Who cares?

The main problem in America is a lack of utilitarian thinking.  I was reminded of that recently when reading an excellent piece in Vox.com on the War on Drug Using Americans.

Most recently, these fears of drugs and the connection to minorities came up during what law enforcement officials characterized as a crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s. Lawmakers, judges, and police in particular linked crack to violence in minority communities. The connection was part of the rationale for making it 100 times easier to get a mandatory minimum sentence for crack cocaine over powder cocaine, even though the two drugs are pharmacologically identical. As a result, minority groups have received considerably harsher prison sentences for illegal drugs. (In 2010, the ratio between crack’s sentence and cocaine’s was reduced from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1.)

That’s right, America has patently racist laws that are aimed at locking up African Americans, and almost no one seems to care.  Even worse, people don’t even seem to understand what’s going on.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read something like the following (from an article discussing the fact that heroin addiction is spreading from the black to the white community, and originally in the NYT):

So officers like Eric Adams, a white former undercover narcotics detective in Laconia, are finding new ways to respond. He is deployed full time now by the Police Department to reach out to people who have overdosed and help them get treatment.

“The way I look at addiction now is completely different,” Mr. Adams said. “I can’t tell you what changed inside of me, but these are people and they have a purpose in life and we can’t as law enforcement look at them any other way. They are committing crimes to feed their addiction, plain and simple. They need help.”

He may not be able to tell “what changed inside” of him, but I can guess.  Heroin addicts went from being villains to victims, as soon as they started looking like the friends of our narcotics detectives.

So why aren’t people up in arms over this?  It’s not like people don’t care about racial injustice, we’ve seen lots of protests about police brutality.  I think it’s because victims of police brutality really do seem like victims, whereas those incarcerated for drug crimes, even when the punishment is clearly racially biased, don’t seem like sympathetic victims.  In the 1960s, campuses were in an uproar over the Vietnam war. In 1972 the protests pretty much ended, not because the war was over, but because college students were no longer being drafted.  Today, college students are more likely to protest inappropriate Halloween costumes that the unjust incarceration of hundreds of thousands of African-American drug users.

Alex Tabarrok points to another great example.  There is a government policy reform that could save 5,000 to 10,000 lives each year, and greatly reduce suffering, and save the government $12 billion/year.  There’s no downside. Who could be opposed to paying organ donors? Almost everyone.  As far as I know both parties are opposed to the sort of sensible policy reform that could save as many American lives as were lost in Iraq plus Afghanistan over a decade, and do so every single year.

Next year the media will try to trick you into thinking that the two major parties are discussing the great issues facing America.  Don’t be fooled; neither party is addressing the big issues.  There are some differences between the two parties, but not on the most important issues.  In my view there are really only two groups; those promoting utilitarianism, and those promoting pain and suffering under the guise of some sort of phony ethical values.  The rest is all a distraction.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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58 Responses to “Who cares?”

  1. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    26. November 2015 at 07:29

    But TheMoneyIllusion readers will not be distracted! Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    26. November 2015 at 07:33

    Well, for that matter the US has spent trillions of dollars fighting terrorism. Since 9/11 terrorists have murdered 180,000 Americans.

    Those terrorists were called drunk drivers.

    I guess the next time you go out on a bike ride, you should be wary that terrorists will take a pot shot at you. And if you go into a movie theater in Knoxville, look out for ISIS.

  3. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    26. November 2015 at 08:20

    Typical Boston Brahmin bully pulpit stuff, bleeding heart on a sleeve, fine and dandy so long as your daughter doesn’t date a black man. In fact, you could argue that the difference in sentencing has to do with the fact in ghettos people murder over drugs, whereas in white areas they just get into a fistfight. No evidence for this assertion, just intuition.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. November 2015 at 08:39

    Philo, Most of you guys, but there’s a few I worry about.

    Ben, Exactly.

    Ray, Well I can’t say I’m surprised to find that you are also a racist, as you seem to exhibit every other flaw known to man.

  5. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    26. November 2015 at 09:51

    Well, it is I suppose worth noting that the War on Drugs and those patently racist laws were supported and voted for by the Congressional Black Caucus. Charlie Rangel in particular has a lot to answer for. They too saw drug dealers and users as the Other.

    http://prisontime.org/2013/08/12/timeline-black-support-for-the-war-on-drugs/

  6. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 10:07

    “That’s right, America has patently racist laws that are aimed at locking up African Americans, and almost no one seems to care.”

    -No, Scott, these aren’t “racist laws”. A White person selling crack cocaine can be imprisoned just as long as a Black one, when controlling for prior criminal history, etc. And the 100-1 penalty difference wasn’t due to racism, but to faulty research. Disparate impact alone cannot be used as evidence of malign intent.

    “Today, college students are more likely to protest inappropriate Halloween costumes that the unjust incarceration of hundreds of thousands of African-American drug users.”

    -The vast majority of drug arrests lead to less than a week’s worth of imprisonment. And only a small fraction of those in prison are in prison solely for drug use. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

    And your “don’t be fooled” link is just irrelevant.

  7. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 10:10

    Also, if Ray’s a racist based on this evidence alone, I can confidently state that I am a far greater racist than Ray Lopez.

    Careful, Scott, my view of you as God, or at least, the person closest to him in nature, is slipping.

  8. Gravatar of BJH BJH
    26. November 2015 at 10:24

    This is depressing

  9. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 10:38

    BTW, didn’t this whole White heroin epidemic result from “utilitarian thinking” regarding pain relief, which led to deregulation of opioid prescription, which led to more drug dependency?

    https://www.aan.com/uploadedFiles/Website_Library_Assets/Documents/6.Public_Policy/1.Stay_Informed/2.Position_Statements/3.PDFs_of_all_Position_Statements/Position%20and%20Policy%20Documents.pdf

    Be careful with your “utilitarian thinking”.

