Friday, July 31, 2009
"The Nazi regime represented not a unique evil in history but rather a now-conventional combination we know all too well."
It was common on the left to intimate that George W. Bush was like Hitler, a remark that would drive the National Review crowd through the roof but which I didn't find entirely outrageous. Bush's main method of governance was to stir up fear of foreign enemies and instigate a kind of nationalist hysteria about the need for waging war and giving up liberty through security.
Hitler is the most famous parallel here, but he is hardly the only one. Many statesmen in world history have used the same tactics, dating back to ancient times. Machiavelli wrote in his Art of War advice to the ruler: "To know how to recognize an opportunity in war, and take it, benefits you more than anything else."
But what's the point of studying Hitler's rise to power unless it is to learn from that history and apply the lessons? One lesson is to beware of leaders who come to power in troubled times, and then use foreign threats and economic crises to bolster their own power. Unless we can draw out lessons for our own times, history becomes nothing but a series of dry data points with no broader relevance.
Certainly Bush used 9-11 to consolidate his power and the neoconservative intellectuals who surrounded him adopted a deep cynicism concerning the manipulation of public opinion. Their governing style concerned the utility of public myth, which they found essential to wise rule. The main myth they promoted was that Bush was the Christian philosopher-king heading a new crusade against Islamic extremism. The very stupid among us believed it, and this served as a kind of ideological infrastructure of his tenure as president.
Then it collapsed when the economy went south and he was unable to sustain the absurd idea that he was protecting us from anyone. The result was disgrace, and the empowering of the political left and its socialistic ethos.
The talk of Hitler in the White House ended forthwith, as if the analogy extended only when nationalist ideology is ruling the day. What people don't remember is that Hitlerism was about more than just militarism, nationalism, and consolidation of identity politics. It also involved a substantial shift in German domestic politics away from free enterprise, or what remained of it under Weimar, toward collectivist economic planning.
Nazism was not only nationalism run amok. It was also socialism of a particular variety.
Let's turn to The Vampire Economy by Guenter Reimann (1939). He begins the story with the 1933 decree that all property must be subject to the collective will. It began with random audits and massive new bookkeeping regulations:
Manufacturers in Germany were panic-stricken when they heard of the experiences of some industrialists who were more or less expropriated by the State. These industrialists were visited by State auditors who had strict orders to "examine" the balance sheets and all bookkeeping entries of the company (or individual businessman) for the preceding two, three, or more years until some error or false entry was found. The slightest formal mistake was punished with tremendous penalties. A fine of millions of marks was imposed for a single bookkeeping error. Obviously, the examination of the books was simply a pretext for partial expropriation of the private capitalist with a view to complete expropriation and seizure of the desired property later. The owner of the property was helpless, since under fascism there is no longer an independent judiciary that protects the property rights of private citizens against the State. The authoritarian State has made it a principle that private property is no longer sacred.
The rules begin to change slowly so that enterprise could no longer make decisions in the interest of profitability. The banks were nationalized. The heads of major companies were changed. Hiring and firing became heavily politicized. The courts ruled not on justice but on political priorities. It was no longer enough merely to obey the laws. The national will must trump economic concerns:
The capitalist under fascism has to be not merely a law-abiding citizen, he must be servile to the representatives of the State. He must not insist on "rights" and must not behave as if his private property rights were still sacred. He should be grateful to the Fuehrer that he still has private property. This state of affairs must lead to the final collapse of business morale, and sound the death knell of the self-respect and self-reliance which marked the independent businessman under liberal capitalism.
Price controls were next, enforced intermittently and with them grew up a large gray economy, with businesspeople spending more time getting around the rules than producing wealth. "To increase his prices a dealer must have a special permit from the Price Commissar. A request for a price increase must first be certified to by the group leader; it must be accompanied by a detailed statement of necessity and other pertinent data, such as production and distribution costs."
State production mandates were next. Goods were to be produced according to political goals. "Backed by the General Staff of the army, Nazi bureaucrats have been able to embark upon schemes which compel the most powerful leaders of business and finance to undertake projects which they consider both risky and unprofitable."
Bankers were required to act as state actors. "Under fascism, big bankers, formerly independent – except, of course, ‘non-Aryans’ – have become State officials in everything but name. They are often in high and influential positions, but they are all members of the compact, centralized State machine. Their independence, their individual initiative, their free competitive position, all the principles for which they once fought fervently, are gone."
If you think that the parallels stopped after Bush left power, consider this passage from Reimann: "The totalitarian State reverses the former relationship between the State and the banks. Previously, their political influence increased when the State needed financial help. Now the opposite holds true. The more urgent the financial demands of the State become, the stricter measures are taken by the State in order to compel these institutions to invest their funds as the State may wish."
Once the banks were forced wholly under the control of the government, they became the means by which all property became subject to the state: "The totalitarian State will not have an empty treasury so long as private companies or individuals still have ample cash or liquid assets. For the State has the power to solve its financial difficulties at their expense. The private banks themselves, the financial institutions which previously dictated the terms on which they were willing to lend money, have built up the system of siphoning off liquid funds. This financial system is now utilized by the totalitarian State for its own purposes."
So it was for the stock market, which was regarded as a national asset. Speculation was forbidden. Public companies were entirely subject to bureaucratic rule. Order replaced the old spontaneity, while speculation of the old sort became an entirely underground activity. The largest companies didn't entirely mind the course of events. "The disappearance of small corporations gives rise to a tendency among small investors not to risk their capital in new competitive enterprises. The larger the big corporations grow and the closer they become connected with the State bureaucracy, the fewer chances there are for the rise of new competitors."
So too for insurance companies, which were compelled to buy government paper.
The tendency toward ever more economic regulation resulted not in socialism as such but fascist planning. "The fascist State does not merely grant the private entrepreneur the right to produce for the market, but insists on production as a duty which must be fulfilled even though there be no profit. The businessman cannot close down his factory or shop because he finds it unprofitable. To do this requires a special permit issued by the authorities."
The national demand for "stimulus" replaced private decision making entirely, as businessmen were required to produce and avoid any economic downturns that might embarrass the state. "The Nazi government has expressly threatened the private entrepreneur with increased State coercion and reduction of personal rights and liberties unless he fulfills adequately the 'duty to produce' according to the State's demands."
But stimulus could not and would not work, no matter how hard the party officials tried, because the very institutions of private property and competition and all market forces had been overwritten. "The totalitarian regime has annihilated the most important conservative force of capitalism, the belief that private property ought to be a sacred right of every citizen and that the private property of every citizen ought to be protected. Respect for private property has penetrated the spirit of the people in all capitalist countries. It is the strongest bulwark of capitalism. Fascism has succeeded in destroying this conservative force... People still have to work for money and have to live on money incomes. Possession of capital still provides income. But this income is largely at the mercy of State bureaucrats and Party officials."
Reimann sums up: "In Nazi Germany there is no field of business activity in which the State does not interfere. In more or less detailed form it prescribes how the businessman may use capital which is still presumably his private property. And because of this, the German businessman has become a fatalist; he does not believe that the new rules will work out well, yet he knows that he cannot alter the course of events. He has been made the tool of a gigantic machine which he cannot direct."
The regime also dramatically increased social and medical legislation, providing lifetime pensions to friends and conscripting doctors in the service of its dietary and medical goals.
Now, if any of this sounds familiar, it is because the principles of intervention are universal. The Nazi regime represented not a unique evil in history but rather a now-conventional combination of two dangerous ideological trends: nationalism and socialism. We know both all too well.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
"The proclivity of govts is to pursue policies which concentrate benefits on the well-organized and well-informed, and disperse the costs..."
Government oppression, and how it makes me fear the future.
I was at my aunt’s with my parents for dinner last night, it being her 64th birthday. She’s a fantastic cook by the way, and if we weren’t family I’d gladly have payed for the meal. Towards the end of the main course, I got into a discussion with my other aunt’s husband and he told me it is illegal (and I wasn’t fully aware of this) to sell home-made food without government permission, meaning that even if she had wanted to, my aunt could not legally have asked payment for the meal. I gaped in awe at his words.
Apparently, this is to keep us safe. “What if your aunt accidentally poisons you!? What if the meat has salmonella?” So, to get this straight… She can invite me for dinner and offer me that food, but she’s not allowed to sell it to me? Talk about killing small business! Let’s say that an old woman loves to bake and needs some extra money, well, she’s not allowed to sell her pastries to me! I don’t feel safe. I feel sick. I feel as if I’m being told by my country that I’m incapable of taking care of myself, and that I need government to keep me safe and run my life.
I suppose I could have guessed it, but it still struck me as the most absurd thing. Sadly, America doesn’t seem much better. From what I gather, an American farmer isn’t allowed to sell his fresh milk without permission either. How can such basic freedoms have slipped away from us? This must be seen for what it is, and opposed. As I sat there listening to my uncle I remembered one of the reasons given for the secession of the colonies from Great Britain, as listed in the Declaration of Independence, and it sounds eerily reminiscent of our current situation.
“He [King George III] has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Indeed, people have rebelled for this.
Around half of Swedish GDP is tax revenue over here (pick your chin up from the floor). Our people is paying the second highest tax rate(second only to Denmark) in the world for bureaucrats, pencil-pushers and government inspectors going around making sure ol’ grandma has a permit to sell her pastries. This is not just morally questionable, it is unsound economics. It merely weakens the people, and perpetuates a cycle in which we are dependent on the government.
