Without the drug war, all the children of the world would hold hands and sing songs in unison

I’ve made fun of libertarians for saying absurd things about the consequences of ending the war on drugs, but this takes the cake:

with no War on Drugs there would be, within one generation, no “black problem” in the United States. Poverty in general, yes. An education problem in general—probably. But the idea that black America had a particular crisis would rapidly become history, requiring explanation to young people. . . .

That is neither an exaggeration nor an oversimplification. . . .

There would be a new black community in which all able-bodied men had legal work even in less well-off communities . . .

And in this new black community, young black men, much less likely to wind up in prison cells or caskets, would be a constant presence—and thus stay in the lives of their children.

And something else these boys would not grow up with is a bone-deep sense of the police—and thus whites—as an enemy. Because there would be no reason for the police to prowl through his neighborhood.

To be completely clear, ending the war on drugs will: 1) solve the "black problem"; 2) possibly solve the black education problem; 3) eliminate black unemployment; 4) eliminate illegitimacy among blacks; 5) end black criminality; and 6) none of this is an exaggeration.

I wonder what stopped Mr McWhorter from suggesting that the end of drug war would end world hunger, bring about world peace, and cause everyone to immediately become wealthy while slashing carbon emissions.


22 Responses to Without the drug war, all the children of the world would hold hands and sing songs in unison

  1. sconzey says:

    The argument isn’t entirely without merit. At the moment, inner-city gangs are best considered armed paramilitaries exercising a measure of sovereignty over their territory by granting favoured subcontractors monopoly rights over certain businesses and raising revenue by imposing (easy to levy but economically destructive) tariffs. Potential competitors are unable to complain to the Competition Commission (or whatever the US equivalent is) because a) they’ll get a cap popped in their ass and b) their proposed business is unlawful.

    Ending the War on Drugs with their decriminalisation or (ideally) legalisation may not *directly* eliminate the aforementioned armed paramilitaries, but it will eliminate much of their funding. As an armed paramilitary gang, revenue can be extorted through old-fashioned protection money, but this is less efficient.

    Furthermore, low level drug busts give the police something to use to keep themselves busy. They can blame all the violence on the drugs. If an armed paramilitary gang is levying a private property tax, that’s a lot harder to deny and hopefully the police would be forced to confront the problem directly.

  2. aretae says:

    As the last person you argued with on this point…this guy is nucking futs.

    If the word “solve” were replaced by “mitigate”, we might have a discussion…indeed, I think that we would have some real viable discussion.

    Sconzey…It gives the police substantially more than a way to stay busy. It’s a War-is-the-health-of-the-state kind of thing. The drug war justifies substantial amounts of police overstep into areas they should just GTFO. From a public choice analysis standpoint, the drug war’s primary reason for continued existence is that the police union and the prison guards union understand that ending the drug war would cut their numbers substantially.

    • Buckethead says:

      What he said.

      But I can almost forgive McWhorter his excess – it would make a large difference. But the transition period might be uncomfortable. What happens to large numbers of low-intelligence, heavily armed, accustomed to lawlessness individuals when they can no longer make money easily through drug sales?

      They certainly couldn’t compete with CVS on volume or logistics or efficiency, and they’re not used to having real jobs. What happens next?

  3. Jehu says:

    End the war on drugs, eliminate the welfare state, eject all illegal aliens, retroactively eliminate birthright citizenship and eject them as well, drastically lower legal immigration, and you’d probably see some significant improvement in the black communities in the US. The biggest of course being the employment opportunities for no/low skilled workers that this would open up and, in particular, the restoration of the dirty/unpleasant/smelly/dangerous job premiums that persisted in said industries when I was much younger.

    • Foseti says:

      I certainly agree with that. Though I still expect blacks to have higher levels of illegitimacy, criminality, etc. . . .

      • Jehu says:

        Higher, yes, but even back in the early 60s, black illegitimacy was only in the low 20s. From what I’ve read on the crime issue, about the best we can hope for is black crime rates around 4-5x the white level (the case around 1900) as opposed to the more current 9x.

      • Buckethead says:

        Of course, if society as a whole reduced crime rates – even if blacks are proportionately higher, they’d be a slice of a smaller pie. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  4. B Lode says:

    What exactly do the radical legalizers think all the drug dealers will do for a living once their trade is legalized? Do they think ex-illegal-drug-dealers will become legit pharmacists or something? I suspect they would become pimps and/or boyfriends of welfare mothers, in a lot of cases.

    Of course, it all depends on how you legalize. If you legalized sales to adults but not to children, well, there’s your black market. It may be easier to suppress that black market, since it would necessarily have less money flowing into it. On the other hand, there would be a white market of cocaine/heroin/whatever intended for adults, that could be diverted to children.

