Sunday, July 31, 2005

Friedman on Drugs

Back in my undergrad days I had the opportunity to have a chat with Milton Friedman. What he has to say about drugs is interesting and important, given the (Marc Emery) circumstances. (I also thought it a good idea to post this given some of the comments for my post over on The Shotgun. Some of those comments are ridiculous. For instance, one guy seems to think that because Emery was a loser in college, he belongs in a prison for life...)

Here is an excerpt of the interview ("Friedman and Freedom") published in The Queen's University Journal:

The War on Drugs

Peter Jaworski
: In a 1972 Newsweek article, I'm shifting topics here, you compared alcohol prohibition to the current prohibition of drugs. Now you wrote then that the War on Drugs has caused more problems than it's solved, and that drugs should be legal. Do you still feel this way?

Milton Friedman
: Absolutely!

: Even hard drugs—cocaine, heroin?

: Absolutely.

: Would you restrict the use of drugs in some circumstances?

: I would say that people should be responsible for their behaviour when they use drugs. Just as drunk drivers should be arrested for drunk driving. Not for being drunk, but for driving while drunk and endangering other people. And I should say that if a drug addict, while on drugs, engages in activities that harm other people he should be punished as well. The question is whether the government should have the right to say what you may put in your mouth any more than it has the right to say what you may put in your mind.

: But couldn't we say that certain drugs, perhaps, just as ideas, once inside might lead to certain consequences and wouldn't we be...

: Of course they might! And I think that information should be generally available. And people, knowing that, will behave accordingly. But that's a different question. It's clear, if you go back to that article, that the prohibition of drugs has had the exact effect that I'd described. It has produced a great deal of corruption. It has involved the violation of civil rights—personal and individual freedom—and it hasn't stopped people from taking drugs. There would be much less damage from drugs if it were perfectly legal and open than there is now.

: Now you also said in that same article that this was an ethical issue as well.

: Absolutely—I've just said it—what right does the government have to tell me what I may put in my mouth? If the government has the right to tell me what I may put in my mouth, why doesn't it have the right to tell me what I may put in my mind? There is, in my opinion, no government policy that is as immoral as drug prohibition. Tell me, how can you justify killing thousands of people in Colombia because we can't enforce our own laws?

If we could enforce our laws, there would be no demand for drugs because it is illegal for people to consume drugs. But we can't enforce our laws. And the result of that is to create an illegal industry that leads to the kinds ofdevelopments you have in Colombia where thousands of people have been killed.

(You can read all of it here. And you should.)


Blogger Aaron said...

I've read Friedman's Nobel Prize speech quite a few times. It's really interesting.

His position on drugs all boils down to externalized costs. If people can bear the externalized costs of their actions, then drug use would be okay.

The question is whether or not the rational capacities of people are diminished while they are on drugs. If it were the case that people do stupid things when on drugs and endanger the property of others, transactions costs from litigation would increase.

"Recreational" drugs are expensive both because they are illegal and because they are addictive. The illegality of drugs is a supply-side control on behalf of the state. It restricts supply by confiscating whatever caches it finds. On the demand side, users can be unresponsive or 'inelastic' to price increases.

8:44 p.m.  

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