  10. Gravatar of Ram Ram
    26. November 2015 at 11:23

    I’d contend that the main problem in America is that the public, including its highly educated members, is social-scientifically ignorant. Most people I talk to about policy do not even realize that there is anything non-trivial about policy analysis. They want the government to make sure that four phases of rigorously designed RCTs be performed before drugs are made available to the public, for fear of unintended consequences of intervening on a complex system like the human body, yet they think they understand the consequences of highly complex interventions on human societies by introspection alone. Not only do they think they understand the consequences of alternative policy choices, but they’re so confident that their understanding is right and that its truth is so obvious that the only explanation for disagreement is evil intentions. When I point out that on virtually every policy issue, at least somewhat compelling arguments for many conflicting points of view have been made by relevant experts, people usually react in disbelief or denial, or immediately retreat to questioning the motives of these experts (“of course they say that, they’re on the payroll of Big Business” or whatever). These patterns of speech and behavior are uniformly distributed across the political spectrum, even if intelligence and knowledge of well-established facts is not. Even many experts in particular areas of social science evince no awareness of the lack of expert consensus on almost anything in their field, and give the impression of unanimity to an unknowing public.

    My guess is that if you were to convince a supposedly non-utilitarian person that their (e.g.) deontological prescriptions might have terrible consequences, then they would revisit them. Anti-consequentialism is easy to maintain so long as you believe the consequences of your proposals are desirable, but most would fold if convinced otherwise. The real problem is convincing anyone, which involves first convincing them they don’t already know the answers, which involves getting them to disassociate with their political allies enough to think critically, which involves upending a defining feature of their identity.

    Imagine how different the world would look if, in order to secure the most votes, politicians had to say “you know, I don’t really know the best way to deal with this problem. My educated guess, based on consultations with experts, is that we should try X, but the truth is no one knows if it will be a change for the better. Consequently we will undertake a small scale experiment, designed to maximize our understanding of the consequence of X. Should it succeed we will scale up and perform follow up studies. Should it fail we will scale it back.” Seems to me we will never get there till the public becomes cognizant of and concerned about its own policy ignorance. The details of moral philosophy will be easy to reason over once we’ve managed that much.

    Happy Thanksgiving

  11. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    26. November 2015 at 13:43

    This without counting the damage that the War on Drugs does in Latin America; particularly by entrenching and exacerbating honour cultures in Latin American countries (as it does in African-American communities); and honour cultures raise the level of violence.

    As I noted in a recent blog post, honour cultures typically operate if the state is effectively absent, does not have a monopoly of organised violence, is seriously mistrusted or some combination thereof. In different ways, all three factors tend to operate within African-American communities — the police are more distrusted and the “war on drugs” create a range of assets which are not state-protected and income flows which are state-threatened.
    http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/nowadays-presence-of-white-americans-is.html

    So the War on Drugs has a sociological black market effect, if you like. And not one confined to the US.

  12. Gravatar of Dan W. Dan W.
    26. November 2015 at 14:00

    Scott,

    You could change your focus from advocating your hobby monetary theory and become a voice for drug policing reform. But will you? If not then all you have done is feign moral superiority while asking others to do what you have little interest in doing yourself.

    Here is something for you to consider. Inner city minority communities are the ones most devastated by the “War on Drugs”. As has been demonstrated in the past year inner city minorities are able to rally and get the nation’s media and even its president to pay attention. So where are the inner city communities rallying against the “War on Drugs”? There does not appear to be a focused anti-“War on Drugs” message emanating from the inner city. Why do you think this is?

  13. Gravatar of Instugator Instugator
    26. November 2015 at 15:08

    re Organ Transplant.

    It amazes me that every single person in the transplant process has their value increased (through being paid or receiving the organ) EXCEPT the donor or donor’s heirs.

    That should change.

    The only country in the world without a kidney shortage is the only place where it is permissible to sell one – Iran.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. November 2015 at 16:16

    John, Yes, but it’s good to see that their views are now beginning to shift toward drug legalization.

    E. Harding. When the war on drugs was launched 100 years ago it was explicitly aimed at the black community. Now the motives are better concealed, due to political correctness. But the crack/powder cocaine discrepancy is well understood to be bogus, and has been understood to be bogus for a long time. There’s no legitimate excuse for the sentencing discrepancy.

    You said:

    “The vast majority of drug arrests lead to less than a week’s worth of imprisonment. And only a small fraction of those in prison are in prison solely for drug use. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

    That has no bearing on my claim of 400,000 people being in prison for drug crimes, at any given time. I’m talking about a stock and you are talking about a flow. It’s a basic difference, the the differenc ebetween those becoming unemploye dduring agiven week, and those unemployed at a given point in time.

    And your “molehill” consists of thousands of lives than have been ruined, mothers separated from their children, etc,. etc. Some spend decades in prison for drug “crimes.” To lots of affluent white people it may seem a trivial issue, compared to entrepreneurs having to pay capital gains taxes, but to lower class Americans the war of drugs is a huge problem. From a utilitarian perspective it is one of our biggest policy failures. Of course it also leads to lots of other appalling policies, such as the crackdown on the use of currency, which is going to put Dennis Hastert in jail.

    And you don’t think Ray’s comment was racist? Seriously? You also think there is something wrong with interracial dating?