    I couldn’t say what the effects would be. Guys are willing to risk prison sentences to make beer-and-pizza money. Most drug dealers live with their TANF mothers – that is what Leavitt & Dubner maintain (in one of the chapters of Freakonomics that Sailer didn’t criticize). Urban cocaine sales is a business for suckers. I suppose legalizing the trade might just mean these guys have less money for beer, pizza, and Lorcin 9mms. That would be the best case.

    Worst case – ex-drug-dealers go into contract killing, dogfighting, crooked boxing, and human trafficking (say in teenage girls from any country bordering us to the south).

    I say: close the border, build a fence, abolish NAFTA, deport a million illegals a year, go after cocaine & heroin demand (e.g. with some more big sentences for prep-school users), and legalize marijuana, regulate it like tobacco, and tax it up to just under its street price.

    • sconzey says:

      Be careful not to conflate two things. Retail drug dealing isn’t very profitable for the guys at the bottom, who are mostly unschooled and unskilled; nevertheless with a good and fluid labour market I’d expect most of them would be able to find legitimate work.

      Retail drug dealing however relies on a lot of infrastructure: armed paramilitaries for contract enforcement and property protection, and international wholesale drug dealers. That’s where the profit is.

      Legalising drugs legitimises the immensely profitable wholesale market. Sure, you might have a little bit of retail selling to kids as you say, but the margins will be tiny. Maybe the armed paramilitaries move into dogfighting, contract killing etc. but the markets are nowhere near as big or as profitable as drug dealing.

      You’ve cut off the enemy supply lines, and with careful use of curfews, surveillance, armed patrols and other things that make Libertarians squirm, you should be able to besiege their capital and capture their generals.

      That’s not to say you can’t kill organised crime without legalising drugs, only that legalising drugs is a good way to start killing organised crime.

  5. Jehu says:

    B Lode,
    The experience in the US with organized crime following the repeal of Prohibition is instructive. Overall it decreased a lot, and never really got back on its feet again until the War on Drugs took hold in earnest. Yes, there’ll be some substitution, but actually enforcing the immigration laws should channel a lot of that substitution into fairly legal avenues—right now low skill Americans are having to compete with legal and illegal immigrants to their disadvantage.
    I’ve another reason for favoring drug legalization though. I believe there’s a nontrivial chance that the US will crash hard in a 5-10 year span of now. The various drug gangs and their distribution networks would be very scary in such a scenario. I’d like to see them become largely atomized well in advance.

    • B Lode says:

      Fair enough. It’s my belief that if immigration from meso-America is stopped, the country can survive whatever the regimen is toward drugs. If not, it won’t survive.

      • Jehu says:

        Quite right, the war on drugs isn’t an existential issue. Demographic hegemony, on the other hand is. If most of the people on my side want legal drugs, so be it. If on the other hand they’re hell bent on crucifying pot smokers, well, France is worth a Mass.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      The post prohibition decline in organized crime coincided with the post New Deal change in government. Why is that important? Well, if you think that organized crime is the natural response to creating a black market in a profitable good, then getting rid of the black market gets rid of the organizations that sell it. On the other hand, if you think that organized crime is fundamentally a symptom of democracy then you’ve merely added another problem by legalizing drugs.

      Urban organized crime made plenty of money from alcohol prohibition but was also symbyotic with local political machines. They turned out the vote of co-ethnics in urban areas for favored candidates. Even today, the older organized crime groups live in politically connected industries – construction unions in NYC for example. There will be corruption as long as there is money to be made for its practitioners. As long as there is no clear ownership of government there will be money to be made in corruption.

      • RS says:

        The results of legalization seem fine, unless these indicators are cooked or saliently incomplete in some way.



        Of course, blacks might fare somewhat worse that Dutch or Portuguese.

        Like 5 or 6 countries have done decriminalization in the past couple years. Big wave of it.

      • sconzey says:

        Decriminalisation is discrete from legalisation in that it leaves the import and distribution of the drugs in the hands of criminals; furthermore that you still require the urban paramilitary for the enforcement of contracts and the protection of private property.

        Furthermore, I think the US — particularly the “Rust Belt” has suffered far more from this kind of urban criminality than most of Europe. Certainly, here in the Southern UK, the drug dealers are white and more like small business owners than the “Captains of Industry” I get the impression US drug kingpins are akin to.

        (-1 for ending a sentence in a preposition)

      • Steve Johnson says:

        I think we’re all talking past one another.

        My assertion is that democracy creates the urban paramilitaries and that once they exist, they will seek out profitable markets to dominate so they get more funds. I further assert that there are immutable differences between ethnic and racial groups that will have a large effect on how violent the drug trade is.

        The pro-legalization implicit assumption is that profits draw entrants and that black markets participants are violent due to the lack of legal recourse for disputes.

