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How to Prove the Drug War Is Futile and Self-Defeating

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

“The Iron Law of Prohibition” offers you a powerful argument to help persuade others of the dangers of the War on Drugs.

white lightning (moonshine)The term was first used by Richard Cowan, longtime libertarian activist and former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Cowan introduced the term and the concept behind it in a 1986 cover article for the conservative magazine National Review.

The idea is simple and powerful — and it undermines some of the major arguments for drug prohibition.

In a nutshell, the Iron Law of Prohibition says that the economics of black markets inevitably creates strong incentives for dealers to sell ever-stronger, ever-more-dangerous drugs. (I’ll explain that further in a moment.) So prohibition, rather than protecting the public, actually makes drugs ever more potent and ever more dangerous for drug users, the public, and law enforcement. Prohibition is thus extremely counterproductive — even by many of the stated goals of those who favor it.

As Cowan wrote in National Review: “The Iron Law of Drug Prohibition is that the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the drugs will become.”

Why does this happen? It’s simple economics. When drugs are prohibited, they will continue to be produced and sold in black markets. And drug smugglers and drug sellers will invariably move to sell the drugs in the most concentrated and powerful forms possible. That’s because the more potent and concentrated forms use much less space to store and smuggle, and they sell for far more money, pound-for-pound.

It’s really just common sense. If alcohol is prohibited, bootleggers can smuggle bulky low potency beer, which sells for a low price, or high potency hard liquor, which takes up no more space than beer but sells for much more. Which do you think they will choose?

History confirms it. During alcohol Prohibition there was a huge shift from beer to hard liquor, as bootleggers began focusing on the higher profits of hard liquor — exactly as you would expect, given the Iron Law of Prohibition. Even hard liquor became “harder,” more potent. After Prohibition, consumers were again free to choose among competing products, and they resumed their pre-Prohibition move towards less potent (and less dangerous) drinks.

You can see The Iron Law of Prohibition at work in the War on Drugs. When bulky opium was made illegal around the turn of the century, refined high potency heroin quickly took its place. When marijuana was targeted, smugglers turned to other high-potency, less bulky, far easier to smuggle drugs like cocaine. Bulky bags of powder cocaine were in turn replaced by tiny pellets of highly addictive crack. The same process continues to bring such dubious innovations as crystal meth, dangerous and untested “designer drugs,” and other cheaper, more dangerous, more bang-for-the-buck drugs.

Cowan summarizes the Iron Law of Prohibition in bumper sticker form: “The harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

It’s called “The Iron Law” because this effect is so predictable and invariable. It’s as rock-solid as the law of supply and demand. Or even the law of gravity.

Interestingly, the exact opposite tends to happen in legal markets. Consumers tend to prefer ever milder, less potent versions. Thus the popularity of beer over hard liquor.

The Iron Law of Prohibition means that the War on Drugs strategy is futile and fatally flawed. It will inevitably bring us ever stronger and more dangerous drugs, with the concurrent deaths, health problems, crime and so forth, until it is ended.

This argument can open minds. It may not by itself convince someone to turn against the Drug War, but it is a powerful and persuasive addition to your other arguments.

To learn more about The Iron Law of Prohibition, including other negative consequences of it, check out these resources from Mark Thornton, an economist who had done outstanding work in this field:


The Risky Business of Communicating Liberty

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economist Milton Friedman was one of the earliest prominent public advocates of ending the War on Drugs.

In a 1991 interview on “America’s Drug Forum,” a national PBS public affairs talk show, Friedman made this excellent point:

risky business“The case for prohibiting drugs is exactly as strong and as weak as the case for prohibiting people from overeating.

“We all know that overeating causes more deaths than drugs do. If it’s in principle OK for the government to say you must not consume drugs because they’ll do you harm, why isn’t it all right to say you must not eat too much because you’ll do harm?

“Why isn’t it all right to say you must not try to go in for skydiving because you’re likely to die? Why isn’t it all right to say, ‘Oh, skiing, that’s no good, that’s a very dangerous sport, you’ll hurt yourself’? Where do you draw the line?”