    As far as the origins of all this, a lot of it goes back to government prohibitions on over the counter pain killers. That led people to seek out prescription pain killers, which turned out to be more addictive. But 99% of the damage from drugs comes from the fact that they are illegal, not the fact that people consume them. The illegality sharply increases the price, which causes people to turn to crime to support their habit, or makes them unable to pay the rent.

    Ram, Great comment.

    Dan, You said:

    “You could change your focus from advocating your hobby monetary theory and become a voice for drug policing reform. But will you? If not then all you have done is feign moral superiority while asking others to do what you have little interest in doing yourself.”

    Why do you even comment here? When you read comments like Ram’s don’t you fell at all embarrassed? I mean seriously, what are you trying to do?Compete with Ray?

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. November 2015 at 16:17

    Lorenzo, Good points.

    Instugator, Pretty sad when Iran is more enlightened than we are.

  16. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    26. November 2015 at 17:18

    Well you might have given some explanations yourself. Why should I be a utilitarian in the first place? People are pretty egoistic, I guess. So their first question might be: What’s in it for me? Why should I even care?

    The other accusation you make is racism. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that you are right and that racism is the root of the problem and that Ray Lopez is a racist and that I am a racist and that E. Harding is a racist and so on. So my point would be even stronger: Why should we even care? What’s in it for us?

    But there are more questions you directly or indirectly raised:
    Why are only certain minorities affected? Why not all of them?

    Why are there no relevant movements by the affected minorities against the War on Drugs?

    I really liked the idea that the War on Drugs is bad when the idea was really unpopular 25 years ago. Today I am skeptical. I am not that convinced anymore.

    Scott, you are a big fan of China, right? So maybe we should ask the question why drugs like opium have been banned in the first place. Was the era of legal opium really that great for China? And is prohibition really always doomed?

    The racism card seems kind of odd to me. So it was also racism when the Western world forced China to legalize opium and racism when the Chinese wanted to protect their people?

  17. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    26. November 2015 at 17:38

    I really like freedom. But then I see countries like China in which only a monster like Mao could really stop the opium disease for the first time. By prohibition and by force. This makes you wonder. Even from a utilitarian perspective it makes you wonder – maybe especially from a utilitarian perspective.

  18. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 17:44

    @ssumner

    Ray doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with interracial dating (in fact, just the opposite; have you read any of his MR comments?); he’s accusing you of unconsciously acting that way without cause.

    “As far as the origins of all this, a lot of it goes back to government prohibitions on over the counter pain killers.”

    -How safe are those? And U.S. addiction rates went up after deregulation of prescription opioids, not their prohibition. That deregulation didn’t happen (to my knowledge) anywhere else in the developed West, and look how well it’s doing in terms of declining middle-age mortality.

    “That has no bearing on my claim of 400,000 people being in prison for drug crimes, at any given time.”

    -Where’d you get that number? That sounds ridiculously high. I can believe there are 400,000 people in prison in the U.S. that have been convicted of drug crimes, but that’s a different statistic entirely.

    Let us go to Slate Star Codex:
    “Overall conclusion for this section: full legalization of marijuana would free about 20,000 people from jail (although most of them would not be exactly fine upstanding citizens), prevent 700,000 arrests not resulting in jail time per year, save between 2 and 14 billion dollars, and possibly reduce traffic fatalities a few percent (or, for all we know, increase them).”
    Or Coates’ recent large article:
    “One 2004 study found that the proportion of “unambiguously low-level drug offenders” could be less than 6 percent in state prisons and less than 2 percent in federal ones.”

  19. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 17:50

    “Now the motives are better concealed, due to political correctness.”

    -Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight. [citation needed]. What are motives? To keep people with poor impulse control outside civilized society? Fine by me, disparate impact or not. I have been a victim of probably Black crime over the past year, so my intuition on this has been doubly strengthened.

  20. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    26. November 2015 at 18:22

    In most countries hard drugs are at least as illegal as in the US while prison incarceration rates are far lower. So there are many ways to improve the situation but total legalization might not be one of them.

  21. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    26. November 2015 at 20:34

    E. Harding is a foul racist, lol. He’s a good man. E. Harding you should stop believing in Him. Money is neutral (largely).

    Harding is right in that I was baiting Sumner to see if he would mind his daughter dating a black man; I guess not, that’s cool. I found, btw, when I tried to date African girls in Greece, that most of them were not interested (!). They specifically said if they dated it would be a commercial arrangement designed to get EU citizenship. Even an uber-hot white model from Russia said this (and her father offered money; she also said ‘no sex during our sham marriage’, bummer!). So ‘racism’ cuts both ways. Let’s face it: most people marry their mother/father in looks, and their age +- 7 years. Selfish gene theme. One reason totally open borders (which I support) is not coming to the USA or anywhere else anytime soon.

  22. Gravatar of Massimo Massimo
    26. November 2015 at 21:06

    “even when the punishment is clearly racially biased”

    If you are suggesting that the crack/cocaine penalty disparity has racist intent, it was pushed for by largely black politicians and leaders who wanted crack out of black neighborhoods.

    If you are suggesting that judicial punishments have racial bias, that’s been aggressively studied, and that’s generally found to not be the case.

    Even very pro black public intellectuals like John McWhorter would tell you these two things.

    And there _is_ push to reduce drug penalties and even decriminalize.

    And the major presidential candidates are largely the same on big issues and just fool us to think otherwise? You really think Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would enact about the same policy and wouldn’t have dramatically different impacts?

    This post seems completely out of touch.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. November 2015 at 21:09

    Christian, You said:

    “Scott, you are a big fan of China, right?”

