that people “love to hate,” she’d be near the top of the list.  Liberals hate her.  Conservatives hate her.  Socialists hate her.  Indeed, plenty of libertarians hate her.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that she has not been broadly influential.  While she has millions of fans, they’re only a tiny share of any country’s population.  Even when her fans gain positions of power, they’re hopelessly outnumbered by powerful people who disagree.

There is, however, one notable exception.  One of Ayn Rand’s ideas has spread far and wide.  Indeed, it pervades social media.  The idea: The virtue of moral intolerance.  Here’s how Rand explained it back in 1962:

One must never fail to pronounce a moral judgment.

Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man’s character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil.

It is obvious who profits and who loses by such a precept. It is not justice or equal treatment that you grant to men when you abstain equally from praising men’s virtues and from condemning men’s vices. When your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you—whom do you betray and whom do you encourage? (emphasis original)

In Randian jargon, we must never grant our intellectual enemies our “moral sanction.”  Simply put, “[I]n no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.”  Building on this position, Rand’s inner circle ultimately denounced not only “sanctioning,” but “sanctioning the sanctioners.”  Randian Peter Schwartz, who coined the latter phrase, elaborated:

The weapon necessary to defend against evil is justice: the unequivocal identification of the evil as evil. This means the refusal to grant it, by word or by deed, any moral respectability. It is by scrupulously withholding from the irrational even a crumb of a moral sanction — by rejecting any form of accommodation with the irrational — by forcing the irrational to stand naked and unaided — that one keeps evil impotent.

What does this mean in practice?  Don’t talk to your intellectual enemies – and don’t talk to people who talk to your intellectual enemies.  Because they’re your enemies too.  Sure, you can denounce them; but you can’t have a civilized conversation.  Indeed, engaging in such a conversation practically makes you as bad as they are.*

In my late teens, I knew many Randians who took the virtue of moral intolerance seriously.  I partially bought into it myself; I was, after all, a teenage misanthrope.  But the extreme forms always seemed crazy to me, and I gradually broadened my intellectual milieu.  Once I was in my late-20s, I had so little contact with Randians that I gradually forgot about their self-conscious moral intolerance.

Over the last decade, however, the Randian virtue of moral intolerance has spread far and wide – especially on social media.  All major political views now have outspoken exponents who self-consciously and self-righteously refuse to “sanction” unbelievers.  Or “sanction those who sanction” them.

Is Rand really causally responsible for modernity’s moral intolerance?  Probably not; the lines of intellectual communication don’t fit.  Yet the fact remains: One of Rand’s most peculiar positions has spread like wildfire.

Is this really such bad news?  Yes.  I lived in a subculture that embraced Rand’s virtue of moral intolerance, and saw the devastation.  Genuinely smart and nominally rational people were quick to take offense and afraid to ask questions.  Indeed, many were so afraid to talk to the “wrong people” that they stayed in their Randian intellectual ghetto, parroting their guru and her appointed successors.  Vocal free-thinkers were often purged.  As a result, Randians were mired in error.  When they were wrong (as they often were), they lacked the cognitive methods and social lifelines to stop being wrong.

The party line, of course, was that Randians had no need to root out error because they were so clearly and thoroughly right.  Everyone outside of their ambit probably finds this megalomania comical, but the problem goes deeper than one Russian novelist’s eccentricities.  Every group that deems itself clearly and thoroughly right is deeply wrong due to (a) their dogmatic methods and (b) the complexity of the worldIncluding yours.  Including mine.  Talking to people who agree with you while talking at people who disagree with you is a blueprint for building a Tower of Error.

Still, Randian moral intolerance did have one saving grace: It was a tiny subculture.  Anyone who had enough could easily walk away.  If the perceived virtue of moral intolerance continues to mainstream, where will curiosity find a new home?

This doesn’t mean we should listen respectfully to everyone.  Personally, I draw the line at avowed Communists and Nazis.  They really are unworthy of a response; therefore, I don’t respond to them.  Nevertheless, we should still listen respectfully to a wide range of views.  Perhaps your opponents are intellectually dishonest, but if you don’t listen respectfully, it’s very hard to tell.  Indeed, even if you do listen respectfully, it’s hard to tell.  I can’t read minds; can you?  In any case, if you want to understand the world, you should focus on the truth of the message, not the morals of the messenger.  Tolerantly engaging a wide range of viewpoints is a vital reality check.  Ayn Rand badly needed this check.  So do you.

* I’m well-aware that Rand enjoined her readers to judge others judiciously:

The opposite of moral neutrality is not a blind, arbitrary, self-righteous condemnation of any idea, action or person that does not fit one’s mood, one’s memorized slogans or one’s snap judgment of the moment. Indiscriminate tolerance and indiscriminate condemnation are not two opposites: they are two variants of the same evasion.

But in practice, Rand almost never criticized anyone for indiscriminate condemnation – and her movement largely followed suit.

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