The real culture war (Intellectuals say the darndest things!)

[Sometimes I need to take a break from money and just blow off some steam.]

People need to wake up to the fact that there is a cultural war going on in this country.  Nearly a half million drug users are currently imprisoned; a disproportionate number are African-Americans.  On the other hand many states have recently moved toward liberalizing marijuana laws.  My home state has reduced the fine to $100, and many local police have indicated that they don’t plan to bother issuing those fines.  Voters in some conservative western states have recently voted to legalize “medical marijuana.”  It’s easy to get a prescription, so that’s also a step in the right direction.  But if you really want to reduce crime, you also need to legalize the sale of pot.  There are referenda on the ballots in Colorado and Washington state that would do just that.

Now we have Pat Robertson coming out for pot legalization.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration is sending federal law enforcement officials to states with medical marijuana, trying to get them to shut down the dispensaries.

This is one of the those issues where future generations will look back at us in shock and disbelief.  Nearly a half million people in prison for using drug crimes?  They’ll scratch their heads like we do when we read that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence owned slaves, or when we read that FDR ordered 100,000 Americans be put in concentration camps because of the shape of their eyes.  What were people thinking back in the early 21st century?

People can’t continue to stand on the sidelines debating trivial issues like whether insurance will pay for contraceptives.  They need to wake up and discover the real culture war.  And take sides.  Are you with Pat Robertson or are you with Barack Obama?  I know which side I’m on.

PS.  I read that Ron Paul got a huge round of applause when he proposed legalizing heroin in a debate in South Carolina.  The crowd was made up of conservative Republicans.  I’m too old to follow the zeitgeist, but I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of my younger readers who are more tuned in.  Is the climate of opinion finally beginning to shift?  Will we still have 500,000 innocent people in prison in 2020?  How about 2030?

PPS.  The two pot referenda are arguably much more important than the Presidential election.  We know that whoever wins the presidential election we’ll get more war on drugs and more war on terror.  The politicians are useless in civil liberties battles; only the voters can put a stop to the madness.

PPPS.   I found this post by Paul Krugman to be especially odd, even by the standards of Krugman’s other posts on conservatism:

Of course, maybe the people we think are reasonable actually aren’t. Some supposedly libertarian bloggers have let down their guard, coming out in favor of the vile Virginia probe law and the Rush slut attack, and revealing in the process that all that reasonableness was just a facade.

But what’s mainly going on, I think, is cynical ambition “” an unwillingness to take the hit to hopes of future office and influence that would come from acknowledging that this is not the Republican Party of yore.

So if you are a conservative intellectual who is embarrassed by Rush’s idiocy, would you:

a.  Keep your mouth shut until it blows over, so as not to antagonize influential conservatives.

b.  Say the following in your blog, in the hope that that it will make you a popular choice for top Washington jobs:

There’s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a “slut” because, he says, she’s demanding to be paid for sex. There are two things wrong here. First, the word “slut” connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”. Or better yet, “extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement”. Is there a single word for that?

Paul Krugman seems to think the answer is b.  And that is why neither Paul Krugman nor Steven Landsburg will ever again work for the federal government.

Steve Landsburg also said the following:

His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.

I’d guess that roughly 99% of the time when someone tells me they are “99% sure,” they are in fact less than 99% sure.  So kudos for to Landsburg for not abusing mathematical probabilities.  Heck, I’d go 99.9% sure.   I love to read Steve Landsburg, but I’d respectfully suggest that if he insists on insulting those he disagrees with, he should at least learn from Paul Krugman, who makes it seem like he’s very sorry to have to inform his readers that all the (conservative) people who disagree with him are either fools or knaves.  When you show glee in your attacks, people will not react well.

PPPPS.  Krugman’s post was useful in one respect, reminding me I have to work extra hard to avoid “letting down my guard,” lest progressives find out I’m a closet social conservative.

PPPPPS.  However conservatives should take heart, because although Krugman doubts the existences of reasonable conservatives, he does concede that such creatures are theoretically possible, not in violation of the underlying laws of science:

For such people do exist “” or at least there is such a position.

Intellectuals say the darndest things!