This is a powerful argument for persuading others of the unfairness of the War on Drugs.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Overweight and obesity are leading risks for global deaths. Around 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, being overweight or obese “substantially increase[s] the risk of morbidity from hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea and respiratory problems, as well as cancers of the endometrium, breast, prostate, and colon. Higher body weights are also associated with an increase in mortality from all causes.”

Scary stuff! Yet no one — well, almost no one — would support a violent War on Eating Too Much Food, with armed Food Police breaking into fast food joints and homes to stop people from overeating. Few would support outlawing common foods associated with obesity, despite the documented dangers and huge social costs.

And what about swimming?

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 3,600 people — many of them children — die annually from accidental drowning, the fifth largest cause of accidental death in the United States. Yet we allow adults and children complete freedom to swim.

Disturbing research finds that football, boxing, hockey and other contact sports can cause severe and permanent brain damage. Yet millions of Americans still support and participate in these sports.

There are countless other risky activities we casually accept. Bungee jumping looks crazy to me, riding a motorcycle isn’t my thing, and I won’t be gazing down at the world from atop Mount Everest. But I strongly support and defend the right of others to engage in these things – along with the great majority of Americans.

Indeed, the freedom to make risky choices in such personal matters is a bedrock American value. Most people today make exceptions to this value only in certain narrow areas — most notably drugs. (And just some drugs, of course — not, for instance, liquor and tobacco, to bring up another wild inconsistency.)

When you use comparisons and concrete examples like the ones above, you help your listeners grasp the unfairness, injustice and inconsistency of the War on Drugs. It can be very effective to have specific numbers and reliable sources when making these comparisons, as I’ve done here, but just citing any risky but legal activity can open minds.

Try it — the risk is yours to take!

Thanks to Carpe Diem, Mark Perry’s outstanding economic blog, for recently mentioning Milton Friedman’s interview, which can be read in its entirety here.

That interview is also in the superb book Friedman & Szasz On Liberty and Drugs: Essays on the Free Market and Prohibition (1992), which features essays by Friedman and the great libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz.

Libertarian Party Response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address: Why Not Peace, Liberty and Abundance for All?

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 3 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Immediately after President Obama’s State of the Union address and the Republican response, America’s third-largest political party, the Libertarian Party, weighed in with their take, offering a ringing pro-liberty alternative to the Big Government agendas of the two older parties.

The mass media declined to carry it, but don’t let that stop you from encountering a genuine libertarian State of the Union address. It was delivered by Arvin Vohra, vice chair of the Libertarian National Committee. You can see and read the entire response here.

Some highlights:

On education: 

“Mr. President, we can have world-class education. The first step is defunding and eliminating the federal Department of Education, abolishing Common Core, and allowing parents to take full control over their children’s education. Free-market competition will raise educational standards, lower costs, and prepare students to compete in a global economy.”

On ending the income tax: 

“Here’s how we really grow the economy and create jobs: dramatically cut taxes and government spending. Libertarian candidates have pledged to sponsor legislation to cut federal spending to 1998 levels and eliminate the income tax. That means that you keep the money you earn, and spend it how you see fit: on charities and the arts, science research, education, and the health care of your choice.

“Eliminating the income tax also defunds government’s ability to infringe on our privacy, to create enemies through needless wars, and to imprison our fellow citizens for victimless crimes.”

On ending the War on Drugs:

“Mr. President, so many of your supporters have begged you to defund and end the War on Drugs, but you have refused their pleas. Drug prohibition separates families, fosters violence, and destroys communities. You can end the War on Drugs today, by doing what so many Libertarian gubernatorial and presidential candidates have pledged to do: pardon all nonviolent drug offenders.

“Libertarian candidates have pledged to completely end the War on Drugs, and thereby eliminate the black market profits that fund violent cartels. Ending the Drug War will make our streets safer, and people will no longer have to fear incarceration if they seek help overcoming an addiction.”

