Lou Dobbs' War


This Saturday, CNN host and Space.com flopster Lou Dobbs weighed in on the drug war for The Washington Times. Channeling the what-me-worry ghosts of rich English lords sending young kids to die in World War I, the headline to Dobbs' pronounces that this is "a war worth fighting," even at the cost of $1 billion a month for the federal government alone (and let's not even get into the drug war's body count). As befits a money-show guru, Dobbs applies cost-benefit analysis, arguing that the ledger favors continuing the drug war.

While he grants that the ranks of legalizers include Nobel laureates in economics and starched shirts such as William F. Buckley, Dobbs clucks at those who "who choose to ignore the human devastation and the economic cost of the drug plague" and inveighs:

Many of them are pseudo-sophisticated Baby Boomers who consider themselves superior and hip in their wry, reckless disregard of the facts. They may also smoke marijuana, advocate its legalization, and rationalize cocaine by calling it a recreational drug.

He then trots out "facts" that show the drug war is a success, such as "the University of Michigan's 'Monitoring the Future' study,' [which shows that the percentage of high-school seniors who reported using any drug within the past month decreased from 39 percent in 1978 to 26 percent in 2001."

If Dobbs is interested in a true cost-benefit analysis, he might want to think about this: High school drug use started declining from the highs (er) reported by the Classes of 1978 and '79 years before the introduction of such demonstrably useless drug education programs such as DARE. Indeed, drug use among all Americans started to decline before, as Dobbs quotes drug czar John Walters, "we got serious in the '80s." The reasons for that are not self-evident, but it's wrong to assign responsibility to Reagan-era policies that didn't get cranked up until several years into the decline.

In fact, since drug education in schools became ubiquitous, the trend has generally gone the other way. Dobbs cites the 2001 Monitoring the Future data and compares it to '78, but fails to mention that in 1992, only 14.4 percent of high school seniors reported using an illegal drug in the past month, the survey's all-time low. Whatever money has been spent on such programs can be written off as wasted. And he might be interested in this May press release from the Monitoring the Future folks: "Student drug testing not effective in reducing drug use." That's more money spent on useless prohibitionist exercises.

Elsewhere in his op-ed, Dobbs writes that fewer acres of cocaine are being produced in Colombia (a good thing) but he doesn't quantify the cost of that at all, nor does he mention the drug-induced damage that's being done to American foreign policy.

Nor does he question why, despite increased funding, do drugs by all accounts continue to drop in price, gain in potency, and remain widely available. Instead, he concludes, "the job is only half done." The same could be said for his op-ed analysis.

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  1. Steve in CO:

    “When you find yourself in agreement with the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Unkown.

    That quote is from Mark Twain-


    I appreciate you writing to Mr. Dobbs personally. If he continues to be wrong, at least he can’t claim ignorance.

  2. This op-ed is a follow-up on his the week-long special on Lou Dobb’s Tonight that he called “The Forgotten War”. If you ever watch the show, you are probably familiar with their use of viewer polling; each show has a poll and the results are given at the end.

    The results of his polls were quite interesting, and in complete contradiction to his POV. One was if marijuana should be decriminalized, which had 90% saying “Yes”. Another asked if more should be done to support the war on drugs, which resulted in a landslide victory for the “No” crowd.

    I wonder how he felt while the weeklong special, which I assume he was airing to rally the prohibitionist troops, instead showed what a miserable failure the war on drugs has turned out to be, seriously questioning the logic of throwing more money at the problem.

    The labor-Nazis (meaning those whose only concern is employee productivity, not the human rights of employees) could just as easily draw up some figures to support an argument that workers should all be placed on a paxil/ritalin/saltpeter concoction to turn them into efficiency robots. Think of the increase in productivity! Who cares about rights?!

  3. Lou Dobbs is a square with hipster envy.

  4. There’s a long and sorid history to the whole ‘productivity’ loss argument. The one study cited most frequently used as evidence of drug use employees enrolled in a ‘substance abuse treatment’ program (most of the time for alcohol abuse BTW) – hardly representative of the typical drinker, let alone the typical drug user. The US government did a study on the effects of productivity on postal employees and was unable to find any correlation at all between drug test results and productivity (of course, when you’re as unproductive as a government agency it’s probably not too difficult to meet expectations while high, so maybe that’s not such a great argument….)