I can tell you I am afraid of growing up. I truly am. I am afraid of borrowing money from the government to pay for my education, pay enormous taxes on my income and everything I buy, because I know that with all this money they’re taking from me I won’t be able to afford an independent retirement. I’ll have to depend on the government for my living. Well, I never want to depend on government! Ron Paul has got it absolutely right; young people, wherever they may be, deserve to get out of crippling social security systems; they need to be given a chance to take care of themselves! This is my life we’re talking about!
I deserve to do what I want with my life. I am a strong, independent young man and I am not afraid to take care of myself! I want to keep what I earn! I want to be able to buy ol grandma’s cakes and the farmers fresh milk without being a criminal! I want to save for my retirement, take care of my own health- and dental care. I know I can do it! I just need to get that chance!
Won’t somebody please give me that chance!?
In liberty (I wish…),
//Mikael S, 16 years, Sweden
Saturday, July 25, 2009
"By a continuing process of inflation, governments can [secretly] confiscate the wealth of their citizens."
The Inflation Tax
by Ron Paul
All government spending represents a tax. The inflation tax, while largely ignored, hurts middle-class and low-income Americans the most. Simply put, printing money to pay for federal spending dilutes the value of the dollar, which causes higher prices for goods and services. Inflation may be an indirect tax, but it is very real – the individuals who suffer most from cost of living increases certainly pay a “tax.”
Unfortunately no one in Washington, especially those who defend the poor and the middle class, cares about this subject. Instead, all we hear is that tax cuts for the rich are the source of every economic ill in the country. Anyone truly concerned about the middle class suffering from falling real wages, under-employment, a rising cost of living, and a decreasing standard of living should pay a lot more attention to monetary policy. Federal spending, deficits, and Federal Reserve mischief hurt the poor while transferring wealth to the already rich. This is the real problem, and raising taxes on those who produce wealth will only make conditions worse.
Borrowing money to cut the deficit is only marginally better than raising taxes. It may delay the pain for a while, but the cost of government eventually must be paid. Federal borrowing means the cost of interest is added, shifting the burden to a different group than those who benefited and possibly even to another generation. Eventually borrowing is always paid for through taxation.
The third option is for the Federal Reserve to create credit to pay the bills Congress runs up. Nobody objects, and most Members hope that deficits don’t really matter if the Fed accommodates Congress by creating more money. Besides, interest payments to the Fed are lower than they would be if funds were borrowed from the public, and payments can be delayed indefinitely merely by creating more credit out of thin air to buy U.S. treasuries. No need to soak the rich. A good deal, it seems, for everyone. But is it?
The “tax” is paid when prices rise as the result of a depreciating dollar. Savers and those living on fixed or low incomes are hardest hit as the cost of living rises. Low- and middle-incomes families suffer the most as they struggle to make ends meet while wealth is literally transferred from the middle class to the wealthy. Government officials stick to their claim that no significant inflation exists, even as certain necessary costs are skyrocketing and incomes are stagnating.
The transfer of wealth comes as savers and fixed-income families lose purchasing power, large banks benefit, and corporations receive plush contracts from the government – as is the case with military contractors. These companies use the newly printed money before it circulates, while the middle class is forced to accept it at face value later on. This becomes a huge hidden tax on the middle class, many of whom never object to government spending in hopes that the political promises will be fulfilled and they will receive some of the goodies. But surprise – it doesn’t happen. The result instead is higher prices for prescription drugs, energy, and other necessities. The freebies never come.
The moral of the story is that spending is always a tax. The inflation tax, though hidden, only makes things worse. Taxing, borrowing, and inflating to satisfy wealth transfers from the middle class to the rich in an effort to pay for profligate government spending, can never make a nation wealthier. But it certainly can make it poorer.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Bureaucracy Problem
Mises Daily by David Osterfeld | Posted on 7/16/2009 12:00:00 AM
It is commonly held that the unplanned "anarchic" nature of capitalist production necessitates bureaucratic regulation to prevent economic chaos. Thus the prominent Hungarian Marxist, Andras Hegedus, argues that bureaucracy is merely "the by-product of an administrative structure" that separates the workers from the actual management of the economy. Since the owners make the decisions, all others must ultimately take their orders from this small group. Since that would be impracticable in an industrial economy, the problem must be handled by a division of responsibility which in turn entails layers of bureaucracy. The capitalists make the decisions which are then filtered down the bureaucratic pyramid. This means that the workers must wait to be told what to do by their immediate superiors, who in turn must wait for instructions from their superiors, and so on.
It is important to realize that Hegedus believes that these bureaucratic features are a product of capitalism itself, rather than the nature of large-scale production. "Where capitalist property relations prevail," he says, "it is futile to fight against bureaucracy…. To change the situation it is necessary first of all to eliminate private ownership of the means of production." Bureaucracy, he continues, was the
inevitable consequence of the development of property relations at a given stage in the division of labor and in economic integration. Consequently, it is also inevitable … that at some point there will be no further need for an administrative apparatus separated from society, because subjective and objective conditions will be ripe for direct self-administration.
In plain English, Hegedus is saying that, because capitalism separates the worker from the control of industry, production would be uncoordinated and chaotic were there not some agency for the transmission of knowledge. This is the function performed by bureaucracy under capitalism. Since under socialism the workers will make all of the industrial decisions, there will be no coordination problem in such a society. Bureaucracy will no longer be necessary and will be discarded. But, other than mere appeals to "democratize the administrative apparatus" and calls for a "healthy mobility in all areas of administration," he is vague on just how socialism will accomplish this. Since Hegedus' views, particularly regarding the bureaucratic nature of capitalism, are not uncommon, it is time they be critically examined.
Three Problems of Coordination
Israel Kirzner notes that there are three problems of coordination that must be solved in any socioeconomic system:
- the problem of priorities, i.e., what goods and services should be produced;
- the problem of efficiency, i.e., what combination of resources used in the production of a given commodity will leave the largest bundle of resources left over for the production of other goods and services; and
- the problem of distribution, i.e., how to compensate each participant in the system for his contribution to the productive process.
The role of bureaucratic management can best be analyzed by seeing how both capitalism and socialism approach these problems as well as how well they can solve them.
I. The Problem of Priorities
Within a market system priorities are set by the consumers' buying and abstention from buying. Entrepreneurs, anxious to maximize their profits, will tend to produce those goods with the greatest discrepancy between price and cost. Since the consumers are willing to pay more for goods they desire most intensely, the prices of these goods, other things being equal, tend to be higher than those of the less intensely desired goods. Thus the goods that the members of society deem most important are the ones that, without the need for any conscious bureaucratic direction, are first and most plentifully produced in a capitalist system.
A common criticism of this type of reasoning is that there are many examples where the market cannot be said to reflect the priorities of the consumers. It is assumed, for example, that bread is more important than diamonds while it is noted that the price of diamonds is much greater than that of bread. The error in this criticism is that individuals are never confronted with a choice between diamonds in the abstract, and bread in the abstract. Instead, they choose between individual units of bread and diamonds.
Since under normal conditions the quantity of bread greatly exceeds that of diamonds, the satisfaction or dissatisfaction caused by the addition or loss of any particular unit of bread, i.e., its marginal utility, is relatively low compared with that of any unit of diamonds. Were, by some quirk of fate, the quantity of bread greatly reduced or that of diamonds significantly increased, the marginal utility of the units of bread and diamonds would be altered causing the price of bread to rise and that of diamonds to fall. It can therefore be seen that the market does indeed reflect the priorities of the consumers and does so without the need for any bureaucratic direction. In fact, bureaucracy could only impede consumer satisfaction for, as Kirzner points out, "any non-market obstacles placed in the way of the pricing process thus necessarily interfere with the priority system that consumers have set up."
Since socialism entails the elimination of the market, there is no mechanism by which priorities are established without conscious direction and control. Thus it is precisely socialism that cannot function without a burgeoning bureaucracy. A quick look at the planning process in the Soviet Union will clearly highlight the bureaucratic labyrinth endemic to even a moderately socialist economy.
Planning in the Soviet Union
In order to construct the plan for the coming year the planners must have as much data as possible on the state of the economy for the current year. This job is handled by the Central Statistical Administration, which alone employs several million people. This information is then conveyed to the State Planning Committee, or Gosplan. Priorities for the coming year are established by the Council of Ministers in conjunction with several other political agencies and communicated to Gosplan, which attempts to coordinate all of the priorities as well as balance the output targets for every industry in the economy with its estimate of the inputs required to produce them.
The plan then travels down the planning hierarchy going first to the industrial ministries, then to the subministries, and so on down to the individual enterprises. In this way each firm is informed of the output levels that have been set for it, and the plan begins to ascend the planning hierarchy with each enterprise now in a position to calculate for itself the inputs necessary to produce the given level of output.
As the plan travels upward, both the input and output levels are adjusted according to a bargaining process between the enterprise manager and the central planners. The former attempts to underestimate his productive capacity and overestimate his resource requirements to make fulfillment of his part of the plan easier, while the latter does just the reverse.
After finally reaching Gosplan the plan is surveyed in its entirety and the necessary corrections and adjustments are made. The plan is then sent back down the planning hierarchy with each enterprise being informed of its final production goals. And beyond this, of course, lie a host of government agencies required to insure compliance with the plan.
Just what is this bureaucracy, which numbers into the tens of millions, able to accomplish? The first thing to notice is that despite the scientific jargon, its plans are in fact only guesses about what each individual consumer will want during the coming year. The estimates of the entrepreneur also are guesses; however, there is a crucial difference: his are based on market data while those of the socialist planners, at least under pure socialism, are not.
This means that the entrepreneur is not only in a better position to estimate consumer demand but, just as important, a wrong guess is immediately reflected on the market by a decline in sales. Since the loss of revenue prompts quick adjustments, any incorrect guess tends to be self-correcting. But under socialism, the plant manager need not worry about selling his product but only fulfilling his production quota. Consequently,
- quality tends to suffer since managers try to find the easiest and quickest way to fulfill their quotas, and
- production continues, regardless of whether anyone wants the products, until the plan is altered by Gosplan.
