Monday, November 20, 2006

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In honor of Milton Friedman, I'd like to see....

Milton Friedman's significance to the world has been revealed in the bevy of obits that we've all read in the past week. Much of the effort has been focused on those aspects of Friedman's ouvre that have become accepted wisdom -- the importance of monetary policy, the negative income tax Earned Income Tax Credit, etc.

Here's an open invitation to readers -- which of Friedman's policy proposals that have not become accepted wisdom would you like to see implemented?

My choice is not a difficult one -- it's a policy proposal that would manage to address U.S. foreign policy, economic development, the rule of law, crime, and race relations in one fell swoop.....

Drug legalization

If the United States were to legalize (and tax) illegal narcotics in the same manner that legal narcotics, like alcohol and tobacco, are treated, consider the effects on:

U.S. foreign policy: Because of current policies regarding narcotics, the United States is stymied in promoting the rule of law in Afghanistan and several Latin American countries because farmers in those countries keep harvesting products that American cunsumers demand. Because this activity is crminalized, the bulk of the revenues from this activity enriches criminal syndicates and terrorist networks. All for a supply-side policy that does nothing but act as a price support for producers.

Crime: What percentage of the criminal justice and penal systems are devoted to drug-related offenses (click here for some answers)? Even if the sums of money that were spent on drug enforcement activities were instead devoted to treatment, I have to think it would be money better spent.

There are other benefits as well -- such as eliminating the racial bias that exists within drug sentencing guidelines at the federal level.

There are two potential downsides to this move. First, actual drug use would likely increase -- but this can be dealt with via larger treatment budgets. Second, once this genie is out of the bottle, I suspect there's no going back. (For an extended argument against legalization, check out this Theodore Dalrymple essay from City Journal).

That said, I think Friedman was right -- legalization is the best policy to implement. For more on Friedman's thoughts on the matter, click here, here and here.

posted by Dan on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM


The EITC is very different from a negative income tax (NIT), the latter being Friedman's (and James Tobin's) proposal. To get the EITC you have to work. With the NIT, the less you work, the more you get.

posted by: Miracle Max on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

Not what you asked for, but my suggestion for the dumbest Friedman policy proposal is the elimination of the driver's license.

The driver's license is a common sense measure for reducing traffic accidents (and therefore injury and death) and doesn't really impose much of a burden relative to the benefits. The burden that it does impose is mostly related to the good consequence (you have to learn to drive).

If I had to put it theoretically, the basic reason we have drivers' licenses is the externality of driving recklessly: you might hurt or kill other people in driving. Also, imperfect information: many new drivers underestimate the risks.

posted by: Crust on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

Making Afghanistan a legal opium producer has been one of my causes at American Footprints. The Senlis Council has also proposed this, for which the government may or may not have tried to ban them from the country.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

Ending prohibition did not eliminate organized crime. Those organizations adapted and continued to grow.

I don't know what would happen to the terrorists/criminals that are currently profiting from the Afghani opium trade and the Colombian cocaine/cannabis trade. But I doubt that legalizing drug use in the U.S. and Europe would get rid of them. Like the mob families from the 20's, I imagine they'd just adapt and find another source of revenue to maintain their power base. So I'm not sure that legalization would really help U.S. foreign interests all that much.

posted by: kwo on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

For what it's worth, I'd vote for school vouchers, a.k.a. "school choice."

I don't think "drug legalization" as such can ever be articulated in a politically palatable manner. But school choice can be put into effect, and has had varying degrees of success in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Florida, and elsewhere. (Also, Newark's new mayor is interested in the possibility of school choice.)

Sure, there are interest groups (such as the teachers' unions) that are rabidly against school choice. But given the right political situation and effective mobilization of people and groups in favor of school choice, school choice can be (and has been) put into effect, improving the education of America's youth.

posted by: J.R. on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

No person who opposes drug legalization has any right to object to any of George Bush's WOT ideas on civil liberties grounds. Anybody who opposes the Patriot Act as a violation of rights, and who supports the war on drugs, is either a rabid partisan or completely clueless.

As for Crust's comment: I agree that eliminating driver licensing should be a pretty low priority. And I agree that there are theoretical justifications for driver licensing. But driver licensing as actually implemented is (like most government programs) a fundraising measure. It does virtually nothing to ensure safety; the standards are so low that a crippled chimpanzee can get a license. And it serves as yet another means of social control -- look at all the non-driving offenses (such as failure to pay child support) that can cost one a driver's license.

posted by: David Nieporent on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

David Nieporent writes:

"No person who opposes drug legalization has any right to object to any of George Bush's WOT ideas on civil liberties grounds."

Huh? How is it inconsistent (or "rabid[ly] partisan" or "completely clueless") to oppose e.g. waterboarding -- which the United States has traditionally considered to be torture -- yet oppose drug legalization?

And what about the wiretapping without court oversight? The government was breaking the law (FISA) that they publicly claimed they were following. They got caught and then they announced they will continue to do it with only the barest pretense of a legal case. Is it really so crazy to oppose that on privacy and/or rule of law grounds?

posted by: Crust on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

> Ending prohibition did not eliminate organized crime. Those organizations adapted and continued to grow.

In fact, prohibition hurt organized crime alot and made it shink. They lost their grip on serious cash until, well, they adapted (gambling), in the '50s.

Now, true, organized crime IS more powerful now, thanks to the War on Drugs. Their rule over a major part of Colombia is the sort of thing they could never have hoped for back then. Or before the War on Drugs started.

posted by: Jon Kay on 11.20.06 at 09:30 AM [permalink]

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