Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More prohibition, worse drugs: Friedman's "Iron Law of Prohibition"

Johann Hari from London's Independent newspaper is surprised that ten days after Milton Friedman's death he's been eulogised for his monetarism, praised for his proselytising on small government and buried with his errors, but few have raised the "one issue [on which] Friedman applied the forensic brilliance of his brain to a deserving purpose. Over forty years," notes Hari, "he offered the most devastating slap-downs of the “war on drugs” ever written."
He once told Bill Bennett, Bush Snr’s drugs tsar, “You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.”

Friedman proved, for example, that prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people use stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market. During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer; during drug prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke. He called his rule explaining this curious historical fact “the Iron Law of Prohibition”: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become.

Why? If you run a bootleg bar in Prohibition-era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale – or you can make a gallon of pucheen, which is so strong it takes thirty people to drink it and constitutes thirty sales. Prohibition encourages you produce and provide the stronger, more harmful drink. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.

For Friedman, the solution was stark: take drugs back from criminals and hand them to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. Legalize. Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering £20bn on enforcing prohibition that could be spent on prescription and rehab, only exacerbates the problem. “Drugs are a tragedy for addicts,” he said. “But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike.”
Read on here for more. Challenge yourself.

LINKS: The one reason I will miss Milton Friedman - Johann Hari, Independent
Milton Friedman dies - Not PC (Nov 17)

RELATED: Victimless Crimes, Cartoon

Labels: ,

18 Comments:

Blogger Kane Bunce said...

All very true. When will the idiots learn that drug prohibition has the same effect as alcohol prohibition? At this rate, never. When will they learn they cannot protect people from themselves? At this rate never. And when will they learn that people have the right to poison themselves with drugs if they so wish? That they are even less likely to learn based on the evidence of their actions and statements.

11/28/2006 01:20:00 pm  
Anonymous DenMT said...

It is a supremely arrogant and high-handed way to argue, referring to all who subscribe to a mainstream opinion as 'idiots'.

By all means Kane, have the courage of your convictions when making your case, but making stupid pronouncements like that does nothing to advance thought or debate.

'The idiots' in this case make up the vast, vast majority of the world's population. For myself, in an ideal world I might agree to legalising all narcotics, but unfortunately I live in the real world.

DenMT

11/28/2006 01:43:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

And in the real world, Den (the only world we have) prohibition is making things worse, just as prohibition of alcohol did.

So who's denying reality here?

11/28/2006 02:40:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

So what's your point, Den? Continue to promote an insane philosophy? Because it is insane to continually apply the same measures and expect a different result.

I don't think it's 'supremely arrogant' to call idiot thinking idiotic, at all.

Conversely, it makes sense to do so. Stupidity should be called for what it is. And our drug laws are stupid.

11/28/2006 02:51:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

Boy, I'm convinced. Now I think about it, the legalised sell of liquor has done wonders. No problems at all when access to this drug was left to the market.

11/28/2006 02:53:00 pm  
Blogger MikeE said...

Berand.. less problems than when it was illegal.

It was friedmans approach to drugs that got me interested in economics again after I left uni..

11/28/2006 03:06:00 pm  
Anonymous DenMT said...

All: My remark was centred solely around Kane Bunce's decision to label anyone who opposes total drug legalisation as 'idiots'.

It seems to be a typical tactic of libertarians and the libertarian-minded to affect a lofty position whereby society at large is in a state of blissful ignorance, and the kindly libertarians have descended briefly from the clouds to beat us into seeing sense, before ascending back to their ascetic perches. It's comments like the intro at Kane Bunce's blog:

"I am one of few rational people. We are rare and few, especially here in New Zealand."

...that really do it for me. 'We may appear to be a fringe minority, but we really do know best, and if we have to intellectually belittle you to prove it, don't worry little matey, it's for your own good.'

Back to the issue at hand, legalising, as Berend points out, means ultimately turning any regulation over to the market. If we take tobacco or alcohol advertising as an analogue, one assumes that agressive marketing will eventuate. In a world where every individual was equally equipped to make good, informed choices about drug-taking, this might even be considered feasible. But given the incredibly addictive properties of some of the stronger narcotics, how could one in all good conscience consider turning them out into an unregulated market for your simple Uncle Phil to mistakenly try?

If rational people really are as 'rare and few' as Kane Bunce would have us believe, would this not be the dumbest, most dangerous move a society could possibly make?

DenMT

11/28/2006 03:11:00 pm  
Blogger Spirit Of 76 said...