But if production of unneeded goods takes place in some areas, needs in others must remain unfulfilled. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Soviet Union is regularly plagued by gluts of some items and acute shortages of others. When quotas for the shoe and nail industries were set according to quantity, for example, production managers in the nail industry found that it was easiest to meet their quotas by producing only small nails, while those in the shoe industry made only small shoes. This meant gluts of small nails and children's shoes and shortages of large nails and adults' shoes. But setting quotas by weight meant the opposite: gluts of large fat nails and adults' shoes. Similarly, since dress-makers don't have to sell their products they don't have to worry about style preferences. The result is periodic warehouses full of unwanted dresses. And at another time the Soviet Union found itself in the embarrassing position of having only one size of men's underwear and that only in blue.
Thus it is not surprising that the quality of consumer goods in the Soviet Union is notoriously low, the average standard of living is about one-quarter to one-third that of the United States, and so many goods are in short supply that one must stand in line three to four hours each day just to get the basic necessities. While capitalism can function with a minimum of bureaucracy, we have seen that socialism, far from eliminating it, requires a host of bureaucratic agencies. These are necessary in order to (1) collect the data for the construction of the plan, (2) formulate the plan, and (3) inspect the plants to insure that the plan is being carried out.
II. The Problem of Efficiency
Turning to production we find the same results. Under capitalism, the problem of the efficient allocation of resources is solved in the same way that the problem of priorities was solved: the price system. To produce their goods, the entrepreneurs must bid for the needed resources. They therefore stand in the same relation to the sellers of resources as the consumers do to the sellers of final goods. Thus prices for the various factors of production tend to reflect the demand for them by the entrepreneurs. Since what the entrepreneur is able to offer is limited by his expected yield on the final sale of his product, the factors of production are thereby channeled into the production of the most intensely desired goods. Those who best serve the consumers earn the greatest profits and, hence, can offer the highest bids for the resources they need.
In short, the market is a highly interdependent mechanism that, without any bureaucratic direction, is able to achieve exactly what Hegedus thought impossible: the transmission of knowledge to the relevant individuals. If, for example, steel should become more scarce, either because part of its supply has been depleted or a new use for it opened up, its price would rise. This would both (1) force the users of steel to cut back on the purchases, and (2) encourage the suppliers to increase their production.
Not only are the actions of all market participants automatically coordinated by these price fluctuations, but the individuals involved do not even have to know why prices rise or fall. They need only observe the price fluctuations and act accordingly. As F. A. Hayek states, "The most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates…. The marvel is that without an order being issued, without more than perhaps a handful of people knowing the cause, tens of thousands of people whose identity could not be ascertained by months of investigation, are made to … move in the right direction."
It is also important to point out that even within an enterprise bureaucracy is kept to a minimum. First, if a firm becomes bureaucratically top-heavy it will be undersold and, if reforms are not made, put out of business by less bureaucratically structured enterprises. And second, as Ludwig von Mises notes, "There is no need for the general manager to bother about the minor details of each section's management…. The only directive that the general manager gives to the men whom he entrusts with the management of the various sections, departments, and branches is: Make as much profit as possible. And an examination of the accounts shows him how successful or unsuccessful they were in executing the directive."
Another Soviet Dilemma
But in a pure socialist economy the entire apparatus of the market would be absent. All decisions regarding the allocation of resources and economic coordination would have to be made manually by the planning board. In an economy like that of the Soviet Union, which has over 200,000 industrial enterprises, this means that the number of decisions that the planning board would have to make each year would number into the billions. This already Herculean task would be made infinitely more difficult by the fact that in the absence of market data they would have no basis to guide their decisions. This problem became evident in the only attempt to establish a pure socialist, Le., non-market, economy: The "War Communism" period in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1921. By 1920, average productivity was only ten percent of the 1914 volume with that of iron ore and cast iron falling to 1.9 and 2.4 percent of their 1914 totals. In the early 1920s "War Communism" was abandoned and since that time production has been guided by means of restricted domestic markets and by co-opting the methods determined in the foreign Western markets.
The task of the Soviet planners is greatly simplified by the existence of the limited markets, but the fact that they are so limited means that the economy still operates inefficiently and suffers from two problems inherent in bureaucratic management: incessant bottlenecks and industrial autarky.
Since it is simply impossible for one agency to be able to familiarize itself with every nuance and peculiarity of every plant in the entire economy, much less to be able to plan for every possible contingency for a year in advance, the planners are forced to make decisions based on summary reports. Further, they must establish broad categories of classes which necessarily gloss over countless differences between firms. Consequently, every plan contains numerous imbalances which surface only while the plan is being implemented.
Since there is no market, these surpluses and shortages cannot work themselves out automatically but can only be altered by plan adjustments made by Gosplan. Thus, a shortage of good A cannot be rectified unless or until so ordered by the planning board. But plan adjustment in one area will have ramifications throughout the economy. To alleviate the shortage of good A, resources will have to be transferred from the production of good B. Since this will reduce the planned-for output of B, the output of those industries dependent upon B will likewise have to be re-evaluated, and so on, in ever widening circles.
Empirical evidence bears out the economic theory. Paul Craig Roberts notes that what goes under the pretentious claim of planning in the Soviet Union is merely "the forecasting of a target for a forthcoming few months by adding to the results of the previous months a percentage increase." Yet, even this "plan" is "changed so often that it is not congruous to say that it controls the development of events in the economy." The planning bureaucracy, he goes on to say, simply functions as "supply agents for enterprises in order to avoid free price formation and exchange on the market…." While this appearance of central planning "satisfies the ideology," the "result has been irrational signals for managerial interpretation, and the irrationality of production in the Soviet Union has been the consequence."
Thus the evidence indicates that the perennially disappointing Soviet grain harvests are far more a result of the system than the weather, for even in "peak planting and harvest seasons as many as one third of all machines in a district may be standing idle because there are no spare parts. Central planners are acutely aware of the need for spares … yet the management system seems unable to match up parts with machines that need them."
The problem of bottlenecks is nothing new, as indicated by a report of some time ago: "the Byelorussian Tractor Factory, which has 227 suppliers, had its production line stopped 19 times in 1962 because of a lack of rubber parts, 18 times because of ball bearings, and eight. times because of transmission components." The same writer notes that "the pattern of breakdowns continued in 1963."
Perhaps the absurd lengths to which attempts at central planning can be carried is illustrated in an incident reported by Joseph Berliner. A plant inspector, with the job of seeing why a plant had fallen behind on its delivery of mining machines, found that the "machines were piled up all over the place." When he asked the manager why he didn't ship them out he was told that according to the plan the machines were to be painted with red paint but the manager only had green and was afraid to alter the plan. Permission was granted to use green, but only after considerable delay since each layer of the bureaucracy was also afraid to authorize a plan change on its own and so sent the request to the next highest agency. Meanwhile, the mines had to shut down while the machines piled up in the warehouses.
The problem of bottlenecks is closely connected with that of organizational autarky. Plant managers are rewarded according to whether or not they have fulfilled their production quotas. To avoid becoming a victim of a bottleneck, and thus not fulfilling the quota, the tendency emerged for each industry to control receipt of its own resources by producing them itself. "Each industry," says David Granick, "was quite willing to pay the price of high-cost production in order to achieve independence." In 1951 only 47 percent of all brick production was carried out under the Ministry of the Industry of Construction Materials. And, by 1957, 116 of the 171 machine-tool plants were outside the appropriate industry, despite the fact that their production costs were in some cases up to 100 percent greater.
To combat this tendency Nikita Khrushchev reorganized the economy in 1957 by setting up 105 Regional Economic Councils to replace the industrial ministries. In the absence of other reforms, however, he merely succeeded in substituting "localism" for "departmentalism," as each economic region endeavored to become self-sufficient. To counter this the economy was further centralized in 1963 but this only increased inefficiency by further rigidifying an already inflexible economy. Unable to find the key to efficient planning, 1965 marked yet another significant step toward a return to a market economy. These reforms not only introduced a limited profit system but also called for a "high degree of local autonomy for producers and suppliers. Detailed planning of every important aspect of production would disappear, to be replaced by minimal direct guidance from above."
Marx postulated the withering away of the state. It is at least as significant as it is ironic that the continued shift of the socialist countries from bureaucratic planning to the market — what William Grampp terms the "new directions in the communist economies" — indicates a "withering away" of the sort never envisioned by Marx.
III. The Problem of Distribution
When considering the problem of distribution, we again find that capitalism is the enemy of bureaucracy. Under capitalism, production is for profit. Capital and labor constantly flow to where they can obtain the greatest return. As can be seen, there can be no separation between production and distribution; for those individuals who, in the eyes of the consumers, render the greatest services to "society" are precisely the ones who reap the greatest rewards.
Turning to socialism, it is difficult to say much in theoretical terms about the way in which wealth is distributed since there are a number of conceivable bases for distribution: equality, need, merit, and services rendered to society. It should be obvious, however, that the implementation of any of these would require conscious bureaucratic direction. It should also be pointed out in this context that the attempts to establish strict equality have never been successful and probably never will be. This is so for two reasons.
First, to spur output the Soviet Union, for example, has always had to rely heavily on the bonus system for its plant managers and the piece-rate system for workers. The increasing centrality of the bonus system is indicated by the fact that while in 1934 bonuses equaled about four percent of a manager's salary, today it often reaches one half, with bonuses for some industries comprising as much as eighty percent of income.