44 Responses to “The real culture war (Intellectuals say the darndest things!)”

  1. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    11. March 2012 at 07:17

    I don’t recall knowing anyone personally who was under 30 and against marijuana legalisation. I suspect that many of them will change their minds once they have kids and change from regarding adults as fellow autonomous agents capable of making decisions to regarding them as large versions of their children in need of regulation (like many of their parents changed), but the majority will still be in favour of legalisation.

    There’s a huge generational gap on this issue, it seems, and what is decisive is that the dividing line is getting higher i.e. older and older adults are changing their minds, not least as marijuana becomes seen as a means of alleviating the suffering from diseases associated with older people. It takes a pretty harsh prohibitionist to deny medical marijuana to an old woman with a painful terminal illness.

  2. Gravatar of Bill Woolsey Bill Woolsey
    11. March 2012 at 07:17


    I would think that the wild applause was the Ron Paul supporters while the others in the audience sat in stunned silence.

    Just keep in mind that Paul supporters will drive from across the state and from all the neighboring ones too in order to cheer their hero.

    If you look at polling results, Paul is greatly disliked by most Republicans. He has the support of less than 10%. He does better in some primaries because he does well among idependents.

    We can hope, however, that Pat Robertson finally seeing the light will help on the drug war.

    I was surprised to see that the attack regarding abortion was on Cowen. Some kind of brief remark. Cowen didn’t say that he supported requiring ultra-sound before abortions. He just criticized the pro-abortion people for suddenly being anti-regulation. My presumption is that the point was that Cowen would oppose this regulation.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. March 2012 at 08:07

    W. Peden, It’s sad that when people have kids they start wanting 100,000s of young people (including their own children?) put in prison. Or perhaps they don’t want their own kids put in prison, just “those other people.”

    Bill, Actually it was someone else, further down the post, not Tyler. As usual Krugman was being cowardly, trying to create the impression that Tyler Cowen was a closet social conservative, but with the ability to deny he made that charge if someone nailed him. I didn’t take the bait this time.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. March 2012 at 08:08

    Bill, BTW, The fact that Krugman seems to think Landsburg is a social conservative speaks volumes.

  5. Gravatar of Morgan warstler Morgan warstler
    11. March 2012 at 08:52

    Scott why don’t you actually wade in and create your own quotable paragraph?

    That’s what I mean about red meat to drive your message.

    Screw social conservatives. I LOVE sluts. And whores are the awesome!

    The point is fluke is a political operative who attended Georgetown law precisely so she could lever obamacare to either destroy religious freedom or force employers to stop providing healthcare.

    One of those is great the other is despicable. Motive matters and the evidence doesn’t look good for Obama and his windup toy fluke.

    But Attacking fluke style politics is GOOD for MM and Friedman knew it…. You know it.

  6. Gravatar of Mark_H Mark_H
    11. March 2012 at 09:06

    With a model of dynamic inconsistency, it is ambiguous whether or not consumption of drugs (especially addictive ones) with far-off health consequences is utility maximizing. Have you ever seen a recovered meth or narcotic addict who was glad for having taken them? Add in the externalities of drug use (similar to those of alcohol abuse, including auto accidents and crimes committed due to intoxication), and it’s not at all clear to me that legalization of drugs is socially beneficial.

    As I mentioned, the utility outcome of drug legalization, from theory alone, is ambiguous; it’s an empirical question whether people are made better or worse off by prohibition. Most (all?) libertarian economists who I see discussing this say that drug legalization is utility maximizing nearly as a statement of fact, as if standard econ theory plainly suggests it. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I see it as being much more nuanced.

    It being an empirical question, I’m all ears to any arguments for and against prohibition. Instead, what I’m seeing is just the repeated assertion that prohibition is wrong. Would you care to elaborate on your justifications?

  7. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    11. March 2012 at 09:46

    I certainly have been for the end to the war on drugs for years. I know plenty of others who are too, why it still can’t happen is beyond me. However it does seem like on this issue there is some slow moevement at the state level as the Federal politicians are too chicken.

    Robertson is something of a misnomre. Other than Ron Paul supporters you won’t find many on the Right who would even hear of legalitzation.

    If you thought Rush’s attack on Fluke was hysterical you have let your guard down too far.

    Landsourg mistakes witty and clever with callow, bullying self righteousness.

