Caricaturing libertarian arguments

From an earlier entry: Libertarians seem to [ignore costs] when [they] talk about legalizing drugs. The benefits are well articulated, 1/3 less prisoners, more tax money available for other things, and less crime. However, the costs of legalization is that millions more Americans will try drugs and some percentage of them will get addicted.

Actually I have read many libertarians addressing the cost of ending the drug war. I've read it in a thousand essays if I have read it in one. To say that libertarians ignore the potential cost seems to me to grossly caricature the libertarian arguments.

It is easy to talk roughly about the number of prisoners because all you have to do is count the prisoners doing time for drug offenses. It's a lot harder to talk about what-if scenarios, so it should hardly be surprising that you will have a harder time finding straightforward numbers. That doesn't mean the issue is being ignored, it only means people are arguing within their limits.

What you are asking for is hard questions that not only libertarians need to answer, but absolutely everyone. If you are a strong proponent of the drug war, then the costs of ending the drug war are precisely the benefits of keeping it, so just as libertarians should talk about the costs of ending the drug war (and they do), so should drug warriors talk about those exact same things, except as benefits of keeping the drug war. If the drug warriors do not do this, then they have no credibility - which is just as you say, only contrary to the way you put it (you aimed the critique at libertarians), it applies exactly equally to both sides of the argument.

The reality of it is that it is not all that easy to estimate the costs and benefits of keeping/ending the drug war, so the best that can really be done by most people is to mention what they are without necessarily being able to guesstimate the size of the cost or benefit. Libertarians will tend to talk about the benefits of ending the drug war more than about the costs because discussion of the benefits is underrepresented in public discourse. Too many people already talk (with massive exaggeration) about the costs of ending the drug war. The moment you suggest the possibility of ending the drug war the first or second thing that gets mentioned is some apocalyptic scenario straight out of a bad movie in which the streets are filled with drug-created zombies, the economy has ground to a halt and the city is burning, and only a shotgun-wielding Milla Jovovich can save the day.

I think one of the best ways to get an approximate fix on the results of ending the drug war is to consider the analogy of the drugs that are already legalized: alcohol and tobacco. While tobacco and alcohol present real health and public safety concerns, on balance I think most will agree that our experience with alcohol prohibition was worse than leaving it legal, and similarly I think most will find little societal value in an outright ban on tobacco.

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only a shotgun-wielding Milla Jovovich can save the day

Tell me more... Anything with Milla Jovovich is a benefit...


I enjoyed Constant's post, but then I got to the Milla bit and got taken to another happy place, then sort of forgot what the post was about.