    About the worst thing you can do to ‘reduce productivity’ is get married and have children. Single people quite frankly put in more time at the office because they can, and are usually in the earlier phases of their careers where they need to ‘prove themselves’ and are thus more motivated than experienced, seasoned employees who can find high paying jobs elsewhere. Also, even in our modern times, many women quit working altogether for a time or work part time or even drop out of the workforce permanently to raise children. So if you really want to focus on ‘productivity’, you’d try to discourage ‘family values’. Come to think of it, encouraging drug use might fit well within that plan, if you believe the claims about sperm count reduction from pot smoking…. 😉

  5. Also, I wonder if his ‘cost benefit analysis’ included costs that are most probably a result of the drug war, rather than the drugs themselves. This would include law enforcement, court costs, prision expenses, parole and halfway-house costs, drug treatment (that in many cases is only being sought under coersive circumstances as an alternative to jail time), useless DARE propaganda and anti-drug TV ads, the artificially high cost of the drugs themselves and the cost of theft and violence that is due to the artificially inflated costs and the black market.

    Depending on your POV, all these costs are either a) due to government’s irrational attempt to restrict people’s pharmacuetical choices, or
    b) peoples’ unwillingness to obey the government and stop using drugs.

    So cost benefit analysis can be used either way, depending on your ideological viewpoint. The correct comparison, would be between these costs and the costs to society if drugs were legalized. That would really tell you which approach worked best. Unfortunately, I don’t know how you could do that without actually legalizing drugs. Extrapolate results from Holland, maybe?

  6. Jim, great arguments, I tend to say pretty much the same thing. I also like to bring up automobiles when discussing lost of productivity time. As a project manager, I have my staff. Do you know how many times I hear, “I had a flat tire,” “the car wouldn’t start,” “stuck in traffic,” “fender bender,” “pulled over,” “need to take the car into the mechanics,” “the wife had to drop the kids off…,” you get my beef! So in a cost/benefit analysis, cars are probably one of the worst offenders. Solution: obviously subsidized mass transit at a consirderable loss to taxpayers! Why: its only human to lose productivity.

    Moral of the story: Give us the drugs and let the robots run society! Anybody up for seeing the Matrix?

  7. Thanks for the feedback. Not sure I agree with you though, since cars also enhance productivity, by increasing the available talent to work in specific jobs in specific locations. They also allow pretty quick and efficient local transport. I suppose cars consume a pretty good chunk of personal financial resource (and hence overall GDP) so maybe, like children their biggest benefit is the intangible lifestyle benefits they provide us with. I’m pretty sure children are a uniform economic loss all across the board, at least in modern times when you don’t put them to work on the farm and then live with them to support you during your old age.

    BTW, I work 50 miles from home, so I’m one of those ‘stuck in traffic’ guys… but I’ve also been able to get a lot of stuff done in the car with my cell phone, so it is possible even to compensate (at least in some professions) for this…

  8. PS James,

    maybe if you paid your staff more, they could afford cars that don’t break down or need service as much….

    (just kidding!)


  9. I don’t think decriminalization or legalization is anywhere in the near future.


    Because law enforcement of drug laws in the work programs for the 80s/90/and 00s. You have a bunch of people who are usually too unskilled to do anything else and are often members of the undreground community.

    If we suddenly no longer needed half of the police employed in this country, we’d have millions of out of work citizens, unskilled in any useful talent besides crowd control, intimidation, and firearms, suddenly loose in a bad economy.

    It would be weimar germany all over again!

  10. I find that I’m much better at complex mathematics after I smoke pot. Since my job involves doing a lot of math, the drug war actually reduces my productivity.

  11. What the drug war is to the US is what slavery was to the south.

    Keep pissing the Canadians off, and we may have another ‘War of Northern Agression’…

  12. Ira–

    It’s funny you mention that. My girlfriend and I watched some program last night…I think on MTV…about the drug war. I didn’t catch all of it, but it seemed amazingly pro-prohibition to be on MTV. My guess is that they slanted it that way to get access to film a raid on growers in Hawaii.

    The footage was pretty impressive…the way they swoop in and take control. These guys are extremely well-trained professionals, and fearless.

    I can’t help but wonder how much safer we’d be if we put these highly trained, brave guys to work chasing real criminals, rather than sqandering them on placing plants under arrest.

  13. Since he’s so concerned about the human devastation cuased by this drug plague, I would assume Mr. Dobbs favors the re-instation of the Volstead Act. Drugs are drugs, right? Alcohol laps the field when it comes to persoanl damage, right? Lou? Lou? Is this thing on?

  14. It’s scary that someone who is supposedly a businessman is so ignorant of the nature of statistics and numbers.

    First of all: “He then trots out “facts” that show the drug war is a success, such as “the University of Michigan’s ‘Monitoring the Future’ study,’ [which shows that the percentage of high-school seniors who reported using any drug within the past month decreased from 39 percent in 1978 to 26 percent in 2001.””