    If you mean the Chinese government, then obviously not. I despise the Chinese government. And do you really want to point to Mao in defense of drug prohibition?

    E. Harding, The official numbers show 100,000 people in Federal prisons for drug crimes, and 300,000 in state and local prisons for drug crimes. Are those numbers wrong?

    Most of your comments make no sense, so I can’t even respond to them. You said:

    “To keep people with poor impulse control outside civilized society? Fine by me, disparate impact or not. I have been a victim of probably Black crime over the past year, so my intuition on this has been doubly strengthened.”

    Oh, so a black person once did something bad to you, so you’re just fine with locking up 100,000s of black people who committed victimless crimes.

    Christian, You said:

    “So there are many ways to improve the situation but total legalization might not be one of them.”

    Well, it would “improve the situation” for the 400,000 people who would be released from prison, wouldn’t it?

    Ray, Thanks for confirming my impression of you. (Not that I had any doubts.)

  24. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 21:09

    “He’s a good man.”
    -Who? Me or Sumner?

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. November 2015 at 21:22

    Massimo, You said:

    “If you are suggesting that the crack/cocaine penalty disparity has racist intent, it was pushed for by largely black politicians and leaders who wanted crack out of black neighborhoods.”

    That pretty much confirms my claim, doesn’t it? They wanted crack out of black neighborhoods, not white neighborhoods. Please explain why the attitude of law enforcement toward heroin addicts suddenly and radically changed when the problem shifted to the white community. Nothing to do with race? Just a coincidence?

    You said:

    “You really think Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would enact about the same policy”

    They both favor single payer, don’t they? Seriously, suppose you had no data on which party controlled the presidency over the past 70 years. Could you tell, by looking at the path of government policy? Which party would get us into wars? Which one would cause government spending to rise as a share of GDP? Which party would cause government spending to shrink as a share of GDP? How about regulation? Would you be able to tell, without looking at who held the presidency, just looking at the results? I wouldn’t. I claim there is virtually no correlation in these broad policy trends and who holds the presidency. Do you deny that? And let’s be clear, Sanders and Trump won’t win, and if they did win couldn’t enact their policies. I admit that if Congress was composed of 535 Bernie Sanders, then yes, it would make a difference. But that won’t happen. In any case, on the big issues, the parties don’t differ much. On the issues the media tries to brainwash us into thinking are the big issues, then yes, the parties do differ somewhat.

  26. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 21:50

    “E. Harding, The official numbers show 100,000 people in Federal prisons for drug crimes, and 300,000 in state and local prisons for drug crimes. Are those numbers wrong?”

    -O.K., I’ve checked again (looking closely), and they aren’t wrong. But most of those are not for just possession. And, in any case, if drugs are legalized (not just decriminalized), then less money will flow to drug traffickers. What lines of work do you expect them to most likely go into? Given their original choice of drug trafficking as an occupation, I wouldn’t expect a massive surge into licit occupations.

    “Oh, so a black person once did something bad to you, so you’re just fine with locking up 100,000s of black people who committed victimless crimes.”

    -That’s assuming people always know how best to reconcile their contradictory preferences, and that, therefore, voluntary exchange is always the best policy (or, at least, that that’s true for the case of drug use). That’s dubious as heck. Consequently, you can’t claim that all crimes that don’t involve violations of life, liberty, and property are victimless without some justification.

    http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p12tar9112.pdf

    Once you re-interpret those crimes away from “victimless” status, then, sure, I’m just fine with that. And, honestly, I don’t care that much about the race of the perpetrator. Although I think concentration of law enforcement resources on property and violent crime would be a good idea.

    BTW, I think the reactions written of in that NYT article on heroin abuse are pathetic. Favoritism shouldn’t come into play just because criminal tendencies have come to affect the subject’s community. And, besides, doesn’t the last sentence of that article state at least some people whose children killed themselves via drug overdoses are angry at the drug dealers?

    Also, I’m not afraid of being shown wrong, as I’m confident of the power of truth to prevail. Besides, my being shown wrong provides a learning experience for all of us. Of course, this might just be my way of rationalizing my spouting off nonsense. But I doubt it.

  27. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 21:53

    “That pretty much confirms my claim, doesn’t it? They wanted crack out of black neighborhoods, not white neighborhoods. Please explain why the attitude of law enforcement toward heroin addicts suddenly and radically changed when the problem shifted to the white community. Nothing to do with race? Just a coincidence?”

    -I have no idea what you’re trying to say here.

    “Do you deny that?”

    -Yes. Two words: Supreme Court.

  28. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    26. November 2015 at 21:56

    BTW, that link in the 21:50 post should have been at the top of the comment, not in the middle of it.

  29. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    27. November 2015 at 07:07

    E. Harding: You said:

    “But most of those are not for just possession.”

    Selling drugs is no more immoral than possessing them.

    If people were not selling drugs they would be doing many other sorts of things. I think your mistake is to assume that people in jail for being drug dealers are actually drug dealers in the sense that you see on TV, which is absurd. The vast majority of “drug dealers” are simply drug users selling a bit on the side. Many have regular jobs.

    As far as the addiction problem, lots of people are addicted to alcohol and cigarettes. Ben reported in a recent comment that drunk drivers have killed 180,000 Americans since 9/11. By your logic should we ban alcohol, like Saudi Arabia? How about cigarettes?

    On your second comment, you now have all these conservative white people running around wringing their hands about the heroin epidemic in the white community, and suddenly going from “drug warriors” when it was primarily in the black community, to advocating “treatment” and “compassion”. Don’t you find the timing of the switch to be revealing?

