David R. Henderson  

Show Me Compassion: Throw Me in Prison

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Washington Post columnist and former Bush speech writer, Michael Gerson, gives a strange argument against Ron Paul. Paul had defended people's right to put what they want in their own bodies, up to and including heroin. To make fun of the idea that laws are what are preventing most of us from using heroin, Paul said:
"How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would."

The way Paul did it was funny and many in the audience got it. As Gerson pointed out, Paul said it "to applause and laughter." But then Gerson writes:

Paul was claiming that good people -- people like the Republicans in the room--would not abuse their freedom, unlike those others who don't deserve our sympathy.

How does Gerson get from Ron Paul's words to the conclusion that people who do or would use hard drugs "don't deserve our sympathy." I don't know Ron Paul's view about them but I would be willing to bet that he is sympathetic.

Gerson claims there is, "de facto decriminalization of drugs in some neighborhoods--say, in Washington, D.C." Of course, there's not: not even close. How do you tell? By seeing whether people ever get attacked by police and charged with a crime for buying, selling, or using. Do they? Gerson might want to hire a fact checker.

And how does Gerson want to show his compassion? The point of his article seems to be that drugs like heroin should be illegal. So his idea of compassion for drug users is to threaten them with prison.

The danger is not those who would leave us alone but those who want to use force against us because they don't approve of our choices. Even if Ron Paul doesn't feel compassion for drug users--and I'm willing to bet he does--I'll take his "second-rate values" (Gerson's term) over Gerson's apparently first-rate values--throw them in prison--any day.


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CATEGORIES: Economics of Crime



COMMENTS (9 to date)
Les Cargill writes:

"I wish you'd stop being so good to me, Cap'n" - Cool Hand Luke ( right before the "what... we have here... " speech ).

Says it all.

nazgulnarsil writes:

prison will remain the elephant in the room for statists as long as the public is willing to continue the doublethink about them. anti-fiat currency people insist the dollar is backed by nothing. they are backed by the fact that they are anti-prison-rape coupons.

andy writes:

Just wondering why someone would taking drugs call 'abusing my freedom'...

PrometheeFeu writes:

@nazgulnarsil: I think that is a very good point that many modern liberals and conservatives miss. Perhaps at the end of every law should be appended the "If you do not comply we will send our uniformed goons to hunt you down, take your stuff, harass your loved ones, beat you, shoot you and lock you up in a tiny little room until you do as we say." It would make explicit the violence that the state implies whenever it passes a law. I think a lot of regulation would be staved off if people realized that ultimately those are enforced through the threat and use of violence.

Yancey Ward writes:

Andy nails it by pointing out the frame of mind of the criminalization supporters. One could easily adopt Gerson's belief as it applies to overeating, skydiving, rock climbing, joining the Marines etc. In fact, Gerson's statement is Orwellian, though I doubt he even realizes it.

And, to top it all off, he claims to read Paul's mind.

Tom West writes:

It should be pointed out that Gerson's view is a deeply conservative mind-set - to wit, without some form of social control, men will inevitably destroy themselves and thus eventually all of society. Lord of the flies writ older.

This attitude also permeates the left, but there it's often framed with "and since we're not going to be able to watch someone destroy themselves, we'll have to pay for the cleanup, which we can't really afford".

Really, on both sides it comes down to "we all exist in the same society where your bad choices will cost me, so I will exercise control over those choices as I can". It's a natural tendency and one of the biggest obstacles to Libertarian success.

How many willingly ignore the opportunity to make their life better (by denying other choices that cost them) through the ballot box? Not many.

Of course, what about our choices that are restricted? Well, pretty much by definition, most banned choices aren't *that* popular (or if so, aren't really enforced). And two, it's a prisoner's dilemma. My choosing not to ban your behavior that costs me doesn't stop you banning my behavior that costs you.

Greg Colvin writes:

You don't have to be a libertarian to think that drug laws are counterproductive and that the prison-industrial complex is out of control.

Douglass Holmes writes:

The way people get around your argument is by assuming that drug users are victims of drug sellers. By this logic, they can place their emphasis on jailing drug dealers as opposed to people guilty of "mere possesion." They don't really want to jail the poor victims, so they focus on those evil drug dealers. This drives up the price of the drugs, enticing more people to attempt to sell them, and encouraging the more violent to succeed in the drug market, thus justifying further focus on jailing those evil drug dealers.
I like PrometheeFeu's way of putting it.

Greg Colvin writes:

I agree Douglass, drug laws are counterproductive, and for exactly the reasons you state. Another reason is that it's harder to keep illegal drugs away from children than legal ones. Dealers of alcohol and tobacco have stronger reasons not to sell to minors than dealers that are outlaws already.

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