On online privacy: 

“Americans should be able to use their computers and phones without fear of anyone listening in or recording their communications through mass surveillance. … To protect privacy, Libertarian candidates have pledged to defund the NSA’s mass surveillance program, repeal the Patriot Act, and massively downsize and consolidate redundant spy agencies.”

On war, military spending, and foreign intervention: 

“Mr. President, your party and the Republican Party are damaging lives here and abroad through misuse and overuse of the military. Libertarian candidates have pledged to sponsor legislation to end all foreign military operations, shut down needless foreign bases, cut military spending by at least 60 percent, and bring our troops home.

“Even after those spending cuts, we will still outspend both Russia and China combined. We will also be safer, because our military will be focused on defense. We will stop creating enemies through unwarranted military intrusions.”

On ending Obamacare:

“Republicans have talked about repealing and replacing Obamacare. With what? Romneycare? That will continue to damage businesses and make health care worse. When Republicans controlled the House, they had the chance to defund Obamacare. They refused.

“Libertarian candidates have pledged to completely repeal Obamacare along with the many laws that stand in the way of low-cost, high-quality health care. Providers will compete for customers by lowering costs and increasing quality.

“To help people in need, Libertarian candidates will make charitable hospitals legal. Doctors should not have to leave our borders to be able to offer free care.”

On the need for the Libertarian Party:

“We need to massively downsize and defund the federal government. But Republican and Democratic politicians only want to make it bigger. Get involved with the Libertarian Party in your state by going to LP.org, and by voting Libertarian.”

Questions to Open People’s Minds to Liberty

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Michael Cloud Comments are off

(From the Persuasion Powerpoint section in Volume 19, No. 5 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

When you discuss politics or economics with others, do you ask thought-provoking libertarian questions?

Or do you make statements?

Do you invite them to consider new possibilities?

Or do you just argue?

What if certain provocative questions could get others to let down their mental defenses
and impartially consider libertarianism?

Would you be willing to experiment with several mind-opening libertarian questions — and see what results you get?

Try these.

“What if the situation is the opposite of what people in government say it is?”

“What if marijuana prohibition and the Drug War don’t contain or hold down drug use? What if they drive it up?”

“What if they have it backwards?”

“What if drug cartels and drug gangs don’t cause more drug use? What if drug prohibition and the War on Drugs promote and strengthen the cartels and gangs?”

“What if drive-by shootings are the result of drug prohibition, not drugs? How many drive-by shootings have we seen by alcohol distillers and brewers in the last 80 years?”

“What if the government ‘cure’ is worse than the disease?”

“What if the 2009 federal government bailout of Wall Street businesses caused more economic harm to taxpayers who footed the bill and other Wall Street businesses than liquidating the reckless, riverboat-gambling businesses would have?”

“What if tax-funded federal government propping-up of overpriced houses and inflated home loans made things worse for taxpayers and home buyers who were prudent and frugal and did NOT recklessly gamble their earnings and savings?”

“What if government non-involvement results in quick, efficient, inexpensive private-sector solutions?”

“What if, left alone by government, most social or economic problems were solved by private charity, private enterprise, and private ingenuity — at no cost to taxpayers?”

“What if, with NO government involvement, most social or economic problems were dramatically reduced or solved by the men and women and families in the private sector?”

Want the people you talk with to examine and embrace libertarian answers?

Why not ask them thought-provoking libertarian questions like those above?

* * * * * * * *
Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian PersuasionMichael Cloud’s latest book Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion is available exclusively from the Advocates, along with his acclaimed earlier book Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion.In 2000, Michael was honored with the Thomas Paine Award as the Most Persuasive Libertarian Communicator in America.

MintPress: Young Libertarians and Progressives Redefining American Politics

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 5 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“Libertarians, Progressives Poised to Redefine American Politics” is the title of a Feb. 25, 2014 article by Frederick Reese at MintPress News, a new independent online journalism site.