    Anyway Rush has now lost close to 100 sponsors-last I heard, it may be at 100 now. While he says it’s just a couple of lost french fries, the fact is he had dead air for over 4 minutes on Thurdsay and they can’t get any ads anymore other than public service ads-even one of these turned him down.

    Landsbourg probably isn’t jealous about that. I’m not humorless for example. I find it hysterical that the Republican party is reduced to attacking Obama about some 21 year old video. I mean this is an incumbent President and they’re still playing the “if you only knew the real Obama, you’d be shocked!” game. What it says about the state of that party right now is hilarious.

  8. Gravatar of Lars Christensen Lars Christensen
    11. March 2012 at 10:46

    Scott, I love the US, but I have no clue why the hell insane social conservatives get so much air time. Anyway, any sane person will should support legalisation of all drugs. However, for now that battle still seems far from won. In the US it is the socially conservatives who are against – in Europe we have to struggle with the welfare state paternalism. In Denmark or Sweden for example it seems like a very small part of the political establishment will favour legalisation.

    By the way have you noticed that social conservatism, calvinism in monetary policy goes hand in hand with environment fantastics and religious weirdos? I guess this is the same count of unfortunate reaction to the good years of the 1920s we had in the 1930s…

  9. Gravatar of Cameron Cameron
    11. March 2012 at 11:18

    “I’m too old to follow the zeitgeist, but I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of my younger readers who are more tuned in.”

    I’d say almost 100% of college aged students I know (in fairness, not a random sample by any means) favor the legalization of marijuana, while <10% favor the legalization of heroine. So support for total legalization is low, but support for for decriminalization might be better.

  10. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    11. March 2012 at 11:36

    I second Cameron. I’ve never personally met an American in my generation who was openly opposed to the legalisation or decriminalisation of marijuana. Heroine and cocaine are somewhat different stories, but the social use of marijuana is very well-accepted among young adults.

  11. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    11. March 2012 at 11:53

    One thing about Pat Robertson: in his writing, he has done a good job of bringing the ‘lead, follow or get out of the way’ dynamic to logical conclusions, and the endorsement of pot legalization is the latest example. As for Ron Paul, everyone dismissed his chances of the presidency a while back. With Obama getting silly about dispensaries, maybe we shouldn’t be so sure.

  12. Gravatar of Neal Neal
    11. March 2012 at 12:02

    In this post, we learn that Scott Sumner is a pothead. 😉

  13. Gravatar of bmcburney bmcburney
    11. March 2012 at 12:26

    I wish to associate myself with the comments of Mark H. above.

    In addition, it goes to far to claim that people imprisoned for drug crimes are “innocent.” They are not innocent, you just believe that the crimes for which they were sent to prision should not be crimes. Fine, make a case for that position. As Mark H. points out, the case is generally assumed, rather than argued. In particular, do not ask me to assume the case is made merely because you express your opinion through the use insults and vehement absurdities. Demonstrate that you understand the opposing position and your own analysis will only tend to gain credibility.

    Finally, prision (and the threat of prision) is not the worst thing that can happen to a drug adict. If the threat of prision is removed, how many of those currently imprisoned for drug crimes will see a better outcome? Do you really care about these “innocents”?

  14. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    11. March 2012 at 14:19

    Neal: I believe the correct circumlocution is “I’m not, but some of my closest friends …” 🙂

  15. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    11. March 2012 at 14:35

    Some time I posted a long meditation on self-ownership, crime and boundary enforcement. Including this comment about attempts to ban same-sex activity, prostitution, gambling, etc and (particularly) drug use:
    The state is attempting to enforce legal boundaries””specifically, what people chose to consume””substantially beyond its effective capacity to do so. What all these areas have in common””what makes them problematic””is that they represent the law attacking human agency, not protecting it. Yoram Barzel’s analysis of economic property rights I find an extremely useful starting point for all sorts of public policy issues.

    So, any sign that events are shifting away from the state enforcing legal boundaries that are beyond its effective power to better enforce those that are within its effective power, and are worth enforcing, is welcome.

  16. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    11. March 2012 at 14:43

    For drugs that you think are bad, legalize their sale; criminalize ($250 fine) their use.

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. March 2012 at 15:27

    Morgan, I’m not good at quotable paragraphs. Maybe you could do better.