    And finally, are you referring to the conservative Supreme Court with a majority picked by conservative presidents, which has expanded prisoner rights, legalized abortion, OK’ed Obamacare, weakened the right to property, etc. etc.?

  30. Gravatar of Dan W. Dan W.
    27. November 2015 at 07:29

    Scott,

    May I suggest that anytime you pen the words “There’s no downside” that you pause and consider that there almost always is a downside and you simply have not done your homework to understand what it is. For once again you have written a post where you assert your view is correct and everyone who thinks different than you is wrong. Do you really believe you are so much more brilliant than everyone else?

    I am confident many people “care” about injustice. I am also confident that most people have cares that matter more to them, such as their own needs and those of their immediate family. The needs of the world are infinite and consequently the ability of people to care about the plight of strangers is rapidly diluted. But if it helps, please know that every two years I cast a vote against my incumbent congressman who clearly should care about the problem you describe and who has done nothing to change it. Nevertheless, each election the very people who should care the most cast ample votes to have this congressman elected. So I ask, how much should I care when the people who should care more don’t seem to care at all?

    I agree racism is an issue in the prosecution of drug laws but the greater bias is money and political power. The dealer with political connections (ie the son of a judge) is going to get lighter treatment than the one who is a nameless punk (whether that punk be white or black). At the same time I believe both blacks and whites detest dealers and, as long as the dealer is not family, welcome the police going Chuck Norris vigilante style against those who peddle hard drugs.

  31. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    27. November 2015 at 10:15

    @ssumner
    “By your logic should we ban alcohol, like Saudi Arabia? How about cigarettes?”

    -Didn’t I say my position on cigarettes was the same as that of the Islamic State in one of my replies to you on a previous post? As for alcohol, that is a more difficult question. Clearly a complete collapse of state control of alcohol production and consumption is dangerous (cf., early 1990s Russia), but just as clearly a complete ban on alcohol is inadvisable unless a place has the cultural prerequisites for it (like Saudi Arabia does).

    “On your second comment, you now have all these conservative white people running around wringing their hands about the heroin epidemic in the white community, and suddenly going from “drug warriors” when it was primarily in the black community, to advocating “treatment” and “compassion”. Don’t you find the timing of the switch to be revealing?”

    -I remarked on that in my first comment (“BTW”). And I still have no idea what different reactions among Black and White politicians to the rise of heroin use in their communities could possibly have anything to do with racism.

    “And finally, are you referring to the conservative Supreme Court with a majority picked by conservative presidents, which has expanded prisoner rights, legalized abortion, OK’ed Obamacare, weakened the right to property, etc. etc.?”

    -We’re talking about a Supreme Court that

    * Allowed state bans of affirmative action in state universities.

    * Allowed closely-held corporations an exemption from part of the ACA on the basis of the First Amendment.

    * Struck down part of the Voting Rights Act.

    * Allowed chaplains to open legislative meetings with sectarian prayers.

    * Struck down important prohibitions on political speech for corporations and unions.

    * Struck down an overall cap on political donations.

    So don’t worry too much. It’s not all pozzed.

  32. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. November 2015 at 12:52

    “And do you really want to point to Mao in defense of drug prohibition?”

    I guess so. If you would really want to find *that one good thing* about Mao then I guess it would be his success in fighting the opium disease in China.

    “Well, it would ‘improve the situation’ for the 400,000 people who would be released from prison, wouldn’t it?”

    Yes, I guess they would be very happy. At least until they get arrested for another offense. Should the non-criminals be happy, too? I don’t think so.

  33. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. November 2015 at 12:59

    We had a very similar discussion about drugs a few weeks ago, with very similar results.

    I worked in a psychiatric hospital in the beginning of my career with the focus on alcohol, cannabis, heroin, cocaine and poly drug use. So I assume that I still know a few things about drugs.

    Your theories might sound nice, but I’m also pretty sure that you would alter them heavily after working in real life institutions that deal with real life drug addictions for just a few weeks.

    Your recent theories about drugs are not completely wrong in certain aspects but all in all they are way too naïve in my opinion. Quite some aspects of your theories are typical for people that have pretty much zero real life experience with illegal drugs, drug addiction and drug addicts. At times it reminds me of an amaurotic that starts to talk about vision.

    In my opinion you are THE expert in macroeconomics regarding fields like monetary policy and the Great Depression. I learn so much from your posts about those topics and will never stop learning.

    It’s a little different with your posts about the *right* drug policy. I always think: Would you really come to the same conclusions if you were an expert in criminology or psychiatry that specialized in illegal drugs? I heavily doubt it.

  34. Gravatar of Frank McCormick Frank McCormick
    27. November 2015 at 13:27

    Scott,

    Many thanks for for mentioning our recent article on the costs and benefits of the government compensating kidney donors:

    “Alex Tabarrok points to another great example. There is a government policy reform that could save 5,000 to 10,000 lives each year, and greatly reduce suffering, and save the government $12 billion/year. There’s no downside. Who could be opposed to paying organ donors?”

    Perhaps your readers would be interested in Alex Tabarrok’s comments on the article at:

    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/11/a-cost-bene%EF%AC%81t-analysis-of-government-compensation-of-kidney-donors.html

    or the article itself at:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajt.13490/full

    Thanks again,

    Frank McCormick

  35. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    27. November 2015 at 19:15

    The odd thing about the racism story is, why would racist whites want to keep more blacks incarcerated at $30,000+/year each? About 20 years ago I read an article that claimed that before the 1960’s racist police sometimes swept black on black homicides and other black on black crimes under the rug because they did not want to have to do the work associated with report it.

