Drug Debate Differences

Re: "America After Prohibition" (Oct.), here are my ratings: Ron Paul, A+; David Boaz, Milton Friedman, and Charles Paul Freund, A; Arnold S. Trebach, B+; Ernest van den Haag, B–; Ethan Nadelmann, C (government still in the thick of it); Norman E. Zinberg, D (it won't work); Georgette Bennett, F (current government-drug mafia shootout infinitely more desirable; you name an economic folly, she has it). The lesson? Libertarians beware. Some proponents of legalization mean to treat us not as sovereign individuals but with the same paternalistic care as an experimenter treats his guinea pigs—given enough dedication, the experiment ends with the animal's sacrifice.

Gurdip S. Sidhu, M.D.
Harrington Park, NJ

With the myriad of interesting economic and political problems facing America currently, I am at a loss to understand why REASON devoted eight pages of its October issue to legalizing drugs. Moreover, the so-called debate over drug legislation was a bit one-sided.

Frankly, it is a mystery to me why otherwise clear-headed, conservative minds turn so fuzzy when it comes to illicit drugs. The same people who would fight to preserve our free-enterprise system because it offers the greatest opportunity for individual realization promote slavery to debilitating drugs. Freedom to be entrapped in socially destructive pursuits is not true freedom.

All the arguments about reducing crime and all the analogies to prohibition do not present a convincing case about socializing currently illegal drugs. Indeed, the effects of socialized drinking in our society—tens of thousands killed on the highways, thousands of alcohol-related killings, and violent crimes—do not bode well for the legalization of substances that will further erode the moral fiber of our people. We cannot promote a great nation by promoting ever-declining standards of behavior.

Kenneth W. Chilton
Lake St. Louis, MO

I admit to being confused about drug legalization. My free-market instincts tell me that the government must be doing more harm than good when it criminalizes drugs. My law-and-order instincts tell me that the law has a teaching function, and some people need the sanction of law to learn right from wrong. However, the symposium on drug legalization in the October issue adds to my confusion rather than reducing it.

Some of the participants (Boaz, Friedman, Freund) come out for straightforward legalization. Treat cocaine and heroin just like aspirin, and sell them over the counter. While this argument ignores the way in which habit-forming drugs diminish the free will of the addict, it has the virtue of consistency.

Zinberg's essay, by contrast, calls for what amounts to a welfare program for psychiatrists and social workers. Yes, decriminalize, but first we'll educate the hell out of everyone, both addicts and nonaddicts. The real tipoff is Zinberg's support for free needles. Leftists seem to believe that the government simply must be involved with needles, either prohibiting them or subsidizing them. Why not just deregulate them and let the market operate?

Bennett's essay would be laughable were it not so serious. Decriminalize, but switch "from a system of criminal sanctions to one of administrative regulations with civil penalties," while nationalizing the production and wholesaling of drugs. Sorry, lady, but we know all about those "administrative regulations" and the petty bureaucrats who administer them. Drug users would become as overregulated as are today's welfare recipients. And I'm certainly not going to trust a government that can't manage to deliver the mail to monopolize the distribution of drugs. It would become an open invitation to black marketing and a repeat of everything that's wrong with the present system.

Ultimately, I have to agree with van den Haag. There is no good answer. The free market may simply be the least bad answer.

Joseph P. Martino
Sidney, OH

There are amazing similarities between the war in Vietnam and the "war on drugs": an invisible, evasive, but highly motivated enemy; low morale among the soldiers; futility of the war ever more evident; growing doubts about its morality; much faith in technology, but it cannot win the war; widespread corruption among soldiers; no clear plan and objectives; big division in the country about the war. Our leaders have not learned the lessons of the Vietnam experience.

Boris Illade
Austin, TX

Maggie: Idol, Not Ideal

Robert Poole's gushing editorial "Maggie for President" (Oct.) was offensive. It reminded me of the 1930s articles lauding the German "miracle."

While I suppose Thatcher's pragmatic embrace of the free market saves her from the label of totalitarian, she remains an authoritarian who has confiscated privately owned firearms and who advocates the persecution of individual drug users. If the secret of her success is "moral vision," I'm not sure I want to be around to see the culmination of that vision.

Free-market theory may prosper on its own merits and accomplishments for a time, but it needs individual liberty to survive. It will only suffer if we try to manufacture heroes (or heroines) out of whole cloth.

Andrew E. Barniskis
Levittown, PA

Mrs. Thatcher has made it a criminal offense for anyone to advocate homosexual activity, and she has moved to tighten restrictions on pornography in general. She is a foe of freedom in this area. Your editorial could have acknowledged this inconsistency of hers and complained about it, at least as an aside. You didn't do that, which leads a reader to assume that you don't care about this aspect of freedom. I'm very disappointed in you.

Richard Winger
San Francisco, CA

Drawing Lines

Chuck Asay's inspiring article, "Big Brother Is No Savior" (Oct.), and his cartoon nicely illustrated the myopia of the socially conservative majority. One rejoices with Mr. Asay in his deliverance from the bondage of statism. However, one must point out that his concluding paragraph contains a statement of questionable accuracy: "When we insist that any one of us has the understanding to draw a distinct line between the holy and profane, we delude ourselves." Agreeable in its context, it is disagreeable in itself. Rejection of the corrupt ideology of statism does not imply a rejection of all ideologies. Statism is corrupt because it denies freedom of conscience and imposes violence and death through coercion. Natural law, by contrast, is sacred because it preserves freedom and aims to secure the safety and happiness of the people. Anyone can draw a distinct line between slavery and freedom.

Robert A. Sheaks
Irving, TX

The Real Farm Problem

I'm a farmer and I agree with your position that government farm programs should end (Trends, July). Not all farmers benefit from these programs; moreover, they depress prices and raise costs.

In an excellent article in the Journal of Production Agriculture, economist E.C. Pasour, Jr., noted that farm programs "do not ensure long-run prosperity because program benefits are quickly incorporated into higher costs of land, production facilities, and other farm assets. Less than one-fifth of payments go to farmers in financial distress who rely on farming for their livelihood."

Government programs are designed to ensure a plentiful supply of cheap food for the nonfarm population. The best way to do this is by subsidizing the larger farms, which have the ability to flood the market. The law of supply and demand is particularly vicious when it comes to farm prices. For example, if dairy production goes up 10 percent, dairy prices go down 40 percent and vice versa.

If the government is going to tell us how to farm, it ought to guarantee us a reasonable rate of return. The solution to this mess is to simply stop telling us how to farm.

Dan Burgner
Greeneville, TN