    Mark, There were lots were people in 1800 who thought slavery was just fine. There were lots of people in 1945 who thought it was a great idea to put 100,000 innocent Americans into concentration camps. Lots of those people are still alive.

    I have no intention of arguing that it’s immoral to put 500,000 innocent people into prison. It’s obvious. If others don’t agree with me, they should just move on to the next post.

    Mike Sax, You said;

    “Robertson is something of a misnomre. Other than Ron Paul supporters you won’t find many on the Right who would even hear of legalization.”

    That’s completely false, there are huge numbers of conservatives who favor legalization. I take it that you don’t know many conservatives. I haven’t noticed any difference (among people I met) between the number of liberals and conservatives who favor legalization. There may be a difference, but it’s hardly a litmus test anymore. Hasn’t even the National Review come out for legalization? Among intellectuals, it’s almost an embarrassment not to favor legalization. And among average people lots of conservatives favor legalization, indeed lots use drugs themselves.

    Lars, I’m afraid lots of liberals in America (including Obama) support the war on drug-using Americans.

    Cameron and Johnleemk, It’s pretty pathetic when people favor the legalization of drugs they use, but favor putting people in prison for consuming the drugs that they don’t use.

    Becky, Obama’s been very disappointing on both wars (drugs and terror)

    Neal, But I never inhaled.

    bmcburney, I find it amusing that you think being an addict is a crime in America. It’s not. We don’t put alcoholics and tobacco smokers in prison. On the other hand there are lots of drug users who aren’t addicts. We do put them in prison. It’s not about addiction, it’s about Puritanism. If there was a drug that made people really happy and it had no medical side effects at all, it would still be Banned in Boston.

    See my response to Mark as well.

    Lorenzo, That’s right.

    Dtoh, I have doubts about the logic of large fines. A tax might be better, if we wish to take that route.

  18. Gravatar of mbk mbk
    11. March 2012 at 15:31

    Scott, your blog post titles have evolved into an art form. You should make them available in special collectable compilations 😉

  19. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    11. March 2012 at 15:37

    You said:
    “I have doubts about the logic of large fines. A tax might be better, if we wish to take that route.”

    Fine is for use only. $250 doesn’t seem like a large fine. But maybe you make it $100. In any case, I agree with you that the main thing is to make selling drugs legal.

  20. Gravatar of Mark_H Mark_H
    11. March 2012 at 15:58

    Thanks for the response, Scott. I’d like to know if you specifically disagree with the following claims:
    1. People, on average, are made worse off by methamphetamine’s availability.
    2. If 1 is true, then it is empirically possible that putting methamphetamine manufacturers in prison is a socially optimal policy (under at least some parameter–say, 1 meth manufacturer in prison prevents 10,000 meth addictions).
    3. If 2 is true, then this is not a moral question of “is it wrong to put people in prison for drug manufacture,” but a question of marginal cost of prohibition versus marginal benefit.

    I’m not sure how a person who claims to be a utilitarian would disagree with 2 or 3, but I could be wrong.

    Also, regarding the “500,000 innocent people” claim, I browsed the references in the article to which you linked and didn’t find this specific piece of information: of the inmates who were incarcerated for drug sale or possession, how many would be in prison anyway due to other convictions? I live in the cannabis manufacture capital of the country, and there are 4 to 7 articles in the paper each week about large drug busts. Pretty much all of them involve stolen cars or guns, toxic dumping (such as diesel spills), and/or prior records a mile long. Just last week there was a fellow who, when his home was raided, was found to be dumping his sewage into a river drainage. Some months ago a woman was convicted of manslaughter because her child drank her meth-contaminated breast milk and died. I would bet dollars to donuts that very, very few of those 500,000 people with drug convictions (in prison, mind you–not a place where you wind up for small drug infractions) are otherwise upstanding citizens.

  21. Gravatar of bmcburney bmcburney
    11. March 2012 at 16:17

    “Being an addict” is obviously not a crime in America or anywhere else. I don’t think “being an addict” should be a crime. Nothing I said above indicates otherwise. So, now that I have disavowed the straw men you have so valiantly overcome, where are we? Where is your argument?

