Wednesday, May 11, 2011

deadly laws vs. deadly liberty

From Michael Gerson in the C-J-- with the charming title, Ron Paul's deadly liberty...

Gerson cites Paul's second-tier status in the GOP Presidential race and wrestles with whether he should be in the first tier, given his poll numbers and fund-raising. Then, he starts poking at Paul's support for drug legalization:

The freedom to use drugs, he argued, is equivalent to the freedom of people to “practice their religion and say their prayers.” Liberty must be defended “across the board.” “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way,” he said, “but not when it comes to our personal habits.”

This argument is strangely framed: If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart. But it is an authentic application of libertarianism, which reduces the whole of political philosophy to a single slogan: Do what you will — pray or inject or turn a trick — as long as no one else gets hurt.

First, give Gerson credit for understanding and communicating Libertarian philosophy and application.

Second, Gerson's reference to Zoroastrianism seems strategic. Let's go with Islam instead. For the Christian, which is more "deadly": false religion or hitting a crack pipe? For the neo-conservative (with their belief in Islam as the primary cause of terrorism), which is more dangerous: Islam or smoking weed?

Gerson points to widespread drug use and addiction "in some neighborhoods" and "used needles" in parks. The funny thing? This is what we have under the criminalization of drugs! Gerson points a finger at legalizers. But his real beef is with the government's inability to enforce drug laws and maintain govt-controlled land-- to keep people and public parks clean.

Gerson raises Paul's huge practical question: “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would..." Gerson believes that use and addiction would increase by a staggering amount, well beyond what we have now. Perhaps. But Paul is asking the correct question: How many MORE people would use and abuse drugs with legalization?

Gerson also conflates private morality with public policy-- as well as the decision to allow freedom with condoning behavior. Jesus understood the difference-- most poignantly, in the story of "the woman caught in adultery" (Jn 8). He didn't chuck rocks at her, but also encouraged her to leave her life of sin. For Gerson, if you're not chucking rocks, then you just don't care.

Gerson tries to get on a moral high horse about the plight of children in this context. But he fails to consider the impact of drug laws on kids. How many kids are tempted to join gangs to sell cigarettes and alcohol? How many kids are tempted to take drugs because they are easily used to traffic them? And beyond the children, what about the destabilization of foreign countries caused by our drug policies? What about prison over-crowding and the early release of violent offenders to make room for those who use drugs?

At the end of the day, there are trade-offs between "deadly laws" and "deadly liberty". The trade-offs should be discussed heavily not dismissed lightly. For philosophical and practical reasons, which will you choose?


Update: A nice article by Jack Hunter in American Conservative Magazine, drawing an analogy between drug legalization and abolishing the minimum wage (hat tip: Darrell Dow)

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