    This is part of the practice of Chartmanship, which picks an abitrary starting point to begin with, then picks an ending point, and then somehow ignores all the movements inbetween. To say the least, this is not a valid usage of statistics.

    The second is the tired “correlation is not causation” thing, which I hear so rarely on TV yet so often on the internet that it makes me feel like everyone should know and understand it by now. But they don’t. In short, this falsly assumes that two different numbers are inter-related, when there is no proof or justification for the assumption that the numbers in any way have a dependent, inter-related, or cause-and-effect connection. In other words: if you pick your nose and the stock market goes up, that doesn’t mean you picked your nose because the stock market went up, nor that picking your nose makes the stock market go up.

    Furthermore, it is the nature of record keeping that new records are always being recorded, typically in both directions (highs and lows). This is the Extreme Values fallacy. This is utterly inevitable due to the natural laws of the universe, as revealed by mathematical theory; in short, as the sample size increases, so increases the variance.

    Also, Regression To The Mean also seems to elude Mr Dobbs.

    Being fooled by randomness, complexity, and independence or dependence of variables is easy – and Mr Dobbs seems to have taken that easy road, in many different ways, including not being able to causally sepperate events (is it drugs that are doing the damage, or drug prohibition?) or in any way consider them distinct. That there are human societies, both present and past, which do not need government prohibition of various substances to prevent widespread damage, such as those called “drugs” (pharmacalogical voodoo, anyone?), proves that there is more than one way to skin a cat, just like in everything else in life – but Mr Dobbs seems to miss that as well.

  15. I e-mail Mr. Dobbs the following:

    Dear Mr. Dobbs,

    I just finished reading your editorial posted on Townhall.com?s website. I had to write immediately. I cannot, for the life of me, see an intelligent man as you on the dark side of the Drug War?s terrible history and legacy. Your main argument seems to be one of financial black and white — understandable considering your expertise and interest in all things economic.

    Your presentation of facts was a terribly oversimplified bifurcation of the reality facing every American. You cite lost productivity as justification for the encroachment of government upon the ever-diminishing sovereignty of our bodies, the right to privacy, and the assumption of innocence. Do you fail to see these three hallmarks of American and human liberty as important? I fear that you may.

    Mr. Dobbs, your editorial completely neglected to point out the negative outcomes of this ill-begotten war, and just like alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition has created a brutal and destructive black market. A black market that kills innocent victims in the struggle for market share, a market that will continue to profit enormously as long as we continue the utterly mendacity of attacking the suppliers and harshly punishing those who demand its products.



  16. Thank you Nick… it was just absolutely frustrating to read his op-ed. It could have easily have been some “balanced,” article from John Walters himself. Bill Bennett probably sent Lou a case of brandy and a box full of Cuban cigars for that one.

    “When you find yourself in agreement with the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Unkown.

  17. Is it possible that high school students stopped reporting their drug usage in response to the authorities “getting serious”? Self-reporting isn’t exactly scientific, especially if you’re…well, paranoid…

    Not that there aren’t a million things wrong with that pomopous windbag’s piece, but that just jumped out at me first.

  18. Sorry for all the typos?


    Guess I haven’t had enough of my non-illicit caffeine.

  19. If drugs were legal then there wouldn’t be any money in production and sales, and government agencies such as the CIA would have to abide by their budgets instead of making a little extra on the side peddling this stuff.

    Either Lou has a string of junkies selling this stuff to finance his big house and car, or else he’s got his money sunk in the prison/law enforcement industrial complex. Anyone who is for prohibition is making money hand over fist!

    Follow the money trail!

  20. “Non-medicinal, reality-distorting drugs are bad. The illegality of such drugs is necessary to reinforce–strongly–the negative social costs and aspects of drug use.”

    The problem is that these same supposed drugs have existed, and do exist, in societies where they are not illegal, and yet they do just fine. I’ll say it again: people don’t have drug problems, they have life problems they use drugs because of/for. The fact is, this country has an even worse apparent problem with obsecity and failing relationships, yet those are legal – illegality or legality Do Not Address The Real Problems. They only collect the problems into smaller bunches and magnify the damage far more than there otherwise would be – these collections then quickly make their way through the world, destroying governments and feeding civil wars (Columbia, for instance), financing massive criminal enterprises that include torture and murder (drug cartels, to say the least), bribe and corrupt government officials (including american police), and criminalize _people who haven’t even harmed themselves, much less anyone else_!