    You are obviously ignorant of the facts concerning who does or does not go to prison and why. To a fair approximation, there are no mere “drug users” in prision. In order to get yourself into prison in America, you must do far more than merely be an occasional drug user. If the crime under discussion is mere posession of a personal use amount of any drug, you must be caught repeatedly or commit other crimes or both. People in this category are additics, all of them or so nearly all of them that it makes no difference. What are you going to do with them? Let them die in the streets? If that’s the plan, then say so. If you have a different plan, let me know.

    Your comments regarding Puritanism and whether a hypothetical drug would be “banned in Boston” are a waste of time. So are your analogies to slavery and Japanese internment. Slaves prior to the Civil War and Americans of Japanese ethnicity during World War II did not commit crimes and were not imprisoned on that basis. Thus, they really were innocent. The drug additics currently imprisoned in the US did commit crimes and are not innocent of those crimes. I understand that you believe that public policy should change so that these crimes are no longer crimes. Really, I get that. Where is your evidence or argument that the harms anticipated by legalization are less than the harms of prohibition? Do you feel like making any argument or are you going to go back, once again, to insults and straw men?

  22. Gravatar of dwb dwb
    11. March 2012 at 17:03

    there are people who’s children impose an externality on the rest of us. you know what i am talking about. i would have paid for the birth control. my children on the other hand are absolutely perfect. lol. Limbaugh is a freak sidehow, his only goal is attention (apathy is the enemy for him). why give it to him, he did not pay me to advertise. There are 20 million people underemployed lets worry about that.

    of course, if we legalize pot big pharma or Archer Daniels Midland or CVS takes it over. hmmm. it’ll be mass-production -ized like those tasteless tomatoes i bought at the store last night. At least we can tax it and can claim all that underground activity is now actual employment…

  23. Gravatar of dwb dwb
    11. March 2012 at 17:33

    The drug additics currently imprisoned in the US did commit crimes and are not innocent of those crimes.

    1. in Baltimore, the “open air” drug market is in most cases people coming from the suburbs into the city to buy. There is a saying you dont $hit where you eat, and hence thats why people drive to the city. If drugs could be bought at the CVS or Walgreens, presumably with tax free dollars using an HSA card (because: we will legalize drugs long before we get rid of tax expenditures), I bet those inner city neighborhoods would be vastly improved.

    2. there are lots of white upper middle class people who “ought to be in jail.” how come they’ve managed to get away with it for 30+ years, or more in some cases?

    3. “crimes” is a subjective social definition. 100 years ago “insider trading” was not a crime, and cocaine was the key ingredient in Coca-Cola. so people who drank coke over a stock manipulation scheme were “innocent?”

    the minute they ban designer drugs, 5 new legal ones are on the market. i paid 5 bucks, no questions, at the CVS for oxycodone (surgery) while i had to give my name, address, ID, … to buy sudafed. really? what are they doing with that giant binder of names? this is progress?

  24. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    11. March 2012 at 19:04

    Tyler Cowen doesn’t support the Virginia law, he’s just mocking people who support other paternalistic legislation. Corey Robin also refers to squishy libertarian Megan McArdle who wrote (as Jane Galt) in reaction to Casey v. Planned Parenthood that she supports paternalistic legislation discouraging abortion, but as far as I know McArdle has not gone on record in support of the Virginia law.

  25. Gravatar of Ryan Ryan
    12. March 2012 at 04:56

    It never ceases to amaze me that people who oppose legalization tend to use the word “marijuana,” while people who are in favor of legalization tend to use the word “pot.”

    I’m in favor of legalization, but I refuse to use drug slang words, because I think drug use is one of the most profound evils of modern society.

  26. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    12. March 2012 at 05:47

    Scott, you are just fine at quotable paragraphs, say what you mean out loud:

    1. you don’t want to be quotable on red meat stuff.

    2. #1 is true EVEN IF we stipulate that it will increase awareness of your NGDP bugaboo.

    The most interesting thing about a man is what he is willing and not willing to do to get what he wants.

  27. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    12. March 2012 at 05:55

    “That’s completely false, there are huge numbers of conservatives who favor legalization. I take it that you don’t know many conservatives. I haven’t noticed any difference (among people I met) between the number of liberals and conservatives who favor legalization. There may be a difference, but it’s hardly a litmus test anymore. Hasn’t even the National Review come out for legalization? Among intellectuals, it’s almost an embarrassment not to favor legalization. And among average people lots of conservatives favor legalization, indeed lots use drugs themselves.”