“With an historically high 42 percent of Americans identifying themselves as independents as of January, the United States is becoming a nation increasingly not served by either the Republican or Democrat label,” Reese writes. “According to a December 2013 Gallup poll, 72 percent of all Americans believed that Big Government is a bigger threat to the United States than Big Business (21 percent) or Big Labor (5 percent).

“While this may be burn-out from years of government malpractice — an increase in unmanned drone usage, the largest government surveillance apparatus; several scandals involving the Executive Branch; a government shutdown in an attempt to repeal the patient Protection & Affordable Care Act followed by more than 40 repeal attempts — the general feeling is that the young vote has been moving away from the ‘Big Government’ parties.”

This portends huge change in the near future for American politics, the article predicts. Reese noted that young progressives and libertarians share many concerns on civil liberties and foreign policy issues — and those concerns are not being addressed by the two-party Establishment.

“As Millennials may represent the most Progressive or Libertarian generation ever, and as Millennials are expected to constitute 75 percent of the workforce by 2020, one might be tempted to say that the fate of the ‘Big Two’ parties lies in the embrace of their small-government cousins,” says Reese.

The article quotes Carla Howell, political director of the National Libertarian Party, on this coming sea-change:

“As the views of Americans, and especially young voters, converge with the Libertarian platform, we are attracting more votes than the party has ever seen,” Howell told MintNews. “Over 15,000,000 votes were cast for Libertarians in 2012. The Robert Sarvis for governor campaign in Virginia last year garnered 6.5 percent of the vote, the highest vote total for a candidate who was neither a Democrat nor a Republican in a southern state in over 40 years. His vote among those aged 18-29 stood at 15 percent.

“Both Democrats and Republicans have expanded Big Government to the limit that they could get away with for years, especially in the last 14 years during both the Bush and Obama administrations,” Howell continued. “Bailouts, FEMA, needless wars, Obamacare, the Drug Prohibition and NSA spying — all of which have failed their stated mission. They failed to create jobs, failed to stop the escalation of health care costs, violate personal liberties and put people and our country more — not less — at risk. Young voters have witnessed these abysmal failures and see that government is not the place to turn to solve human problems.”

(Hat tip to Libertarian Party blog)

New Book Reveals Danger of Militarized Police

in Liberator Online, Military by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 18, No. 13 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Rise of the Warrior CopFor several years award-winning libertarian investigative journalist Randy Balko has been covering an extremely important story that few other journalists have touched: the increasing militarization of U.S. police and the danger this poses to American liberties.

Rise of the Warrior Cop is Balko’s brand-new book on the topic of militarized police, and it is a chilling eye-opener. Anyone who cares about liberty should give it serious attention.

Balko shows how bad laws (the War on Drugs being a prime example), anti-liberty politicians, and America’s various “wars” against vague ill-defined enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have transformed America’s police force. The distinction between a cop and a soldier has been blurred to the point where they are often indistinguishable.

America’s cops have increasingly come to resemble ground troops: complete with military-style uniforms, tanks, other military weapons, military training and military-style tactics. Decades of police-state legislation have gutted fundamental constitutional protections like the Fourth Amendment. Rogue cops ignore or bypass our remaining legal protections.

Today’s police have arguably become an internal army — something the Founders feared and warned about. Indeed, according to Balko, police today have been conditioned to see the citizens they serve as an “other” — an enemy. In enforcing tyrannical laws like drug prohibition, they are actually engaging in a violent war against the people whose liberty and property they are supposed to protect.

America wasn’t supposed to be like this. And this isn’t an anti-cop book; good police will welcome it. It is a warning about how bad laws and bad politicians have transformed the police into something they were never supposed to be. Balko offers sensible suggestions to defuse and reform this situation.

Balko’s carefully researched book covers history, politics, and constitutional law. It is breathtaking and terrifying, and it is one of the most original libertarian books in years. Balko has exposed a grave danger to American freedom, and his argument deserves major national attention.

You can read a lengthy excerpt from Rise of the Warrior Cop for free, courtesy of the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal website.