Second, in any society where the state controls all the essential facets of the economy there is a natural temptation for those in control of the government to use their political power to obtain economic privileges. Thus it is not surprising that the 1917 revolution, regardless of intentions, only resulted in the replacement of one privileged elite by another.
One example will illustrate this point. There are a host of "special shops" in the Soviet Union selling everything from food to jewelry. These stores, which are allegedly for the benefit of foreign tourists, have high quality merchandise at below cost prices in order to compensate the tourist for the government's artificially high exchange rate for rubles. However, James Wallace points out that "high-ranking government officials, senior military officials and upper ranks in the Communist Party are all privileged to shop in these stores as a fringe benefit of their jobs." They are therefore able to buy "hard-to-get goods for a fraction of the prices their neighbors pay for often-lower-quality merchandise."
It is a revealing sidelight, and one that should be especially noted by those who condemn capitalism for its unequal "distribution" of wealth, that there is greater inequality of wealth in the more socialist countries like the Soviet Union than in the relatively more market-oriented economies such as the United States. This moreover, is not a historical accident but in conformity with economic theory. For under capitalism there is a natural tendency for capitalists to invest in areas with a low wage level, thereby forcing those rates up to a level commensurate with that of other areas doing the same work, while workers in low paying jobs tend to migrate to areas where pay is higher. Similarly, entrepreneurs invest in areas manifesting high profits. But the increased output forces prices and profits in those areas to fall. In short, while capitalism will never eliminate inequality, it does tend to reduce extremes of wealth and poverty.
Under capitalism the price system performs the crucial function of transmitting knowledge throughout the society and thereby eliminates the need for bureaucracy. But precisely because it eliminates the market, bureaucratic management is indispensable for a socialist economy. Furthermore, since there is an inverse relationship between central planning and the market, bureaucratic management is inherently contradictory. Its dilemma can best be summarized, perhaps, in the form of two planning paradoxes:
Paradox One: For central planning to be viable it needs market data to guide its decisions. But the greater the role of the markets the less that of central planning. Conversely, the more extensive the area of central planning the more limited the market data, and hence the more inefficient must be the operation of the economy.
Paradox Two: If the planning board endeavors to maximize consumer satisfaction it merely does manually what the market does automatically. It is then just a wasteful, redundant entity. But if the planning agency plans operations that would not have been undertaken on the market, then that is an indication that the priorities set by the agency are in conflict with those of the consumers. It is clear that, regardless of the course adopted by the agency, the position of the consumers must be worse off than it would have been under a market economy.
This article originally appeared in The Freeman, March 1979.
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 Andras Hegedus, "Marxist Theories of Leadership and Bureaucracy: A Marxist Analysis," Political Leadership in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Ed.: R. B. Farrell (Chicago, 1970), pp. 53–54.
 Israel Kirzner, Market Theory and the Price System (Princeton, 1963), pp. 36–38.
 Ibid., p. 39.
 For a good. summary of this process see Herbert Levine, "Input-Output Analysis and Soviet Planning," American Economic Review (May, 1962), pp. 128–31.
 See William Loucks and William Whitney, Comparative Economic Systems (New York, 1973), pp. 302–4; and Marshall Goldman, The Soviet Economy (Englewood Cliffs, 1968), pp. 92–4.
 Loucks and Whitney, pp. 322–26; and James Wallace, "In Classless Russia 'Some Are More Equal Than Others,'" U.S. News and World Report (August 4, 1975), p. 35.
 F.A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago, 1972), pp. 86–7.
 Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy (New Rochelle, 1961), p. 33.
 Paul Craig Roberts, Alienation and the Soviet Economy (Albuquerque, 1971), pp. 78–85.
 James Wallace, "Communist System's Toll on Farms," U.S. News and World Report (August 18, 1975), pp. 16–7.
 C.R. McConnell, "Some Fundamentals of Economic Planning in the Soviet Command Economy," The Soviet Economy Ed.: Harry Shaffer (New York, 1968), p. 32.
 In David Granick, The Red Executive (New York, 1961), pp. 133–34.
 Ibid., p. 135. Industrial autarky is, of course, nothing more nor less than a monopoly. It is interesting to note that this has become such a serious problem for many socialist economies that Yugoslavia, for example, has been forced to adopt antitrust laws to deal with it. See William D. Grampp, "New Directions in the Communist Economies," Business Horizons (Fall, 1963), p. 34.
 J.P. Hardt, et al., "Institutional Stagnation and Changing Economic Strategy in the Soviet Union," Man, State and Society in the Soviet Union, Ed.: Joseph Nogee (New York, 1972), p. 183. Also see the special, "Socialism," in Time (March 13, 1978), pp. 24–41. See especially p. 26: The socialist economies, it notes, are characterized by "heavy overstaffing (of) every office and factories with workers who seldom can be fired for failing to produce. Bureaucratic controls further cripple efficiency and managers have little leeway for innovations. Consumer goods are still shoddy and chronically scarce…. Yugoslavia seems to have the fewest economic problems among Marxist-Leninist states. It also has the least rigidly controlled economy in Eastern Europe."
 Grampp, pp. 29–36.
 Granick, p. 111.
 See Milovan Djilas, The New Class (New York, 1968). Also see the interesting comments on the Bolshevik Revolution by a Russian anarcho-syndicalist and contemporary of the Revolution, "M. Sergven," in "The Paths of Revolution," reprinted in Libertarian Analysis (Winter, 1970), pp. 9–12.
 Wallace, "Classless Russia," p. 35. The recent scandals in the U.S. Government Services Administration — scandals which Newsweek referred to as "the biggest money scandal in the history of the Federal government" (September 11, 1978, p. 29) — only further demonstrate how easily bureaucratic planning lends itself to exploitation. Also see the brilliant article on the Washington bureaucracy by Tom Bethell, "The Wealth of Washington," Harper's (June, 1978), pp. 41–59. Especially see page 43: "The laws of supply and demand not only do not apply to Washington, they are turned inside out. Problems elsewhere in the country merely contribute to the wealth of Washington. The fuel crisis takes the shape of a new Department of energy, where 19,000 bureaucrats under Dr. James Schlesinger's command will have $10 billion to play with roughly equal to the total profits of all the oil companies."
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
"If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves."
What follows is my review of Hamilton's Curse by Thomas DiLorenzo, which is quite an amazing book:
An amazingly insightful and thought provoking look into the founding of our country and the interpretation of the Constitution. DiLorenzo sheds new light on subjects from the trans-continental railroad and the whiskey rebellion, to the doctrine of nullification and establishment of a national bank. This book is especially relevant today considering the situation our nation faces and the Hamiltonian mistakes very likely to be soon repeated. If we do not know our history, we are doomed to repeat it.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
"When the blood of any war soaks your clothes and covers your hands, and soldiers die in your arms, every breath forever more becomes an appeal..."
Sunday, July 5, 2009
"A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper."
Unfortunately, most of my fellow countrymen don't seem to grasp this concept. While claiming to be for freedom, especially around this time of year, they constantly are contradicting themselves by attempting to control the lives of everyone around them, in a most hypocritical manner. The results are far beyond simple tyranny. For example, the drug war has cost millions of human beings their lives, whether that be rotting in jail or dead, whose only crime is to be in possession of a substance that the supposed 'freedom lovers' don't approve of. Of course, most, if not all of these hypocritical drug warriors partake in substances which some other people don't approve and wouldn't use. But they feel justified in choosing to drink, smoke, etc, while keeping others from smoking pot or using simple human estrogen (instead of unnatural and dangerous horse estrogen) for hormone treatment. What a dangerous and wicked mindset to champion.
The Drug War vs. American Civilization
The following is based on a talk given at the Free State Project’s Liberty Forum in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Friday, March 6, 2009.>
After 9/11, a lot of people hoped that the government would focus itself on terrorism and treat the drug war as a lower priority. Perhaps the preoccupation with war on foreign enemies of the United States would cast some perspective of the U.S. war here at home. This hope was seen in drug reformers and elements of the left and right alike.
Some libertarians, who considered terrorism a valid reason for government to flex its muscles, advocated this shift in government resources and attention. In October 2001, writing for the Cato Institute, Executive Vice President David Boaz urged policymakers to
Reorient drug war resources to the war on terrorism. Some officials have compared the new war on terrorism with the war on drugs. That's a depressing thought: We've been fighting the drug war for 87 years, and drug use is as high as ever. A better tack is to take some of the $40 billion we spend annually on the futile drug war and reallocate it to the war on terrorism. Use the Drug Enforcement Administration's agents to search for pipe bombs, not marijuana pipes.
This was an appealing idea, even for those of us who had early objections to the war on terrorism. Even if government power might be misused in the name of defending America, at least perhaps the war on drugs would be calmed down. Maybe some politicians would even recognize that the drug war was enriching terrorists at the expense of American security.
Instead, we saw the two policies intertwined by the Bush administration. On February 3, 2002, government ads were featured during the Super Bowl that blamed drug users for financing terrorism, specifically targeting marijuana use for helping bolster the Taliban.
Of course,this propaganda had the facts totally backwards. The Taliban was not getting rich off American marijuana use and it was in fact drug prohibition that helped drive up opium profits. And, by the way, the Taliban is still living it up now, almost eight years later, feeding off the proceeds from the international drug policies pushed by the U.S. government.
Also in the aftermath of 9/11 many defenders of the Bush anti-terror policies, particularly the Patriot Act, resorted to a very unsettling argument. They said that Bush was only seeking law-enforcement powers that the government had long been using against drug dealers. Surely, terrorists are if anything even worse than dealers, and so powergrab that was good enough for the drug war must be good enough for the war on terror.