    Scott I got to beg to differ with you. I think it’s against social conservatism. Is Rick Santorum for it? Is Mitt Romney? Is John Boehner? How about Eric Cantor? Let’s ask Mitch McConnell. The typical conservative attitude about drug decriminlization/legaliszation of any kind is to be found in John Ashcroft and William Bennett.

    Notice that my list was of actually elected conservative officials not the private opinion of this or that individual that carries no weight in the offical ideology. If it did then why is this year’s Republican primary field totally against legalizsation with the excpetion of course of Ron Paul who’s basically impossilbe to categorize anway.

    Your use of the word “intellectual” here I find pretty slippery too. It can mean almost anything. You are not an intellectual then? In what way can Krugman be called an “intellectual” but not you? You and Krugman basically have the same function.

    It sounds like the tired old conservative canard meant to demagoughe along with Snatorum finding it snobby to want to help low income people go to college like the rich already do. Right it’s snobby to say I want your kids to go to collegge like mine do but it’s populist to say my kinds went to college but your kids don’t need to go.

    The real division is not intellectuals on the drug issue. It’s elected officials who are too chicken because they figure the Right wing politiicans I mentuioned above will demagoughe the issue if they broach it.

  28. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    12. March 2012 at 07:58

    It’s really disheartening watching people making arguments in good-faith for something that boils down to ruining people’s lives for consuming non-officially-approved intoxicants.

    Religions invent sin where there is none.
    Politicians invent crime where there is none.
    I see no fundamental difference.

    But hey – it’s ok to sacrifice human lives in for an ideal.
    As long as those “other” people remain comfortably distant abstractions.

  29. Gravatar of Gabe Gabe
    12. March 2012 at 11:07

    I have three kids. I am 39. I have been for the legalization of drugs for a couple decades. Drug war opinoions are like an IQ test…all democrats and republicans fail. All MSM fail. Not surprisingly, all the pro-central bank crowd is pro-drug war too. Same people who believe in the official story of the Gulf of Tonkin and the Underwear Bomber.

  30. Gravatar of TylerG TylerG
    12. March 2012 at 13:21

    Mike Sax,

    You have to delusional or in live your own hyper-partisan bubble if you think conservatives have an exclusive ownership to being the sole proponents of the war on drugs. With over 100 raids on dispensaries in his first 3 years the Obama administration is on pace to exceed the record for medical-marijuana busts. Even right now Pat Robertson is being attacked by democrats for advocating legalization.

  31. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    12. March 2012 at 14:07

    I have no idea who these Democrats you say are attacking Robertson because he talked about making pot legal. I doubt they exist. You think his own religous fundamentalists aren’t attacking Robertson.

    I live in no “bubble” but I do know that no conservative in any policy making position wants to scale back the war on drugs. If I’m wrong name me those currently elected conservative Republicans with the exception of Ron Paul who do.

  32. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    12. March 2012 at 14:08

    Don’t get me wrong TylerG there are plenty of good reasons to attack Robertson. His talk about legalization is about the only decent thing I ever heard him say.

  33. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    12. March 2012 at 14:09

    I doubt that anything can top this from Stanley Fish;

    ‘I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.’

    It also disqualifies Fish from any claim to being a scholar. I can live with that.

  34. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    12. March 2012 at 14:13

    In fact MSNBC is loving Robertson for it. Please if you claim that the conservatives are for drug legalization and the Democrats are against it they it’s you live in a partisan bubble.

  35. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    12. March 2012 at 15:30

    This is a weird argument Scott and Tyler make. Surveys show that liberals and democrats are far and away the biggest supporters of legalization, and conservatives and republicans the biggest opponents. See here:

    If anyone is living in a bubble it is you two.

  36. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. March 2012 at 17:55

    Thanks mbk.

    dtoh, Yes, but just don’t make the tax so high it creates a black market.

    mark, With all due respect, I find your attitude appalling. Rather then defending the fact that we put a half million drug users in prison, you suggest that even if they are innocent they might have done some other crimes. Shouldn’t we first convict them of those other crimes? And I don’t agree with the premise that these people are mostly criminals. Lots of very upstanding citizens use illegal drugs.