    Here is an analogous discrepancy that I do not understand:
    http://www.efile.com/ira-401k-maximum-contributions-limits/
    Why are the limits on different types of retirement accounts (401k/IRA/Simple IRA) so different? Corruption maybe???

  36. Gravatar of Dots Dots
    27. November 2015 at 19:32

    I’d like to see legal sales without legal use, to cut Zetas/Talibs off but preserve the power of police to nab delinquents for traceable crimes. if I had an al Qaeda flag on my Schwinn, the NYPD might pull me over to learn why I wasn’t wearing a helmet, or why I didn’t use my hand to signal a left turn

    prison functions seem vulnerable to unbundling. I’d like to see more house arrests and income tax hikes for criminals, rather than imprisonments

    surely utilitarianism has greater fruit to offer, tho

  37. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. November 2015 at 12:44

    Dan, When you have absolutely nothing to say, why even bother going to the trouble of typing a comment? You say I am wrong that there is no downside, and then are completely unable to come up with a single downside. But does that stop you from commenting? No, you ramble on and one with no purpose in sight. Are you like those students that just raise their hands because they like the sound of their own voice? Or do you have some other objective?

    E. Harding, You said:

    “Didn’t I say my position on cigarettes was the same as that of the Islamic State in one of my replies to you on a previous post?”

    How would I know? I have 100s of commenters, and don’t remember all their previous comments.

    Nor do I have any idea what the views of ISIS are on cigarettes.

    You said:

    “Clearly a complete collapse of state control of alcohol production and consumption is dangerous”

    Clearly? I don’t see it as being clear at all.

    As far as the Supreme Court, they’d have just as many liberal as conservative opinions.

    Christian, I don’t suppose you’ve ever looked into HOW Mao ended the opium epidemic. You might not be so pleased with his policies if you did.

    You said:

    “Yes, I guess they would be very happy. At least until they get arrested for another offense.”

    I see, so innocent people should be kept in prison because if they are released they might commit a crime.

    Your second post suggests I’m wrong, without providing a shred of evidence other than the fact that you have worked in a psychiatric hospital. How does that give you expertise on the criminal justice system? What would you learn from that job that I don’t already know? That drugs are dangerous? That drugs are addictive? Please tell me what you’ve learned that I don’t know, instead of just implying I am naive, without offering any evidence.

    But thanks for the kind comments on macroeconomics.

    Frank, Thanks for those links, and thanks for shining a light on this overlooked issue.

  38. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    28. November 2015 at 13:10

    “Clearly? I don’t see it as being clear at all.”

    -I thought you ascribed the falling life expectancy in Russia in the early 1990s to increased alcohol use.

    “As far as the Supreme Court, they’d have just as many liberal as conservative opinions.”

    -Wouldn’t be the case if a Democrat was in office every year for the past 25 years. I think that’s pretty clear.

    “Nor do I have any idea what the views of ISIS are on cigarettes.”

    http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-islamic-state-smoking-ban-20150212-story.html

  39. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    28. November 2015 at 13:27

    On further thought maybe it is the sort of racism that says “Blacks are dangerous, let’s make the laws harsh enough to scare them into changing.”

  40. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. November 2015 at 14:07

    @ssumner
    “How does that give you expertise on the criminal justice system?”

    Well in the US some drug addicts might be send to prison, in Europe the focus is a bit more on psychiatric hospitals. It’s often a mix-up. The criminal gets a few weeks to work with physicians on his addictions and other mental problems in a closed ward (sometimes open ward), if he fails he has to go to prison for X months. So it’s very much part of the criminal justice system.

    “instead of just implying I am naive”

    Well you are naive. That’s just obvious for anyone who works in this field. It’s the same with me when I talk about macroeconomics.

    “without offering any evidence”

    How could I give you ‘evidence’ as you call it? This is not physics. There is no hard evidence. There’s only opinions about evidence. Pretty much like in economics. You already made up your really strong opinion about this topic and I know from the last discussion a few weeks ago that no argument made you change your opinion. Especially not my arguments. So I am not even trying anymore. I’m just giving up. You won. Let’s free those 400.000 harmless drug dealers. Yeah! Luckily your power is limited in this case, too. So they won’t be released just yet but when their terms have ended.

    There will be reforms in the future of course and this might be a good thing but these reforms will not be that sudden and radical as you seem to wish. It will be like in Colorado, step by step, with enough time to check on positive and negative effects.

    I’m also happy that Tyler Cowen is as sceptical as I am:

    “…when it comes to the younger generation, the new norm that ‘pot is OK’ may in fact not be best in the longer run. So in sum, while I favor marijuana decriminalization, we should hold mixed moods towards its practical effects.”

    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/11/the-effects-of-the-medical-marijuana-market-on-substance-abuse.html

    Not to mention that we should hold very mixed moods regarding the decriminalization of hard drugs like opioids, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and cocaine.

  41. Gravatar of Too Late Too Late
    28. November 2015 at 17:57

    Most of those 400,000 people in prison for drug-related crime are there on multiple counts, of which the drug-related one became the “most serious” one only after a plea bargain.

    Only 1 or 2% of the prison population is there for drugs only, out of which only half are first-time offenders. And possession can mean a truck load or a a full warehouse.

    Scott, calm down, take a deep breath, and try to check the numbers without bias.