I have to agree with Den MT on this one. [There's a first]

11/28/2006 06:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

I recalled an article on the NZ Herald about a few months ago, that some of the top commanders of the US armed forces in Afganistan have voiced their concern about the increasing number of attacks (ambush, suicide or roadside bombs) on coalition personnels by Taleban. They said that the Taleban is getting stronger by the day, because the rural populations have reverted to growing poppies as a form of earning a living. They also, mention that if the market for these drugs are cut-off by legalising them in the WEST (their main market), then the growers and Taleban would wane away over time. These are comments from people who are fighting terrorism & drug trafficking in the frontline.

11/28/2006 08:27:00 pm  
Anonymous DenMT said...

Do you have a link, FF, to your source? The article which has US military brass advocating the legalisation of narcotics in the West?

Because that is something I would be ASTOUNDED to read.

DenMT

11/29/2006 08:58:00 am  
Anonymous DenMT said...

Discussing this over coffee, Friedmans argument looks more and more outlandish.

Friedman assumes that prohibition encourages the producer to maximise the value in their product due to the inherent risk of producing it. Now, I'm no economist, but how does legalisation and exposure to an open, competitive market suddenly remove the incentive to extract maximum value from a product, on the part of the producer?

I guess the inference is that production will be taken out of the hands of the evil, self-serving backyard meth chemists and put into the hands of benign, responsible pharmaceutical firms, who will bake low-strength, mild P which whitens teeth and corrects personality faults while it gets you high.

I don't even think it is necessary to argue the dubious validity of Friedman's 'Iron Law of Prohibition' as there is no logic to the premise that legalisation will produce lower strength narcotics. In a free market, one assumes that the competitive edge comes from providing the most effective product to the consumer at the lowest price.

Now lets examine '...during prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke'. This implies that un-baked cocaine predominated until the advent of prohibition, at which point crack took over according to the 'Iron Law of Prohibition.'

Unfortunately, the Iron Law acted a bit slow. As far as swift Googling informs me, cocaine became illegal in 1914 in the states. Friedman's Iron Law lumbered into effect in the 80's when crack cocaine was popular. We're talking 70 years here. I don't buy it.

DenMT

11/29/2006 10:51:00 am  
Blogger Kane Bunce said...

Den, I never referred to all who subscribe to a mainstream opinion as idiots. The idiots I referred to was parliamentarians not the common man.The common man does not pass law prohibiting drugs. Parliamentarians do. So no they don't make up the vast vast majority of the world's population. Politicians are a very small minority of the world's population. It is the policy makers I said are stupid not the average man.

So your criticism is completely unfounded as it is based on something other than my message. Besides I was simply calling them what they are. There is nothing wrong with that. They have ignored the blatant evidence of the irrefutable proof of the cost of drug prohibition. Ignoring irrefutable proof is my definition stupid.

Also, I second PC's comment, "And in the real world, Den (the only world we have) prohibition is making things worse, just as prohibition of alcohol did. So who's denying reality here?"

I also second Sus's comment, "I don't think it's 'supremely arrogant' to call idiot thinking idiotic, at all. Conversely, it makes sense to do so. Stupidity should be called for what it is. And our drug laws are stupid." Numbers don't make it any less idiotic or any more arrogant to think it's idiotic.

11/29/2006 10:53:00 am  
Blogger Kane Bunce said...

Den, I did not refer to anyone who opposes it as idiots. Only those that ignore the proof of the cost of not doing so. If people are unaware of the cost, it's a different matter. it's simply an honest lack of knowledge. An honest lack of knowledge is not idiotic at all.

When you get right down to it you simply jumped to conclusions about what I meant without thinking about it and analysing it. If you do that you will always fail to interpret things as badly as you just did with my comment.

It seems to be a typical tactic of libertarians and the libertarian-minded to affect a lofty position whereby society at large is in a state of blissful ignorance, and the kindly libertarians have descended briefly from the clouds to beat us into seeing sense, before ascending back to their ascetic perches. It's comments like the intro at Kane Bunce's blog:

"I am one of few rational people. We are rare and few, especially here in New Zealand."

...that really do it for me. 'We may appear to be a fringe minority, but we really do know best, and if we have to intellectually belittle you to prove it, don't worry little matey, it's for your own good.'


See another case of misinterpretation due to a lack of thought and analysis. I never meant ANY of your interpretation. Besides you cannot use my comments to generalise on libertarians. We are all individuals with different views on things.

How could we in all good conscience consider turning them out into an unregulated market for your simple Uncle Phil to mistakenly try? In the good conscience of allowing people the right to decide their own lives! It's a simple matter of the right to life and freedom.

