The Cato Institute seems to dwell somewhere over the rainbow when it comes to economics. They have embraced a method of analysis that was discredited to the point of laughter over a hundred years ago. The Austrian School ignores, deliberately, as a matter of principle, numbers, history, and measurement. Doesn't leave much to analyze, does it? Any theory can claim to be right if we are prohibited from looking at the results.
But here is the water's edge.
The Cato Institute's libertarian philosophy is unassailable when it comes to drug policy. They're pretty much against it, which is to say any drug policy, any at all. And they are right.
This is how they summarized a recent visit by Vicente Fox, the former President of Mexico.
Mexico is paying a high price for fighting a war on drugs that are consumed in the United States. More than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since the end of 2006 when Mexico began an aggressive campaign against narco-trafficking. The drug war has led to a rise in corruption and gruesome criminality that is weakening democratic institutions, the press, law enforcement, and other elements of a free society. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox will explain that prohibition is not working and that the legalization of the sale, use, and production of drugs in Mexico and beyond offers a superior way of dealing with the problem of drug abuse.
Opposition to drug use leads to all sorts of mischief when it isn't thought out. Rather than focusing on treatment, the United States has emphasized punishment. After all, ever since President Nixon, it has been a war on drugs. War concerns itself with punishment. Perhaps water boarding users will help.
The practical harm is obvious and beyond calculation (pdf). The off-the-charts cost includes death, corruption, street wars, and the downgrading of simple respect for law enforcement. The effect on the level of use of targeted drugs is hard to document. How do you measure actual policy with policy that is not being tried?
One way is a before and after comparison when policy changes. Another is side by side comparison when policies differ between jurisdictions. The Cato Institute has used Portugal's liberalization of drug policy as a case study.
In 2000, that country pretty much decriminalized all drug use. Not marijuana, not "soft" drugs. Everything. They didn't legalize drug dealers. Those guys can still get arrested and put away. But drug use itself was decriminalized across the board.
Of course drug use would increase, except it didn't. The use of everything from cocaine to marijuana dropped. Went down. Reduced.
Meanwhile, back in the land where terrorists hate us for our freedom, we put higher and higher proportions of our population behind bars. Treatment is hard to get, in short supply unless you can come up with the dollars to pay for it.
Corruption rises as low pay for law enforcement combines with the tsunami flow of drug money.
Drug use continues to rise.
Drug related violence is a big factor in unsafe urban areas. Gangs fight for drug turf. Addicts rob for drugs.
Terrorists have a continuous flow of funding. It is no accident that Kandahar Province in Afghanistan is the epicenter of fighting. The poppy fields of the northern part are a major strategic objective for Taliban forces.
As the United States prods, coerces, helps, and rewards neighbors to our south to crack down on the cartels funded by our own laws, the resulting explosion of violence destabilizes those countries. Authorities there are occasionally forced to seek asylum here as drug lords target them.
Naturally, bigots in the United States demonize Spanish speaking immigrants from the south as violence funded by our addicts is provided in a grim equation of supply and demand by criminal forces in Mexico and beyond.
The War on Drugs is fueled by a horror of what some drugs do to those who partake. Visions of cocaine vending machines dance in our nightmares, and we are repulsed. So a disastrous policy continues to destroy lives, even of those who happen to stand on incorrect street corners as stealth drive by shooters approach.
The most basic problem with our own drug policy, the source of all of this evil, is philosophical. And that is where CATO especially gets it 100 percent, gold medal, they-win-the-prize, entirely right. When a citizen decides to inject poison into veins entrusted by God to that individual, we have every right to mourn.
And no right at all to intervene.
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