The problem with the logic was that the war on drugs had already been an intolerable excuse for government erosion of our civil liberties. The powers enjoyed by prosecutors and police in the drug war went way too far, no matter what the excuse.
The war on terrorism has brought with it warrantless surveillance, lawless searches and seizures, a growth in bureaucracy, a militarization of domestic policing, and serious attacks on the due process rights of criminal suspects. Most of this has been tolerated by the American people, who were conditioned by decades of invasions into their privacy and lives in the name of the drug war, and so were willing to give up more freedom for another supposedly good reason. If there had never been a drug war, it would have been much harder to get the Patriot Act and all that followed it.
Again, drug reformers are expressing hope, perhaps more than at any time since the successes of medical marijuana activists in the 1990s. The reason now is the ascent of Barack Obama, who is interpreted as less a drug warrior than Bush. Last month, Obama’s administration made encouraging gestures when White House spokesman Nick Schapiro said, "The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws." Just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated the administration would stop the raids on state medical marijuana dispensaries.
To the extent fewer people are persecuted, deprived of their medicine, thrown in prison and brutalized by the system because of this, we must cheer loudly. It is a triumph of liberty for many Americans. Yet I am concerned that, as in other areas, Obama’s reforms will silence the dissent of civil libertarians, and I also fear the drug war has not taken the beating some people think.
Surely, no one is saying Obama believes in drug freedom and the abolition of all drug laws, so I will not argue against that strawman. However, given the very limited degree of his opposition to U.S. drug policy – given his failure to understand the fundamental principles at stake – indeed, given the failure of even many drug reformers to fully grasp the severity of the drug issue – I am not at all optimistic that we will be any freer a country, concerning this issue as a whole, in four years than we are today.
I have long heard activists express concern that we not be too radical on this issue. Drug reformers warn that making the perfect the enemy of the good will get us nowhere. Conservatives say they can sign on to the whole freedom agenda, except too many of us are attached to legalization. Even many libertarians caution against emphasizing the issue. Some Libertarian candidates downplay it or outright equivocate on the drug issue, for fear of alienating the electorate.
Well, I must say I disagree strongly with all of this. I believe the war on drugs is, if anything, discussed far too little, and that there is no good reason to shy from it. The damage it has done and will continue to do to the very fabric of our society is almost impossible to exaggerate. Without ending prohibition and restoring the rights it has diminished, we can never reclaim our civilization.
Permit me to read an excerpt from Ludwig von Mises, master Austrian economist and one of the greatest classical liberal thinkers of all time. Mises, who many conservatives claim to admire, did not seem to think this was a minor matter. This is from Mises’s economic masterpiece, Human Action, written sixty years ago in 1949:
The problems involved in direct government interference with consumption. . . concern the fundamental issues of human life and social organization. If it is true that government derives its authority from God and is entrusted by Providence to act as the guardian of the ignorant and stupid populace, then it is certainly its task to regiment every aspect of the subject's conduct. The God-sent ruler knows better what is good for his wards than they do themselves. It is his duty to guard them against the harm they would inflict upon themselves if left alone.
Self-styled "realistic" people fail to recognize the immense importance of the principles implied. They contend that they do not want to deal with the matter from what, they say, is a philosophic and academic point of view. Their approach is, they argue, exclusively guided by practical considerations. . . .
However, the case is not so simple as that. Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.
These fears are not merely imaginary specters terrifying secluded doctrinaires. It is a fact that no paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from regimenting its subjects’ minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away. The naïve advocates of government interference with consumption delude themselves when they neglect what they disdainfully call the philosophical aspect of the problem. They unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters.
Radicalism on the drug issue is often seen in terms of the politics of the 1960s and since, but twenty years before Woodstock, one of the most serious and significant thinkers ever to ponder the importance of human liberty said all this, going far beyond what most critics of drug policy would say today.
But is Mises correct? Does he overstate his case? Is the abolition of the right to consume whatever someone wants really taking all his freedom away? And does drug prohibition really send us on the path to censorship and religious persecution?
In America, our liberties our ostensibly protected by the U.S. Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights. How much has the drug war compromised our Constitutional rights? Let us consider a countdown, starting with the Tenth Amendment and moving to First.
Drug War Casualty: The Bill of Rights and Constitutional Liberty
The Tenth Amendment says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This effectively means that if the Constitution does not grant the power to the federal government over something, then it is for the states and people to decide. Some people here would say this is the most important amendment. If the federal government obeyed it, the entire drug war as we know it would be impossible.
In 1909, Hamilton Wright, U.S. official to the Shanghai Opium Commission, complained that the Constitution was "constantly getting in the way" of his drug war ambitions. Indeed, in domestic politics, there is no Constitutional authorization for a federal drug war whatever. Without a grant of power, the U.S. government is supposed to butt out.
In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed the Harrison Narcotic Act into law. There was no constitutional basis for this, but at least by the time alcohol prohibition came around, it was recognized that the federal government would need constitutional authority to ban liquor. They passed the 18th Amendment and repealed the disaster of alcohol prohibition with the 21st amendment.
By 1937, however, there was no more such deference to Constitutional procedure. That year, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Tax Act into law, effectively banning marijuana at the federal level. All the major federal drug laws since then had no Constitutional basis, and all of them seemed to come with general expansions of federal power. Just as Wilson’s ban on heroin and regulation of cocaine came during the activist Progressive Era and marijuana prohibition was part of FDR’s New Deal, the next major wave of federal drug law came in the 1960s, during the Great Society, and culminated in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act just as Nixon was continuing LBJ’s policies of guns and butter.
This relates to the medical marijuana debates since the 1990s. When states began allowing medicinal pot, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both cracked down on their dispensaries, and many advocates of states’ rights decried this violation of federalism. A case went to the Supreme Court on 10th Amendment grounds and all the liberals on the court, all favoring a federal government with few limits on its power, upheld Bush’s raids. Three conservatives dissented, including Clarence Thomas, arguing that the federal government had no authority through the commerce clause to interfere with California’s medical marijuana policy.
If Obama indeed stops the medical marijuana raids, it will probably not be because, as his spokesman says, he believes "that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws." On general questions of policy, including the drug war, Obama and most liberals favor federal supremacy. If California goes through with legalizing marijuana outright, will Obama really do nothing about it? Will the administration actually find ways to crack down on medical marijuana while claiming the operations it’s targeting are not for medical use – as it has done before? Is it possible that Obama, not believing in the constitutional principles at stake, will accelerate other aspects of the drug war?
The Tenth Amendment alone invalidates the federal drug war, and so too does the next one down.
The Ninth Amendment says "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
This means that just because a personal right is not specifically mentioned does not mean the federal government can infringe upon it. Certainly the rights to use and sell drugs are being attacked in this very way.
And in moral terms, this is what the drug war means. It is the denial of self-ownership. Someone who can’t decide what to put in himself does not own himself. The logic of the drug war is that the government owns you.
We look at all the rights trampled in the name of the drug war and we see how all rights are connected. People are denied the right to self-medicate and take the treatment they desire. Not just in regard to illegal drugs either, but those that are regulated.
The Food and Drug Administration is tied at the hip to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The pharmaceutical interests who control federal prescription drug policy have a stake in maintaining a control on what drugs people can do. The FDA, by keeping life-saving drugs off the market, has forced tens and tens of thousand Americans to die prematurely. Mary Ruwart puts the number in the millions.
What would amuse me if it were not tragic is that so many liberals defend the FDA even as they question the drug war. But if you have a right to do drugs to get high, you surely also have a right to do any drug that you think might save your life. Medical freedom in its true sense is totally impossible without drug freedom.
Because of the drug war, the right to travel is impeded, and the right to have and transfer money. Laws against money laundering – itself a victimless crime – have sprung up almost entirely because of the drug war. And anyone who believes that the right to practice free enterprise is important and guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment must necessarily oppose the drug war, which violates free market principles in a million ways.
Next on our list is the Eighth Amendment, which guarantees that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Well surely any punishment is cruel for a victimless crime. Conservatives might say this is a liberal reading of the Amendment. But at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted, prisons as we know them hardly existed, and the notion of imprisoning someone for ten years for growing hemp, on which the Constitution was drafted, would have been seen as quite cruel and quite unusual. In the 1970s and 1980s, Congress passed mandatory minimum laws which reduce the discretion of judges in handing out sentences – almost all such federally determined sentences are for drugs or guns.
The average sentence in federal prison for drug trafficking is longer than for sexual abuse. The burgeoning prison state is one of the most horrifying features of modern American history, with the drug war playing a huge part. About one in four or five Americans prisoners are there for non-violent drug offenses – acts that were totally legal in the nineteenth century. Before Reagan stepped up the drug war, there were half a million Americans in prison or jail, and another 1.5 million on parole or probation. There are now more than two million behind bars and seven million total in the correctional system. Prisons grew by 500 percent from 1982 to 2000 in my state of California.
One out of four or five prisoners are there for drugs alone. And for their non-crime, they are sentenced to a personal totalitarianism: Gang violence, an alarming frequency of prison rape, beatings and sometimes death. Americans by the hundreds of thousands who have never raised a finger against anyone are in constant fear of being abused and turned into slaves by their cellmates. How any American can think this is in any way consistent with civilized society boggles the mind.
Bail is often ridiculously high for drug war victims – $1 million or more. The advent of asset forfeiture – whereby the government confiscates your property and essentially accuses it of being guilty of a civil offense – has become an effective way to circumvent the "excessive fines" clause.