If rational people really are as 'rare and few' as Kane Bunce would have us believe, would this not be the dumbest, most dangerous move a society could possibly make?
No the dumbest and most dangerous move is denying people the right to freedom, to a human life.

11/29/2006 11:03:00 am  
Blogger Kane Bunce said...

Now, I'm no economist, but how does legalisation and exposure to an open, competitive market suddenly remove the incentive to extract maximum value from a product, on the part of the producer?
The prices would be lower due to less risk and more competition. This is a hard economic fact. It's Year 11 Economics.

In a free market, one assumes that the competitive edge comes from providing the most effective product to the consumer at the lowest price.
No it comes from a sort after product. It's called "demand and supply" not "effective and supply". People don't always choose the most effective.

11/29/2006 11:18:00 am  
Anonymous DenMT said...

Kane, I'm not sure exactly what you are arguing above, but neither of your points relate mine, nor do they provide a particularly compelling argument for legalising drugs.

Lower price and enhanced consumer choice are terrible reasons to legalise drugs.

DenMT

11/29/2006 12:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

Fine, Den. Leave drugs firmly in the hands of the criminal gangs. They'll thank you for it.

You can't put the genie back into the bottle. Drugs exist. The choice is to legalise their use for adults and have those adults accept full responsibility for their actions, as they currently do with alcohol. The market will determine quality, distribution and supply; just as it does with Gordon's Gin, Veuve Cliquot, Lindauer and Panadol.

Or you can trot along to some seedy little shithole (speakeasies) and do business with thoroughly unsavoury characters (gang members) purchasing product of dubious quality (hooch) at best.

Oh, and sort problems violently, and run the risk of increasing prostitution, burglary and associated community crime in order to fund inflated product brought about by the illegality, all of which will stretch already-stretched police resources even further.

I spent time in Chicago 20 yrs ago. My friend's grandmother was a kid during Prohibition and lived on the south side. She remembered well the misery and fear of seemingly endless gang warfare and police corruption. I'll never forget her saying that when the news was announced that Prohibition had been repealed, her godfearing teetotal grandmother blessed herself with relief.

But as I said, you keep the substances illegal. The gangs *will* thank you for it.

There's plenty of cheap political votes in it too - from the unthinking.

11/29/2006 12:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

Den said:
(about libs) 'We may appear to be a fringe minority, but we really do know best, and if we have to intellectually belittle you to prove it, don't worry little matey, it's for your own good.'

Back to the issue at hand, legalising, as Berend points out, means ultimately turning any regulation over to the market. If we take tobacco or alcohol advertising as an analogue, one assumes that agressive marketing will eventuate. In a world where every individual was equally equipped to make good, informed choices about drug-taking, this might even be considered feasible. But given the incredibly addictive properties of some of the stronger narcotics, how could one in all good conscience consider turning them out into an unregulated market for your simple Uncle Phil to mistakenly try. (end)


Perhaps 'simple' Uncle Phil isn't so bloody simple! How about a little respect for adults, please!

It's not libertarians who 'know best'. We don't give a damn what you do, provided you don't harm, defraud or coerce anybody else or their property in the process.

It's state-loving lefties and conservatives who dare to think that they know best, the public are plonkers and as such must regulate virtually every damn thing we do.

11/29/2006 02:08:00 pm  
Blogger jessmaher said...

Just thought that there maybe some insight into the law of economics and the effects of prohibition in a picture, which may better help to paint the reality of the fact that by reducing supply, without reducing the demand of a product, will increase the price to an artifically inflated value, where more people will be willing to take the risk to produce and the quality of product goes down. Further to this, if you then put the skilled producers of any product out of the market, say incarceration in this cause, you leave the market empty for those whom are not as skilled to produce a poorer quality product with more dangerous and potentially "dirty" practises... anyway, this is demonstrated on a supply & demand graph which can be found at http://url.assistnz.com/jess

and on a further note, i think that maybe one should consider that the ignorance or oversight of others in the community as something which our societies have been training us to do for centuries and generations.. rather than debate the facts, I would urge each of us to remember that our truth is just that, and even if someone else's truth contradicts that, that doesn't mean we can't both be right! And I mean that very sincerely and directly... truth is relative to perspective, so whom is the one who could decide for us all our own truths...

10/27/2010 07:04:00 am  

Post a Comment

Respond with a polite and intelligent comment. (Both will be applauded.)

Say what you mean, and mean what you say. (Do others the courtesy of being honest.)

Please put a name to your comments. (If you're prepared to give voice, then back it up with a name.)

And don't troll. Please. (Contemplate doing something more productive with your time, and ours.)

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home