Since every Wednesday is humor day at CNN.com, I figure to add in a thought or two concerning their chief comedian's column today concerning the War on Drugs. (It's capitalized now, because it's not a war unless you capitalize the name like you would for the title of an essay.)
One of my professors, Russell Sobel, has a great comment whenever this topic comes up: Couldn't you categorize a number of the "costs" of the War on Drugs (or any of a number of government social programs) as benefits? Dobbs notes that nearly 8,000 people are trying drugs every day-- that's a cost? Do you think the people trying them view it as a cost? It's like writing a piece on the tragedy of teenage driving deaths and saying that it's a cost that 5,000 new teenagers get a driver's license every day.
Dobbs also reports that illicit drug use costs the U.S. nearly $200 billion dollars per year. No word on the breakdown of that, but I'd bet a healthy share of it is due to the fact that the U.S. chooses to define certain drugs as illegal and needs to enforce that. Fair enough-- not that it's just, but it is a cost to the American taxpayer. But how come we never see estimates of the benefits of drugs? There is surplus in every black market deal, right? Despite the vast inefficiency and outright liberty-crushing War on Drugs, couldn't it be that drug use still generates a net gain to society? I know benefits estimates have been put forth, but I don't have links to any of them at the moment. Feel free to pass them along.
With regards to drugs and crime, yes, reducing drug use reduces crime because the government has defined drug use as a crime. If we defined wearing blue shirts as a crime, we'd have a lot of people committing that crime tomorrow. Once we started enforcing the law, people would substitute away from them. Yay-- we've reduced crime! People then point to crime indirectly related to drugs, such as assault, but there have been studies that have shown that the net impact of declaring drugs illegal has increased crime, not decreased it. After all, without a sound court system to enforce contract disputes in drug transactions, groups must provide their own enforcement.
And to give you a good sense of the excess burden of all of this: the War on Drugs Clock.