Sunday, November 30, 2008

When will they stop banning things?

Jim rang me yesterday and said he had been reading my blog and wanted to talk to me about something. So we arranged to meet. After we bought our drinks and sat down, a young woman with green hair walked in and sat at a nearby table with a scruffy looking young man.

The young woman obviously made a big impression on Jim. “It’s just not natural”, he said. I asked him what he was talking about. “Green hair”, he said quite loudly. “Humans aren’t meant to have green hair”. I told him to keep his voice down to avoid causing offence. “What about the offence she is causing me?” he said. “It’s bad enough when young women make themselves look unattractive with rings in their noses and tattoos everywhere, but green hair is beyond the pale.” I suggested that it was just a matter of taste and offered to swap seats so that Jim would not have to look at the green hair.

After Jim had settled down he said: “You libertarians don’t like banning things do you.” As I agreed he added: “But I get the impression that you might not be too keen on legalization of drugs.” I responded that I didn’t really have much to say about drugs beyond making the general point that people should be allowed to live as they please as long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others. I mentioned that I thought people should even be allowed to have green hair if that is what they want.

I thought that Jim might have been able to manage half a smile, but there was no sign. He said: “I thought that the reason that I can’t find much on your blog in favour of legalization of drugs might have something to do with concerns about the effects legalization might have on vulnerable people.” I acknowledged that I was concerned about children. I admitted that when my children were in their teen years I was in favour of prohibition because I thought this would make it more difficult for teenagers to obtain drugs.

Jim said: “So, now your own kids have grown up you have changed your mind? I explained that I now think that, like a lot of parents, I had been allowing my desire to protect my children from harm to get in the way of a rational assessment of how they could best be protected. I now think that the risk of drugs falling into the hands of children can be better managed if drugs are legalized because that will make it easier to identify suppliers.

Jim then asked: “Aren’t you also concerned about vulnerable adults who experiment with drugs and end up addicted?” I suggested that prohibition seems designed to make life hell for people who become addicted because it raises the price of drugs, which induces a lot of addicts to do desperate things to finance their habit. After a moment of thought, Jim said: “But if the price of drugs goes down more people will experiment because the costs associated with becoming addicted will be lower.”

I was surprised that Jim seemed to know about the rational addiction hypothesis. However, he was beginning to annoy me so I decided that the time had come to give him a blast about the disadvantages of making protection of vulnerable people the be all and end all of everything. I suggested that we should be encouraging vulnerable people to learn to be less vulnerable because if we keep going down the path of banning things to protect everyone who is vulnerable to anything, we are going to find that just about everyone is vulnerable to something. I told him that as a businessman he should be aware of the pressure for governments to ban and regulate a lot more things including mixed alcoholic drinks, tobacco, gambling, pornography, vitamin supplements, fatty food, and high calorie food and drinks. I said he should be particularly concerned about pressure for governments to do more to protect people who are vulnerable to advertising and the debtaholics who can’t resist spending up to their credit card limits.

I made the point that once vulnerable people have been protected from all these things we will probably discover more vulnerabilities and there will be pressure for more things to be banned. One day we will wake up and discover that we have lost a lot of our capacity to make decisions affecting our own well-being. I then started to talk about the blog post on whether push-pin is addictive, in which I discuss the importance our capacity to make strategic decisions affecting our own individual well-being.

At that point Jim interrupted: “Yeah, the way we are heading the whole society will end up being run like a nunnery." I nearly fell through my chair. Jim must have seen my surprise. He added: “I hope you didn’t think I would be the kind of person who would ban green hair and everything else I didn’t like!”


Anonymous said...

Well written and NICE :)

Winton Bates said...

Thanks Coralie.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that the War on Drugs has a nominal cost of $48.3 billion per year.

That's not including the 1.8 million people arrested every year, with 10,300 of them incarcerated in the United States.

Then there's the roughly 8,250 annual deaths b/c of the War on Drugs:
-murders incident to street crime
-black market murders
-drug-related AIDS
-poisoned drugs (no quality control)
*figures compiled in 2004

I imagine these are low end estimates and that true societal costs are higher. We're talking about international conflicts, funding terrorist organizations with black market capital, and longer-term social distortions from providing incentive to join criminal activities.

All b/c there are a bunch of righteous people who can't imagine letting adults do what they want with their own lives!

Winton Bates said...

Thanks Rob.
Yes, it is an odd way to try to deal with a health problem.