    I would add that much of the crime associated with the drug industry occurs precisely because it is illegal. Have you noticed that there are very few gangland shootouts in big cities over the right to distribute beer, or cigarettes (although if cigarette taxes get high enough I suppose smuggling might occur there as well.) The violence that we rightly associate with the drug industry occurs because it is illegal. Much of the damage done to drug users occurs because it is so expensive that the addicts feel they have to steal to support their habit.

    I don’t know enough about meth to offer an opinion on whether we’d be better off shutting down all the manufacturers. But in any case, even if that’s true, that’s not the question we are discussing. Making it illegal won’t shut the industry down, it will drive it underground, doing much more harm. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the world would be a better place from a utilitarian perspective if cigarettes had never been invented, but I certainly would oppose putting smokers or tobacco manufacturers in prison.

    bmcburney, Almost no one sent to prison for drug use? Is this a joke?

    In any case there’s no moral difference between use and sale of drugs.

    dwb, Good point.

    TGGP, Yes Krugman never passes up a chance for a cheap shot.

    Ryan, Except I use the term marijuana, and favor legalization.

    Mike Sax, You said;

    “Scott I got to beg to differ with you. I think it’s against social conservatism. Is Rick Santorum for it? Is Mitt Romney? Is John Boehner? How about Eric Cantor? Let’s ask Mitch McConnell. The typical conservative attitude about drug decriminlization/legaliszation of any kind is to be found in John Ashcroft and William Bennett.”

    That’s silly, they are politicians. Almost all politicians (liberal or conservative) oppose legalization. Do you know of any major figures in Congress who support legalization? Intellectuals generally favor legalization, not politicians.

    Two Republican candidates favored legalization in this primary season. I don’t recall any Democratic candidate ever favor legalization. Can you name one?

    Daniel, I agree.

    Gabe. I wonder if favoring legalization is correlated with IQ. I’d guess so.

    Patrick, It doesn’t get much more stupid than that Fish essay.

    Benny, That survey proves my point. Suppose there are 100,000,000 Republicans. That survey says 35,000,000 of them support legalization. And 34 million conservatives.

    Remember that Mike had said:

    “you won’t find many on the Right who would even hear of legalitzation”

    You don’t consider 35 million people to be “many”? I never said a majority of Republicans support legalization. I said a lot did. And I’m right. I’ve met lots of people in that group of 35 million. Is that so surprising?

  37. Gravatar of TylerG TylerG
    12. March 2012 at 21:23


    You should re-read my comment. I only claimed that conservatives didn’t have an ‘exclusive ownership’ to the war on drugs. Not that liberals or conservatives in the electorate are equally likely to favor legalizing. With a democratic administration that is currently setting a record in terms of marijuana related busts/arrests, how is that statement even debatable?

    At any rate, it’s absurd to even be arguing this. The federal government -democrat AND republican!- is maintaining the status-quo. If you and BennyLava want to play political tribalism and have a petty squibble about which of the electorate is more to blame, well, then it’s really missing the point of this post, as I interpreted it.

  38. Gravatar of Ryan Ryan
    13. March 2012 at 04:31

    Scott – Sorry, my comment wasn’t directed at you, per se, just a general observation. In complete fairness, you used both terms. 😉

  39. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. March 2012 at 06:20

    Ryan, No problem.

  40. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    13. March 2012 at 09:45


    I thought your point was that you aren’t really as conservative as you sometimes portray yourself. I also find the idea that two men running for president supporting legalization and having zero chance of being elected isn’t really representative of anything. There are some conservatives who support legalization, but not many. Unsurprising that liberals favor it more.

  41. Gravatar of Ricardo Urdaneta Ricardo Urdaneta
    13. March 2012 at 16:39

    I’m glad this subject has come up in this highbrow forum.

    From the perspective of a producing country (Colombia) legalization is a no brainer. The US is aware of this since it repealed prohibition in 1933. It was the only way to curb the huge power of the bootlegging mafia at the time as law enforcement failed miserably. But since the war with current mafias benefitting from drug prohibition isn’t happening in the US, it is deemed a worthy war.

    The war on drugs which the US chooses to wage abroad has caused unspeakable mayhem in México, Colombia, Perú, Central America, Afghanistan, Turkey, etc. The 500k imprisoned Americans are a mild consequence by comparison.