  42. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    28. November 2015 at 19:11

    @Christian List – “Well you are naive. That’s just obvious for anyone who works in this field. It’s the same with me when I talk about macroeconomics.” – you are naive. Macro is smoke and mirrors and untestable hypothesis about ‘expectations’. It’s not scientific. As for Sumner working in a nuthouse, I wish I could see that. As for you working in a nuthouse, it’s perhaps the reason you are colored about drug addiction. A lot of the people who you saw there would have been there with a different drug, like alcohol, though granted alcohol has different symptoms, arguably not as dramatic as say meth or heroin.

  43. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. November 2015 at 20:29

    @Ray Lopez
    “A lot of the people who you saw there would have been there with a different drug, like alcohol, though granted alcohol has different symptoms, arguably not as dramatic as say meth or heroin.”

    Well that’s a common misunderstanding. Most users of illegal drugs abuse alcohol also. So what happens after the decriminalization of all hard drugs? Well that’s not only medicine that’s also basic economics: With so much better availability the number of addicts will raise in significant numbers. Especially poly drug abuse in the form alcohol + X will raise. Alcohol alone is unpleasant enough, mix it with opioids, benzos and/or meth and you can throw in the towel.

    So what will happen next? Health care will go up by a lot. Why? Because all those former ‘criminals’ are ‘patients’ now that have a right to be treated. Do these guys have a lot of money? Do they have a job? Who is paying their health care bills, I wonder.

    Now you need to remember that ssumner is totally against free college, because he doesn’t want to pay for other people’s college. Well who is paying the health care bills in times of Obamacare? Santa Claus? I assume not. People like ssumner would have to pay for all those new drug addicts. That’s the irony of the whole story: I would get a lot more patients and people like ssumner would have to pay for it. I would rather finance free college.

  44. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    28. November 2015 at 21:43

    Christian:
    What makes you think addiction treatment is more expensive than law enforcement and the collateral damage of illegal drug traffic crime?

  45. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. November 2015 at 09:55

    @Carl
    I don’t know that at all. I’m really open-mined. I’m just saying: Don’t be one-sided. Don’t be too optimistic. Don’t be too extreme. And don’t rush it. Do it step by step.

    The things ssumner wrote about this topic sounded one-sided, overly optimistic, pretty extreme and rushed to me. That was all.

    Like when he wrote that those 400,000 incarcerated drug dealers committed victimless crimes and that they are all basically innocent.

    @Too Late
    Very good points. I thought the same thing but didn’t put it into words because I felt my English was too bad.

  46. Gravatar of Beefcake the Mighty Beefcake the Mighty
    29. November 2015 at 10:56

    Highly amusing. The inveterate apologist for mammon, Sumner hysterically and self-righteously over-reacts to a side issue. Notice he says nothing about the destruction of financial privacy under the war of drugs, because that mainly impacts the white middle class. Totally useless. Faux-progressive posing.

    As I’ve said before, there are honest leftists out there, but there is no such thing as an honest liberal.

  47. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. November 2015 at 19:33

    E. Harding, Even if the lower life expectancy was due to alcohol, it is not the case the the problem is “clearly” due to a lack of state production. Maybe yes, maybe no. There are lots of countries where the private sector produces alcohol, and yet there is no major alcohol problem (at Russian levels.)

    You have the ISIS view on cigarettes? Then no wonder we disagree on drugs. When I was younger cigarettes were sold out of vending machines–I’m angry that that practice was ended. I look back fondly on watching Bob Lucas smoke while he taught us macro. I wish smoking was still allowed on airplanes (and I’m a nonsmoker.)

    Christian, You said:

    “How could I give you ‘evidence’ as you call it? This is not physics. There is no hard evidence. There’s only opinions about evidence. Pretty much like in economics.”

    This is laughable in so many levels I hardly know where to begin. You tell me I am naive, but offer no evidence. Then you say there is no evidence to be offered. So how do you know I am naive? Then you say you’ve worked in “the field”. Really, what field is that? You still haven’t told me a single thing you know that I don’t know, even when I asked you for an example. So I’ll ask you again. What are these mysterious insights that people who work in “the field” know that I don’t know? Can you name a single one?

    It seems to me that you don’t even know what the word “evidence” means, as you suggest there is no evidence in economics either. This is just silly.

    Then you say Tyler agrees with you, whereas he specifically says he agrees with me that drugs should be decriminalized. Just bizarre. My vote for worst comment thread of the year, but at least you don’t say you agree with ISIS. I’ll give you credit for that.

    Too Late, I notice you have no sources for that claim. But let’s say it’s true that people arrested for drugs often also have committed other crimes like resisting arrest, evading taxes, and possession of a firearm. That has no bearing on anything I’ve said here.

    Beefcake, And bringing up the rear we have your usual idiocy, ending an all time bad comment section. You said:

    “Notice he says nothing about the destruction of financial privacy under the war of drugs, because that mainly impacts the white middle class. Totally useless. Faux-progressive posing.”

    Yes, right after I complain about exactly these points earlier in the comment section, and of course have done so in a number of other posts, which you ignore. I suppose it’s pointless to point out that you are completely wrong, you’ll just keep making the same erroneous statement over and over again.

  48. Gravatar of Beefcake the Mighty Beefcake the Mighty
    29. November 2015 at 20:37

    LOL, after a blog post devoted to Scott’s hysterical posturing meant to assure someone (Tyler Cowen? Brad deLong? I hope he doesn’t actually think Bernanke reads this blog) about his “anti-racist” credentials, he pulls his usual bullshit to tell us to read some other comment/blog post. Typical.

  49. Gravatar of Beefcake the Mighty Beefcake the Mighty
    29. November 2015 at 21:00

    http://www.amren.com/archives/videos/race-and-drug-arrests-another-big-lie/

  50. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    30. November 2015 at 10:06

    “In my view there are really only two groups; those promoting utilitarianism, and those promoting pain and suffering under the guise of some sort of phony ethical values. The rest is all a distraction.