What about the Seventh Amendment? It reads: "In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
I mentioned civil asset forfeiture. It is important to recognize that there is no criminal hearing for the vast majority of forfeiture victims. The property is seized through civil litigation. But since the property itself, and not the owner, is on trial, the Bill of Rights offers no protection. There’s no right to a trial. If a person wants to reclaim his confiscated property, he must ask for a trial. If the court rules that the property be returned, the government can ask for another one, or merely make return of the property contingent upon the victim paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
You might be a charter pilot who has his plane taken as part of a drug investigation, and be unable to pay the six grand to get your plane back after being bankrupted by the legal system. This happened to Billy Munnerlyn in the early 1990s. You could be the wrong color or have the wrong amount of cash on you and lose it all to confiscators who get to keep a cut of what they steal.
One point of the Seventh Amendment was to protect the rights of Americans to sue government officials for wrongdoing, and have a fair trial – not the type of mock trial the Founders saw used by the British Crown to let their officials off easy. The drug war has turned this entire idea on its head. Now the government can just take your property without charging you and all you can do is hope that it lets you make your case in a fixed sham proceeding that you are innocent.
The Sixth Amendment reads, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."
For standard crimes like murder, theft, rape and the like, it is perhaps possible to have trials reasonably available to every suspect. But there are simply too many drug offenders for this and no victims to serve as reliable witnesses. So the standard of evidence has been lowered to the point where the mere existence of enough cash and a cop’s say-so is enough to convict.
What’s more, defense attorneys are often burdened with a hundred clients at once, so they must prioritize and leave those who are fated to only a year in prison to lesser hearings. Some judges have even refused to assign public defenders in drug cases.
A dangerous alternative to the trial system is the "drug court," wrongly touted by some reformers, including the Obama administration. In Obama and Biden’s "Blueprint for Change" they propose to "Expand Use of Drug Courts" to "give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior."
But as Morris Hoffman, a state trial judge in Denver and an adjunct professor of law at the University of Colorado, warned at the USA Today blog in October last year:
[It’s] not just that drug courts don't work, or don't work well. They have the perverse effect of sending more drug defendants to prison, because their poor treatment results get swamped by an increase in the number of drug arrests. By virtue of a phenomenon social scientists call "net-widening," the very existence of drug courts stimulates drug arrests.
Police are no longer arresting criminals, they are trolling for patients. Denver's drug arrests almost tripled in the two years after we began our drug court. At the end of those two years, we were sending almost twice the number of drug defendants to prison than we did before drug court.
Attempting to win the drug war, even in a more progressive sense, is thus no substitute for abandoning it altogether. The only change I can believe we’ll see under Obama is more erosion of the Sixth Amendment.
We’re just getting started. The Fifth Amendment states: "No person shall be. . . subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
Mandatory drug testing can be seen as self-incrimination, as soon as the results are used in criminal prosecution. Civil asset forfeiture has allowed for the deprivation of life and liberty without due process, and also for the effective phenomenon of double jeopardy, as people are punished both in the civil and criminal systems.
The Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978 expanded the use of forfeiture to include any property connected to the drug crime in any manner. An early 1990s study estimated that 80% of people who lost their property to civil asset forfeiture were never charged with a crime.
We often hear of money being confiscated for drug residue, which can be found on over 90% of the cash in circulation. We hear of people losing their homes, cars, boats and businesses because of the presence of marijuana seeds. The drive to get loot, some of which police get to personally keep, has even led to some deaths, as was the case with Donald Scott, a California rancher gunned down because bureaucrats wanted to seize his land on which they claimed they found some seeds. Michael Bradbury, the Ventura County DA, said that the police raid was "motivated at least in part, by a desire to seize and forfeit the ranch for the government... [The] search warrant became Donald Scott’s death warrant."
I shouldn’t even have to discuss how the Fourth Amendment has been compromised.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Where to begin? Warrants have become a mere bureaucratic technicality, rubberstamped or often neglected altogether in the pursuit of drug offenders. No-knock raids have become a commonplace in modern American life. 92-year-old women are murdered and have drugs planted on them. Men who shoot no-knock invaders are sentenced to death, and if they’re lucky, have their sentences reduced to life – this happened to Cory Maye in Mississippi. Children are shot in the back. Family pets are killed by laughing officers as they break into homes searching for drugs.
With a real crime, it is often possible to have an "Oath or affirmation" backing the warrant, which can actually "describe the persons or things to be seized." In a murder case, a warrant can describe a bloody knife. Drug war warrants are typically too vague to pass constitutional muster. Mere suspicion that some law is being broken is often enough.
The courts have ruled that if the government tries to arrest you when you’re in public, and you escape into your home, they can now search the home without a warrant. As for automobiles, drug war roadblocks have erased the Fourth Amendment concerning cars, which are now treated as the property of the state.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that police may prevent people from entering their own homes while the police apply for a warrant. These abuses are often glorified on television as the necessary implements to catch vicious criminals, but they originated with, and are principally used for, the war on drugs.
Americans tend to look at the Third Amendment as an anachronism. "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." Surely this hasn’t been touched by prohibition, has it?
Even by a very narrow reading, I believe it has. In one instance, in 1997, 40 members of the Army National Guard moved into the Las Palmas Housing Project in Puerto Rico to search for drugs. Years later, there were hundreds there.
More broadly, the entire spirit of the Third Amendment has been trounced. The point of the amendment was to prevent the abuses seen with the British Quartering Act, to protect Americans from having to quarter soldiers – to support them, even financially – except at wartime when and through legal means. But all around us, we have seen the police militarized in the name of the drug war.
Some conservatives objected when Bush modified the insurrection act and amassed more presidential power to call up the National Guard on his own say-so. But this trend began before 9/11. In a hearing on the drug war in 1994, then Congressman Chuck Schumer said, "The National Guard is a powerful, ready-made fighting force. Redefining its role in the post Cold War era presents exciting possibilities in the war against crime."
Also troubling have been the attempts to weaken Posse Comitatus, which since Reconstruction has forbade the use of the military in civilian law enforcement. But before the war on terrorism, there was the drug-war loophole. In the 1980s, Posse Comitatus was amended to allow for military-police cooperation in drug interdiction. Whereas the military was understood to be inappropriate for the enforcement of federal civil rights during Reconstruction, it was supposedly okay for the drug war. This precedent culminated in the largest massacre of American civilians by their own government since Wounded Knee.
Why was the military involved in Waco sixteen years ago? Because the government decided to treat their upcoming publicity-stunt raid as a drug measure. They claimed the Branch Davidians had a meth lab. That’s how they got the warrant and military involved. That’s how they got the military weapons. It was only later that the excuse shifted to child abuse or illegal gun ownership.
Which brings us to the Second Amendment. One of the terrible tragedies of our time is that more people do not understand the connection between the drug war and gun rights.
As soon as violating people’s rights to find drugs became excusable, the crusade against private gun ownership got a big boost. Both concern the ownership of inanimate objects. As wars on possession crimes, both government crusades rely on the same kinds of dirty tactics, the punishment of minor offenders with disproportionately long sentences as a deterrent, the erosion of due process, privacy and the rights of the accused.
The relationship between the drug war and violent crime has been documented. The spike in violent crime following prohibition has traditionally led to more severe enforcement of gun laws. Both gun control and the drug war lead to violent black markets, and thus more state power in a spiraling vicious cycle of mutual reinforcement.
It was, after all, the bootlegging gangs that emerged out of alcohol prohibition that served as the inspiration for the first major federal gun law: The National Firearms Act of 1934. A year after the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 passed on a similarly used an abusive interpretation of the Commerce Clause.
Moreover, just as with terrorism, the two issues became linked in law enforcement. Federal law mandates additional penalties if drug dealers are caught in mere possession of a firearm. Nobody wants to stick up for the rights of drug dealers to keep and bear arms. But so long as they are violating no one’s rights, they should be left in peace. There are many legitimate reasons, from a moral perspective, that a dealer would want to defend himself.
Many non-violent drug convicts are automatically denied the right to bear arms. This is a serious and grave attack on the human rights of drug convicts who have already paid a debt to society that they didn’t even owe.
The lesson is clear: If you want your right to self-defense protected, you must oppose drug prohibition.
Last but not least is the First Amendment, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
For years, politicians have wanted to censor us, using the drug war as an excuse. Probably the most notable example was Senators Feinstein and Hatch’s proposed Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, which in its original language would have outlawed speech that advocated drug use or production and cracked down on websites that merely linked to sites that sold drug paraphernalia. Then there is the more general chilling effect of students being harassed in public schools for outwardly advocating drug use or legalization.
Here in New Hampshire, Ian Freeman has been threatened with criminal penalties for the act of advocating drug possession.
As for religious liberty, American Indians have long used hallucinogens as religious rites, and have risked penalties under federal law for the peaceful exercise of religion. This brings us to a fundamental incompatibility between the First Amendment and the drug war.
Under the American Indian Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1994, American Indians can use peyote because it is part of their religion. But if something is peaceful, anyone should be allowed to do it, whether it is recognized by the government as religious or not. For peyote users to be jailed because they do not believe in its spiritual dimension is a de facto official government endorsement and granted privilege for some religious groups. If it can conceivably be allowed for the religious, it must constitutionally be allowed to everyone. Yet for peyote users to be jailed despite their religion is a violation of their religious liberty. The only way to reconcile religious liberty with federal drug law is to abolish it altogether.
Thus we see that Ludwig von Mises was hardly off the mark. The entire Bill of Rights has been shredded in the drug war. In Constitutional terms, "If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption," one does indeed "take all freedoms away." With even the precious First Amendment battered, Mises was right that the drug warriors "unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters."