        If my assertion is correct then decriminalization will do nothing to eliminate the para-militaries; they exist due to the alliances needed for democratic governments to function (someone has to run the vote banks). Evidence for my assertion is that prohibition was ended and the organized crime that it made famous persisted and the influence of those crime organizations only really faded when they were replaced by a different ethnic vote bank.

  6. RS says:

    Selling drugs on the street is already so low-wage, as mentioned above, that I don’t see how legalizing drugs, thus putting guys out of an occupation, is gonna significantly decrease the costs associated with dogfights or contract killings. And if the price of those things doesn’t go down, why exactly would consumption go up?

    Actually, maybe the price of contract killings could go down. As opposed to raising dogs or watching out for the cops during a dogfight, contract killings must be skilled labor indeed. So, the wage could really go down when demand for the job is higher. However, criminals primarily kill each other over drugs, I would think. So you might net out pretty well there. As for people outside the underclass, I would think the price is rarely an obstacle for them when it comes to contract killings. I would think they are mostly dissuaded by risk of getting caught, risk of getting assassinated themselves in revenge, etc.

    • sconzey says:

      Yeah, selling drugs on the street is low wage for the hoppers and corner-boys. Actually getting the drugs out of the country of origin and to the aforementioned hoppers and corner-boys is very expensive indeed, and Levitt and Dubner make the comparison between JT and a McDonalds executive in terms of both pay and responsibilities.

      Legalising drugs takes this entire network out of the black market, and the profits out of the bank accounts of the urban paramilitaries. Organised crime will continue and the cost of dogfights and contract killings will not fall only if a) maintaining a paramilitary is not an economy-of-scale and b) there are little to no fixed costs associated with maintaining a paramilitary.

      As I strongly doubt either of those is true, I would expect the number and wealth of organised criminal gangs to fall and I would expect the cost of contract killing and dogfights to rise.

      The potential negative consequences stem entirely from the excess labour discarded by the aforementioned paramilitaries as they attempt to maintain profitability, despite decreased revenue. Some of the violent mercenary types may attempt to remain in crime, so police budgets might need a 5-year boost to “mop up.”

      Ideally these young men sign up in the armed forces and voluntarily have their criminality drilled out of them, so you’d want to raise army recruitment and advertising budgets in the run-up to legalisation.

      The retail drug dealers are unschooled and unskilled but accustomed to hard work, low pay and poor conditions. Repealing minimum wage and workplace safety law should repatriate enough unskilled jobs from China etc. to absorb the influx. Liberalising zoning law, lowering business and personal tax rates at the low end should permit sufficient economic growth to ensure any gang member who so desires can become a productive member of society.

  7. […] really liked this comment from the comment thread on the drug war. From Steve Johnson: I think we’re all talking past one another. My assertion is that […]

  8. viverravid says:

    Good to read something sensible on this. I think you’re overlooking an aspect.

    Drug Legalizers point at the American prohibition experience as an argument for repeal of the current laws – forgetting that, as well as the factors the Steve Johnson mentions, Alcohol in post-European societies comes with several thousand years of accumulated traditions and informal regulations that socially regulate their use.

    Pro-drug people often point at the damage caused by alcohol as evidence of the hypocrisy of the current laws, but if you look at the percentage of all alcohol users who run into alcohol-related health or crime problems, it is small compared to the prevalence of these problems among users of the harder illegal drugs.

    The pro-legalization argument here is that illegal drugs are distributed in their most harmful forms due to the economic incentives created by prohibition, and repeal of prohibition will lead to the return of milder forms like coca leaves and opium. I think this is naive – from the point of view of both a for-profit business and the human nervous system, heroin is a vastly superior product to opium. Only the complete unavailability of the former, or a very strong cultural prejudice against it, will allow the latter to prevail in the market.

    Such cultural prejudice as does currently exist against the harder drugs is actually counter-productive amongst those most inclined to use them. A rapid repeal of prohibition as envisaged by libertarians is likely to lead to increased drug-related problems, unless it were accompanied by significant cultural changes.

    Creating those kind of cultural changes requires firm conviction and a multi-generational outlook – not the kind of thing you are likely to get in either democratic or libertarian minarchist scenarios.

    • sconzey says:

      There’s nothing inherent in Libertarianism which demands no-holds-barred legalisation. Whilst a Libertarian supports the right of a drug addict to do as they please with their own body, they also support the rights of vertically-integrated proprietary communities, and other private-property owners to exclude the aforementioned individuals.

      So yes, students would be able to drop Es as well as getting drunk on a night out, but that quiet residential street they have to stumble down on the way back to their halls might decide to exclude them by bylaw. While drug users would have easier, cheaper access to stronger drugs; they would also face the full social and economic cost of their drug use, and the social norms and informal regulation on drug abuse you see in Europe would have room to develop.

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