    Happy Thanksgiving.”

    Lol!…

    Scott, I thought this “experimental psychologist” (Paul Bloom) had a pretty good point: he’s opposed to empathy:
    http://rationallyspeakingpodcast.org/show/rs142-paul-bloom-on-the-case-against-empathy.html
    I think you could argue that empathy is often at odds with utilitarianism.

  51. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    30. November 2015 at 10:42

    “The main problem in America is a lack of utilitarian thinking.”

    Perhaps an even bigger problem is a lack of the mental attitude that would value utilitarian thinking. Consider these three concepts:

    Hope, trust and faith.

    Hope is simply a desire. Someone who hopes is not making any claim about what is likely or what is true. You can hope for anything you want without being under any illusion that you’re going to get it. Hope is harmless.

    Trust is based on evidence. I trust the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, because (in part) I’ve seen it happen many times before. Because I know him well, I trust my brother with all kinds of things… but not everything. I don’t trust him to pack my parachute because I have no evidence he knows how to pack a parachute. Trust is not harmful either.

    Faith is like hope in that it’s about what people desire and in that it’s evidence free. It’s unlike hope in that it’s arrogantly used as a basis of knowledge. People saying they have faith in something is them saying they believe something to be true. This is an outrageously unreliable means to establish confidence in a belief!! And for that reason, faith is harmful.

    And yet our society values faith as a virtue!!! IMO that’s a corrupting ATTITUDE.

    If we didn’t value (as a society) pretending to know things we desire to be true (despite not having any evidence they are true), then we’d have to substitute a different way of knowing things… and that leaves science as the obvious alternative.

    Faith is based on strong subjective feelings (like empathy). In contrast, science is highly distrustful of strong subjective feelings when knowledge of objective reality is of concern.

    I suspect that valuing faith as a virtue is the attitude problem that stands in the way of more people thinking like utilitarians. There are a few people out there ([1] [2]) who share this view and are actively doing what they can to undermine faith. Some do it by simply introducing doubt.

    IMO valuing faith as a virtue is the main attitude problem which prevents people from adopting utilitarianism.

  52. Gravatar of Beefcake the Mighty Beefcake the Mighty
    30. November 2015 at 12:01

    LOL @ utilitarians pretending to be scientific.

  53. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. November 2015 at 12:54

    Scott,

    I’m a bit tired of name calling. It leads to nothing. It was never my intention to offend you. If I did, I’m sorry.

    Let’s see where we can agree. We can agree on Tyler Cowen’s position. That’s great. I’m totally happy with that.

    I also totally agree that we should be paying organ donors. I’m saying this for years. There’s indeed no known downside.

    So we can agree on those two points. That’s great, so I’ll leave it at that.

  54. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    30. November 2015 at 18:06

    @Tom Brown: Yes, I agree with you: faith is not a reliable path to truth. But that’s not why it’s a virtue. Truth is only occasionally a path to survival. Faith is demonstrably successful for helping societies survive. It’s hard to use “truth” to get people to sacrifice themselves for the common good, but faith allows individuals to overcome fear and terror and self-preservation, and instead devote themselves to a “higher” cause.

    If you want to argue against celebrating faith as a virtue, you need to at least understand the benefits it provides. It has a purpose (and benefit) different from “seeking scientific truth”.

  55. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. December 2015 at 07:03

    Beefcake, Why am I not surprised that you lack the class to apologize and admit you were wrong, even when caught red handed? Perhaps because lonely people who spend all their time getting kicks out of going on the internet to anonymously insult others, just don’t have the ability to admit mistakes.

    Tom, Yes, faith may be one problem, but there are many others.

    Christian, Yes, let’s agree on those two points.

  56. Gravatar of Beefcake the Mighty Beefcake the Mighty
    1. December 2015 at 18:38

    You know Scott, when you’re as full of shit as you are, you really need to keep better track of things. You think a single, throw-away line about one of the many child molesters in the GOP (interesting who you carry banners for) really addresses my point? You’ve spent this whole post self-righteously proclaiming how much you care about blacks compared to heartless whites, but we all know it’s fake, you don’t live anywhere near poor blacks (like everyone else who loudly announces their “anti-racism”). But, just show us where you’ve blogged about the destruction of financial privacy under the war on drugs, which goes well beyond calls to ban cash (which is better associated with the banking cartel whose nuts you hug).

    And I’ll it again: laugh-out-fucking-loud at the dilettantes who think utilitarianism is scientifically sound.

  57. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. December 2015 at 12:42

    Beefcake:

    I’ll list a bunch of posts, but then you must admit I was right and apologize. Otherwise I’ll ignore you in the future. (I predict you won’t apologize.)

    https://www.themoneyillusion.com/?

    p=27099https://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=28801

    https://www.themoneyillusion.com/index.php?s=hastert

    There are many more, but they are not easy to find among my 1000s of posts.

    I do kind of feel sorry for angry losers who just sit in their basement typing away, insulting people they’ve never met (because they are cowards to do so face to face), and making fools of themselves trying to pretend they understand macroeconomics, rather than actually doing something with their lives. Sorry your life didn’t work out for you. Maybe your next life will be better.

  58. Gravatar of cnk guy cnk guy
    11. July 2017 at 11:43

    If Ray’s a racist based on this evidence alone, I can confidently state that I am a far greater racist than Ray Lopez.

    Careful, Scott, my view of you as God, or at least, the person closest to him in nature, is slipping.
    http://freedomnews.today/

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