The alternative, say the drug warriors, would be worse. They persist in their claims that we are utopians and unrealistic. But it is their vision of a drug-free America that is unrealistic. America’s prisons are constantly monitored and prisoners have very little of what we would call civil liberty, yet drugs flow throughout the system. America itself could become one big drug prison and their vision would be no closer to being obtained.
And look what their policies have produced in our real world. I have explained how one casualty of the drug war has been the whole slate of our Constitutional liberties. But there have been other, sometimes more subtle, casualties as well.
Drug War Casualty: Truth and Honest Debate
In all wars, truth is a casualty. The drug war is no exception. Consider how much the prohibitionists have poisoned the debate. Any advocate of legalization is questioned for his motives. If you oppose the drug war, you must support drug use or use it yourself. It is no different from the smearing of all war opponents as supporters for the enemy regime.
And so when you question the drug war, you are supposed to do all you can to condemn drugs and make it clear that you hate them as much as the next guy. You are not supposed to question the propaganda itself. You are not supposed to say that, while there are real risks and dangers, we should dispassionately assess them and not succumb to hysteria. You are not supposed to say most of the war propaganda is a lie.
Mere scientific interest in the ins and outs of drug interaction with the body is, in fact, seen as some sort of subversive tendency, rather than in an honest curiosity about the very legitimate science of pharmacology. And its importance as a science is one that transcends the drug debate, since it has been through the study of drugs that we learned so much about our brains and biology in the first place. There would be no understanding of endorphins had it not been for the discovery of morphine. We know much more about the brain because of marijuana than we would have otherwise. This is a very important area of inquiry, and the freedom to conduct drug research is yet another casualty of the drug war.
All drugs are poisons, as was explained by Paracelsus, the 16th century founder of modern pharmacology. All drugs are poisons. Most can be very dangerous, and most can have potential benefits. The question is dosage and context.
Internationally, controversy over drugs goes back centuries. In Muslim culture, the question of whether coffee consumption was consistent with the Koran emerged in the early 16th century.
In American culture, drugs began inspiring hysteria in the late 19th century. Before that, you could buy cocaine at the store. Today, tens of billions are spent to ensure it has to be bought at the street corner and in parks.
Marijuana has been used for five thousand years in China. The Turks, Indians and Assyrians all began using it more than two thousand years ago. Ancient Greeks like Homer, Herodotus, and Theocritus wrote about its medical benefits. It serves very well as an anti-emetic, muscle relaxant, glaucoma treatment and sedative and is used for migraines, menstrual cramps, seizures, asthma and nausea. 50% or so of oncologists report giving it to cancer patients.
It was taken in a variety of ways and probably smoked before tobacco. Cannabis, from which the word "canvas" originates, was also the most important source of fiber for thousands of years until the 20th century. About fifteen percent of users abuse the drug, just as with alcohol.
During the deliberations to make it illegal, the federal government claimed it would make you violent, and then later reversed itself and claimed it would make young men pacifistic and unwilling to go to war. They say the new marijuana is dangerous, more like hard drugs, but no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose and probably no one ever will. Lab tests indicate it would take 40,000 doses to kill someone – about ten thousand times as many doses of alcohol as one would need to die, and about 200 times as many doses of caffeine. They say it’s a gateway drug, but decriminalized marijuana in Holland has not resulted in more cocaine or heroin use, or even pot use.
As for the idea that no one who uses it can accomplish anything, I would defer to Michael Phelps, Carl Sagan, and the bulk of artists and musicians of my parents’ generation, as well as the last three presidents. (Okay, perhaps there is a criminal element associated with marijuana, after all.)
Heroin is perhaps the quintessential "hard drug," but it is closely related to morphine and codeine. Perhaps it would be used in hospitals to this day if it were not completely illegal. Notably, there is no death from chemical withdrawal from heroin, and most people who abuse it eventually get over it. So much of the damage done by it is exacerbated by prohibition. Overdoses and lack of impurity arise because people do not know how much they are using, and no one bothered to inform them seriously of the risks. The legal barriers to syringe availability have famously led to a rise in HIV transmission.
Since heroin is essentially akin to very strong morphine and codeine, it is ironic that the conservatives were so quick to defend Rush Limbaugh when he was caught with Oxycontin, also simply a very powerful opiate, which he had allegedly been abusing illegally.
Cocaine comes from the coca leaf, native to the western hemisphere and still used in South America, mixed with tea, as a treatment for upset stomachs. The leaf has been used thousands of years. The chemical was isolated in 1860 and its most common recreational use after this was in beverages – in elixirs, Coca Cola, and Vin Mariani, a red wine with the drug in it that was fancied by Thomas Edison, Jules Vern and Pope Leo the VIII. (Incidentally, cocaine was removed from Coca Cola years before it was illegal, due to market considerations.)
When they started cracking down on coca leaves, powder cocaine became more popular. When they leaned heavier on that, crack cocaine got on the streets – perhaps with a little direct help from the government. The more the government cracks down, the purer the drug tends to get, as it is easier to transport. Liquor became big under Prohibition and then subsided afterwards. We could probably expect a similar response from ending the prohibition of cocaine.
Cocaine can cause psychosis, heart problems and is one of the most addiction-prone, but its full risks should be analyzed thoughtfully, not mindlessly. There is no death from withdrawal, for example. A lot of the hysteria surrounding cocaine in the last couple of decades was sparked by the tragedy of Len Bias, a senior from the University of Maryland, drafted by the Boston Celtics, who died of an overdose. The media did not report, however, that Bias did not snort it – he more likely ate it, given the massive amounts in his body. Many of the worst abuses come with mixing cocaine with alcohol, which produces cocaethylene in the liver, which is very stressful to the cardiovascular system.
Amphetamine, also called "speed," is also extremely misunderstood. The recreational version is so closely related to so many common pharmaceuticals that this is an area of particular hypocrisy. Speed was prescribed in the 1930s for asthma and the 1950s for weight loss. Today it’s used for ADD and ADHD. I don’t necessarily approve of all this, but it is odd to think of it as a criminal act in one context and socially approved in another.
Methamphetamine is especially singled out as a devil drug, but consider this: On the streets, the drug was long produced in two chemical forms: D and L Methamphetamine. L Methamphetamine has another name – desoxyephedrine. Desoxyephedrine was for years the active ingredient in Vicks Inhaler. The molecule L-Methamphetamine was illegal – a schedule I drug – but the FDA looked the other way as it was marketed far and wide for people with the common cold.
LSD and Hallucinogens
After Albert Hoffman discovered LSD in the 1930s and, as a scientist in neutral Switzerland, experimented with the substance in the midst of world war, the drug became a key ingredient in biopsychiatry. There is no big risk of overdose, withdrawal or addiction, and the most abusive uses of the substance were probably when the CIA was giving it to unsuspecting subjects as part of the agency’s MK Ultra program.
Dozens of studies have shown the use of LSD to deal with alcoholism, death anxiety and the like. Thousands of patients used it effectively for psychological treatment in the 1950s and 1960s, before it was made totally illegal.
In the 1960s, LSD was accused of causing chromosome damage, a claim debunked in 1971. Other myths include the idea that LSD is typically contaminated with strychnine, speed or PCP, that it causes blindness, birth defects and insanity. Unfortunately, those who possess LSD and punished not by the weight of the substance, but by the weight of the carrier – which is why some people who have been caught with just a few doses of it are now rotting in prison for the rest of their lives. We wouldn’t want them to have a bad trip, after all.
In the late 1990s, ecstasy was the new drug scourge, the new great threat to America’s youth. When did this stuff come about? It was actually first used about a century ago, and only its illegality has made it such a taboo recreational choice.
Ecstasy can cause oxidative serotonin axon damage and it can lead to dehydration in careless dancers and its long-term effects are not completely understood. If scientists were allowed to more freely research it and all drugs, we would know much more.
Much of what’s available on the street is not even really MDMA, or it is cut with DXM – a legally available hallucinogen you can find in cough syrup – although that is, of course, a result of the drug war. But I remember about a decade ago a photograph of a brain supposedly destroyed entirely by ecstasy use. In fact, it was an artist’s fabrication.
For years, ecstasy was used to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, marital counseling, and other psychological therapies. These were made illegal when MDMA was banned. However, in 2005 the Food and Drug Administration allowed for MDMA experimental trials for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, to help them deal with flashbacks and reoccurring nightmares. This was its original common use, and yet, whereas some soldiers are apparently allowed access to the treatment, for the rest of us it’s still an excuse to violate the Bill of Rights.
Drug War Casualty: Common Sense
Along with truth and honest debate, we have often lost common sense. In 1970, the government began drug scheduling – putting substances in one of five categories to determine the degree of regulation. Currently, marijuana, heroin and hallucinogens are Schedule I – illegal under all circumstances – cocaine is schedule II, and so forth.
In 1986, so as to consolidate the drug war and cover any loopholes, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Analog Act. This abominable law targeted so-called "designer drugs." This meant that any chemical that was molecularly similar, or similar in effect, to any Schedule I or II drug would immediately be treated as Schedule I. You could see the absurdity in this, since what constitutes a similar effect is somewhat subjective and the government has a hard time deciphering such things fairly. Why is LSD illegal when you can get atropine and belladonna, mandrake and other plants that do something "similar" enough? And what constitutes similarities in molecular structure is a somewhat useless question, when we consider that a simple modification can turn nutmeg into a hallucinogen.
Whereas before, government pursued enumerated drugs, now we were moving to a day when drugs would only be safe if they were exempted from prohibition.
Occasionally, the drug war has singled out relatively benign substances in addition to the regulars. For those of you who use Sudafed, you will sympathize with this. I find that pseudoephedrine is one of the few over-the-counters that works for me. It clears up my sinuses. I am a big fan.