    Drugs are not special; there are no “really distorting drugs” with no medicinal use, unless you completely remove seeking happyness and satisfaction of myriad desires from the idea of good health and vitality – misery, apparently, is not a medical condition; namely, if nothing else, to provide some escape from crushing pain and depression, other than suicide.

    “Drugs” (the definition of which changes over and over and over, but persisting to provide the illusion of some consistency or validity over time), alchohol, food, gambling, and sex do not neccessarily create harm – but they can just as easily be tools for self-destruction as anything else. You don’t deal with the real underlying problems by giving people less ways to deal with their problems because some people use them wrongly.

    Furthermore, there is no moral dictum that requires everyone be social, or even productive – at most they just have to pull their own weight, and even then it is not strong enough to support coercion and the violation of basic rights to make ones own choices and decisions. Not being productive is not being destructive; not being social is not being anti-social; not being an unmitigated good is not being an unmitigated evil.

    To continue to focus on drugs as if they are the problem is to utterly ignore the real problems that provoke their destructive uses.

  21. David, I guess you’d include alcohol in that pile of assumption? Wanna go back to prohibition and the criminal organizations that profited from it?

    The most dangerous reality distorting drug is the idea that one person or group has the right to impose their viewpoint on the rest of us.

    The negative social costs of drug use are far outweighed by the negative social costs of the drug WAR. Increased encroachment on our civil rights, the weakening of the presumption of innocence, and the incarceration of far too many people who would not be criminals except for the prohibition on recreational drugs (at the expense of incarceration space and law enforcement effort toward truly deserving criminals [I’d like to see the same zeal and effort applied to the arrest and prosecution of dishonest corporate officers]). Even if every single person in the country used recreational drugs, the effect would not be as severe as that.

    I don’t believe that drug use is good, for various reasons, but the intervention of the state into the private lives of its citizens (where that behaviour is consensual), is far worse.

  22. i think it’s truly to the great shame of this nation that inert, non-sentient chemicals are defeating our nation’s police so soundly.

    basically, it all comes down to whether or not you feel people have a right to fuck with themselves in ways you don’t necessarily approve of. mr. dobbs obviously belongs to the larger of the two camps.

    fwiw, my favorite members of this group are the drug users who are against legalization, since some people do stupid things and that’s scary.

  23. “Anyone who is for prohibition is making money hand over fist!” What we have to understand, Ira, is that the vast majority of people on the other side have the purest of motives – they want to reduce crime, protect children, improve their neighborhoods, and reduce the harm associatec with drug use. They just want to go about it all wrong. We won’t get anywhere by making demonstrably false assertions about the opposition.

    And ending the drug war is not about firing half the cops in the country. I’d rather make them community police, and have them walk beats in people’s neighborhoods, so little old ladies feel safe going to the corner store. That’s what police are for.

  24. “Depending on your POV, all these costs are either a) due to government’s irrational attempt to restrict people’s pharmacuetical choices, or
    b) peoples’ unwillingness to obey the government and stop using drugs.”

    Whenever I saw those stupid anti-drug ads that said something like “I financed a killing . . .”, I always thought, yeah, but the same is just as true of the governement’s war on drugs: it is just as responsible for financing the killing as the drug user who bought the “weed, coke … whatever”. But there isn’t complete symmetry here. If a drug user quits, the impact on the illegal drug trade is INsignificant. If the government quits the drug war, the impact is SIGNIFICANT.

  25. Non-medicinal, reality-distorting drugs are bad. The illegality of such drugs is necessary to reinforce–strongly–the negative social costs and aspects of drug use.

  26. “Non-medicinal, reality-distorting drugs are bad. The illegality of such drugs is necessary to reinforce–strongly–the negative social costs and aspects of drug use.”

    It seems to me that Prohabition & the Drug War have proven to have negative social costs far exceeding the social costs of the alchohol & drug use they were designed to prevent.

  27. Joe:

    You’re right, I shouldn’t make such sweeping statements. I actually meant that public officials who have a vested interest in continuing the drug war are making money from it hand over fist, either from their salaries or funding from the kooky anti-drug foundations.

    I’m also not saying that we would immediately fire half the cops in the country with legalization, but they would have very little to do without a drug war, especially probation and correction officers.

    Perhaps a loan program could be tied into the legaization bill that would give former officers low interest loans to open up Amsterdam style coffeehouses? That way they’d be employed and a little mellowed out.

  28. I will guarantee, David, that the armed criminal gangs in my state’s cities have greater “negative social costs and aspects” than the substances they profit from. Creating a black market is bad, and this one is hugely profitable. Capone’s gage revolved around liquor.

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