    Recently VP Biden, while touring Central America, slapped several LatAm presidents and former presidents in the face when he ruled out any possibility of legalization. All these presidents have suggested so far is to have a proper debate on the matter.

    The US Government is hopelessly out of touch on this matter with its own minorities and its LatAm neighbors. As our economies grow and our trade diversifies, one day we will not have to meekly ask to have a debate, but will simply go our own way and leave the US to deal with the consequences: have new US mafias come to our shores to buy the stuff legally.

    Hubris has a way of coming back to bite you, and there’s no other way to describe US policy on drugs.

  42. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    13. March 2012 at 16:54

    I am glad you spoke out here. I do not live far from Mexico, and it is unspeakably sad that I do not feel safe in coming to visit a part of the world I would love to have seen, because of what our country has done with the policies on drugs.

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. March 2012 at 12:28

    Benny, You said;

    “I thought your point was that you aren’t really as conservative as you sometimes portray yourself. I also find the idea that two men running for president supporting legalization and having zero chance of being elected isn’t really representative of anything. There are some conservatives who support legalization, but not many.”

    No, that wasn’t my point, and I also differ on 34,000,000 conservatives. To me, that’s “many.”

    Ricardo, Good point.

  44. Gravatar of Ricardo Urdaneta Ricardo Urdaneta
    14. March 2012 at 12:35

    Ms. Hargrove, that’s very nice of you. Thank you.

    By all means you should go ahead and visit any of the countries you want to see. It is important to put things in perspective. Let me give you an example with the data I’m familiar with:

    In its most inflated estimation the FARC terrorist group was deemed to have some 16,000 members at some point (it is apparently down to some 6000 now). Ditto for the right-wing paramilitaries. You might assume as much for people involved in drug trafficking who are not related to either terrorist flavor. That gives you more or less 50k people in all.

    To play it safe, double that amount, say it is a 100k. Colombia has a population of some 48MM people, so you get that maybe 0.2% of the population is involved in drug trafficking and the violence that goes with. The rest of Colombians are nice people who get up in the morning and go to work or school and try to leave a non-eventful life, and who take to heart the tradition of hospitality that comes from mediterranean cultures. I’m certain it is the same for any other country I mentioned.

    Violence and drug trafficking is done a comparatively few people in specific areas that you would be unlikely to visit in any event.

    The problem is not how much people are involved, but the resources available to them. In very broad strokes you might say that the development of a country like Colombia was an “innocence interrupted” kind of thing. Suddenly the government of a mostly agrarian society was overwhelmed around the 1970’s by different forces, some legitimate (mass migration into urban centers and huge population growth) and some not (criminals financed by drugs with weapons and technology it took the Government years to match).

    Up until the Cali cartel was defeated in the 1990’s, the FARC was an aprox. 3000 strong “guerrillas in the mist” sort of thing, but after it filled the void left by said cartel it expanded to 16000, penetrated territory in, and made alliances with, neighboring as well as distant countries, and generally grew out of control.

    Meanwhile, and given the Government’s impotence, the paramilitary groups sprang to contain this threat as every local warlord saw fit, and of course they also realized the only way to match FARC’s firepower was to go into drug trafficking themselves.

    The US government likes to boast about the aid it provides the Colombian government (I think it is the third largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt, but I’m not certain if that holds true anymore), but when compared to the amounts the Colombian government has had to invest itself to contain this threat (in absolute terms and as a percentage of its budget), which was brought about by US prohibition to begin with, it is a rather small effort as well as the least that could be expected.

    The point of my previous post was not to incite sympathy (although it’s very nice of you) but to include into the subject matter of “the real culture war” that it has an international dimension that is generally glossed over and that has generated strong cynicism towards the US.

    This is deeply ingrained in LatAm’s culture, and although LatAm in no way represents a threat to the US nor does it aspire to that, as alternatives to a US centered world grow, the US will be more isolated all the time. It may not need friends yet, but I’d be skeptical it will be the case forever (by fiends I don’t mean the kind you strong arm into agreeing with whatever you want).

    Too much spin and propaganda has gone into the war on drugs for the rest of the world to believe anything about it. The US government may have scored political points at home, but lost all its credibility south of the Río Grande in the process.

    I have taken enough time and attention in a blog dedicated to economics so I won´t mention this anymore.

    Kind regards,

Leave a Reply