But now you must go through an Orwell novel just to get the stuff. You have to show your ID and sign your name to a federal database so they can assure you don’t buy more than your monthly allowance. The idea is this will stop people from manufacturing meth.
In just the time I’ve been an active drug war opponent, I have seen the government widen its ridiculous drug war to include a number of supposedly horrible menaces – the reefer madness de jour. They’ve targeted Qat, a leaf that is widely chewed in East Africa and especially by Somali immigrants; GHB, a chemical that is made in everyone’s brain; ephedra, a natural stimulant that when used responsibly avoids many of the nasty side effects of caffeine. And, now, there is the scare about the "new marijuana" – salvia divinorum, a plant that virtually no one is addicted to and that very few people even find recreational.
Meanwhile, of course, tobacco claims hundreds of thousands of lives a year and alcohol causes tens of thousands of is associated with a third or half of suicides and homicides. The damage done to the system by tobacco and its high rate of addictiveness and the toxicity, neural degeneration, heart, liver, muscle birth and pancreatic problems caused by alcohol, which has a chemical withdrawal, unlike cocaine and heroin, indicates these drugs are the most dangerous in our society. Some prohibitionists believe these too should be outlawed. That is of course the logical implication of drug war reasoning.
Drug War Casualty: Free Market Principles
The principles of the free market are obviously not much respected, or even understood, by those who talk highly of free enterprise and then support drug prohibition.
The war on drugs has long been, in large part, about money. The urge to control intoxicants has been one of the greatest powers driving economies for centuries. We all know about the Dutch and British East India companies. The Mayans and Aztecs used cacao for money. Chocolate contains caffeine, theobromine and anandamide – which has a similar effect to marijuana’s THC. Today, coffee remains dominant in commerce, second only to oil.
In the nineteenth century, China was home to the Opium Wars – this time, force was used to keep drug markets open, not closed.
The key is there is demand for drugs, and so there shall be supply. If drugs are restricted, we will have human misery, but people will pay more or find other intoxicating alternatives. Most modern drug abuse has probably been with pharmaceuticals, anyway – barbiturates, benzodiazepines, household inhalants.
Drug War Casualty: The Social Order
The drug war commits grave violence against our social fabric. It has led to a disturbance of the economic order in inner cities, luring teenagers away from legal work with inflated drug profits and subjecting urban life to gang warfare and a doubling of violent crime. It has eroded justice and the rule of law, lowering the standards of justice, weakening constitutional protections and punishing the peaceful much more harshly than many violent offenders are punished. It has undermined legitimate social authority, the community and the family – taking issues that should be resolved civilly and locally and transferring them to police, legislators, bureaucrats, propagandists and the military.
The war on drugs has invaded the family unit. Government schools urging their students to turn their parents in for marijuana use is but one example of the pure socialism represented by the drug war. Even if it fails to achieve its goals, the drug warriors worry about what kind of lesson it would send to the children to legalize drugs.
But what kind of lesson does it send to continue this failed policy? To rip peaceful young Americans from the productive economy and cage them with violent criminals at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a year where many are abused or raped and accustomed to real criminality? What message does it send to say violence against non-aggressors is wrong, unless they are drug users? What message does it send to say the successful people in our society who got away with drug use uncaught were just lucky, and that hundreds of thousands who were less lucky must suffer? What message does it send about property rights or the principles of America to teach kids that their homes, vehicles and lives can be scrutinized by officials looking for drugs?
One of the most heart-wrenching tales concerns an entire community destroyed by the drug war. In 1999, an undercover cop who couldn’t find a steady job reported purchasing cocaine from a hundred people. Dozens went to prison, including about 1/3 of the black male population. There was no evidence of most of their guilt – no fingerprints, no corroborating testimony, no real proof at all. Some had rock-solid alibis. The whole town was destroyed by a single officer and an evil drug policy.
Drug War Casualty: International Peace
Finally, a few words about peace, the foundation of any free society. The drug war has hijacked American foreign policy for decades. During the Clinton administration, with the enthusiastic support of Joe Biden, the U.S. launched Plan Colombia, which has used poison to eradicate crops in Latin America, making people sick in the process. Look at Afghanistan and you see how the opium war is going there. In Mexico, we are facing narcoterrorism that would not and could not exist a day longer if they repealed prohibition.
U.S.-supported drug war efforts have meant mass murder abroad. In 2003, the Thai government, with U.S. support, tracked down thousands of individuals named on "black lists" as drug war enemies, and shot them dead. The government then concluded more than half the victims had nothing to do with drugs. They were simply suspicious, perhaps had too much unexplained money. This is how a Thai couple, who had won the lottery, were chosen for government murder. Last year Thai authorities indicated they would continue such a policy. " Government officials must implement this policy 24 hours a day, but I will not set a target for how many people should die," said Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister. The interior minister Chalerm Yubamrung chimed in: "When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it."
This is the kind of policy the U.S. favors abroad, and this is what we could face here in America if prohibition is not defeated. The drug war cannot succeed, even with the most brutal methods, but the drug warriors will try anything, even the most brutal methods, to wage their war.
But the government would never go as far as in Thailand, right? It would never kill its own citizens outright. Well, consider this. A couple years ago there was some propaganda that al Qaeda was trying to poison the American cocaine supply to hurt American citizens. No one sensed the irony. The Carter administration poisoned Mexican marijuana with paraquat. The policy continued under Reagan. Reagan's Drug Czar Carlton Turner defended the practice, saying he didn't care if drug users died from smoking poisoned marijuana. Turner had also tried selling fake paraquat-testing kits through High Times magazine, presumably to trick users into thinking their pot was safe. The same man later was pressured out of office, having gone over the top in declaring marijuana a cause of homosexuality and AIDS and calling for the death penalty for drug offenses.
A Threat to American Civilization and the Prospects for Change
Thus we see all the great American principles undermined by the drug war. As a functional society, a culture of individual liberty and family values, a nation that respects the rule of law and the sovereignty of other countries, America has declined under the drug war. What makes America America is truly at stake.
Conservatives don’t generally want to think of the drug war as un-American, but that’s what it is in the most important sense of the term. Personal freedom and responsibility, the bedrock of the American promise, are simply incompatible with the national crusade against drugs.
Indeed, it is civilization itself under attack. Ayn Rand defined civilization as "the process of setting man free from men" and "the progress toward a society of privacy." This process and progress have been derailed by drug prohibition, which uproots the very foundations of civil life.
I’ve given the bad news, so what are our prospects for change? Does Obama’s declared policy of ending the medical marijuana raids indicate a future where the drug war will be significantly reined in?
Here’s my concern. If they only cut back on medical marijuana crackdowns, and some state ever does legalize marijuana, the feds can still overstep states rights and persecute users. Short of that, they might still crack down on caregivers while claiming they are going after non-medical use.
Furthermore, some of the medical marijuana reform movement is wed to the idea of government regulating the pot dispensaries more and getting more involved. Some of them even advocate stepping up enforcement on the hard drugs.
The problem is, it is the enforcement of laws against hard drugs that actually create most of the tragedies. Marijuana causes more middle class people to be arrested, ticketed, even jailed, and that is terrible. But it is laws against heroin, cocaine and the like that explain the long prison sentences and the worst abuses of human rights. It is also the harder drugs that distort our foreign policy, corrupt our law enforcement, and lead to the most violent crime. People shoot each other over cocaine more than marijuana.
If they were to divert more resources to other parts of the drug war, the problems might even get worse. The legalization of marijuana will be blamed.
Also, another thing to consider: The drug war, as I’ve explained, is deeply wrapped up in so many of our liberties and values, that any reform that does not understand the fundamental issues at stake could yield something worse. Alcohol prohibition was repealed because it was a practical disaster, a drain on resources, and out of step with the culture. They legalized it to tax it during the Depression.
If this practical approach is what causes marijuana to be decriminalized, we are still dealing with the fundamental attack on self-ownership, with all the collateral damage that implies. Just as the bureaucrats in charge of prohibition went on to agitate for marijuana laws and the modern drug war, which is much worse than alcohol prohibition ever was, we risk seeing another policy just as oppressive.
That’s why it’s important to recognize that the drug war is not just about the right to get high conveniently. It is a matter that hits the core of what a civilization as about. The right to consume, possess, cultivate and exchange drugs is wrapped up in every other human right. The right to use drugs stems from the right of self-ownership.
Too many drug reformers are attached to the federal government and do not fully embrace the ideals of liberty and private property, and too many fans of individual liberty and free markets stop short of drug freedom. This is all wrong. People who oppose the drug war should embrace liberty. Those who question federal omnipotence must oppose prohibition.
The war on drugs is a war on law – moral law, economic law, constitutional law, statutory law, common law and natural law. "An unjust law is no law at all," said St. Aquinas. The injustice of the drug war eats away at the very foundations of our legal order.
The war on drugs is a war on people – Americans and foreigners alike. It has strong-armed foreign countries under U.S. global policing and might become a United Nations priority. It is a war on our culture of freedom, tolerance and human decency. It opens the door to hypocrisy and social degeneration. It replaces common sense with social insanity and compassion with cruelty.
The war on drugs is a war on truth, justice, property, peace and the very fabric of our society, on the American way of life, on all the greatest traditions of Western culture. Those who wish to restore a free country cannot ignore this issue or downplay its significance. Our civilization itself is at stake. It is impossible – completely, 100% impossible – to have a free society and a drug war at the same time.
If you cherish America, if you cherish humanity, if you believe in our heritage as a people who stand up for their liberty you must oppose the murderous drug war root and branch.
March 12, 2009
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a research analyst at the Independent Institute and editor-in-chief of the Campaign for Liberty. He lives in Berkeley, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.