Drug Policy

The Wire's David Simon: "I would decriminalize drugs in a heartbeat."

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In Guernica magazine, liberal journalist Bill Moyers conducts a fascinating and wide-ranging interview with David Simon, creator of the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which touches on everything from drug decriminalization to Simon's argument that "a lot of the people who end up voting for that kind of laissez-faire market policy are people who get creamed by it." Here's a snippet:

Bill Moyers: Many people could see what you saw simply if we opened our eyes. And yet the drug war keeps getting crazier and crazier, from selling guns to Mexico's drug cartel to cramming more people into prison even though they haven't committed violent crimes. Why don't the policies change?

David Simon: Because there's no political capital in it. There really isn't. The fear of being called soft on crime, soft on drugs. The paranoia that's been induced. Listen, if you could be draconian and reduce drug use by locking people up, you might have an argument. But we are the jailing-est country on the planet right now. Two million people in prison. We're locking up less-violent people. More of them. The drugs are purer. They haven't closed down a single drug corner that I know of in Baltimore for any length of time. It's not working. And by the way, this is not a Republican-Democrat thing, because a lot of the most draconian stuff came out of the Clinton administration, this guy trying to maneuver to the center in order not to be perceived as leftist by a Republican Congress.

Read the whole thing here. Read Jesse Walker's 2004 interview with Simon right here.

Update: Seems like the perfect time to post this collection of The Wire's 100 best quotes.

NEXT: How the Innocent Get Convicted

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  1. The Bunny Colvin story arc made his opinion pretty clear, but it’s nice to have him state it openly.

  2. David Simon for President!

    1. Um… “[A] lot of the people who end up voting for that kind of laissez-faire market policy are people who get creamed by it”? Back to the Loch with you, Nessie.

      1. I didn’t read the article. This appears to be a true statement. Did he say if he wanted the goverment to do something about this? Cause this statement would be equal to saying lots of people advocating for legal drugs would get destroyed by using legal drugs.

        1. The “a lot of the people who end up voting for that kind of laissez-faire market policy are people who get creamed by it” quote isn’t vis a vis drugs. Simon’s talking about the need for regulation of capitalism to ensure that the wealth it generates is “shared in a way that incorporates all society”. Otherwise we won’t have a “sense of shared… national purpose [and it’s] just a pyramid scheme” and we’re all just suckers trying to hit it big in a casino and losing ’cause we’re playing by the house’s rules.

          In other words, the usual “Capitalism = corporate welfare and government supported cartelism” schtick. I have yet to figure out why lefties who assume that government will always be subverted and corrupted by Big Business interests think that their efforts to legislate economic morality won’t be subverted and corrupted by Big Business. They scoff at laissez-faire as if the Big Business they despise could exist in real laissez-faire. Hell, even Standard Oil didn’t.

          1. It is just another example of the ‘Good Tsar’ fallacy: “If the right people (= us) are in charge, things will be OK. WE can be trusted with power, THEY can’t.”

          2. “Capitalism = corporate welfare and government supported cartelism” schtick.

            Perhaps you don’t quite understand libertarianism as well as you should.

            If you look at the founding of the country, the consensus was basically “laissez faire for everyone except banks and their equivalents”.

            What we have devolved into is “laissez faire ONLY for banks and their equivalents”.

            Libertarianism is not about merely the lack of regulation. Libertarianism supports regulation of ONE specific industry, and for pretty good historical reasons that go back centuries (essentially: the government and the banks become co-dependents).

            Those libertarians who are against things like a federally-supported central bank and fractional reserve banking are essentially proposing regulations to prevent them. Perhaps in the absence of such governmental support those institutions could not survive, but we don’t exist in a theoretical world.

            But essentially what Simon is saying is true (even if he didn’t mean it exactly this way): most of those who are supporting laissez faire for banks are getting crushed by those same. For certain, many of those who supported such easy credit are now being crushed by it. Heck, Citicorp, Bank Of America, etc. were the biggest proponents of less regulation and are now insolvent, remaining open only by the Treasury and Fed taxing (via inflation) the citizens of the country; the biggest proponents of laissez faire became the fattest welfare recipients. Too often what is called laissez faire is really government support and/or government favoritism.

            1. Too often what is called laissez faire is really government support and/or government favoritism.

              Exactly my point, which contributes to the false partisan dichotomy of “D” favoritism vs. “R” favoritism, omitting the “starve the beast/drain the swamp” Libertarian stance. Leaving aside the arguments for useful bank regulation (and I’ll certainly accept some), I’d argue that it wasn’t bank law laissez faire that crushed anybody, but rather government monstrosities like Fannie Mae, followed by government bailouts.

            2. Uhhh…wrong. TARP is not Laissez-faire. A US federal central bank is not laissez-faire. Neither is fractional reserve banking if you view it as fraud.

            3. I think you are very confused. Banking is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country. Not only that, but you would be shocked if you saw the steady stream of new rules and regulations from the government that they have to deal with every day.

      2. “What’s the Matter with Kansas”

        1. Kerry Livgren left and the music got crappy.

          1. Aw, c’mon now. In The Spirit of Things and Power were great albums. As is Freaks of Nature.

            1. Was the music ever not crappy?

    2. Simon is a lefty. I’have heard him several times implying the Wire is anti-capitalist.

      Personally, I think it’s pro-capitalist. And I have a crush on Avon Barksdale.

      1. I suspect that Simon, like many lefties, is basically a libertarian who doesn’t understand economics.

  3. On maneuvering to the center …

    If Democratic presidents are being hawkish on issues like war and drug policy so they can ‘triangulate’, what issues are the other corner of the triangle?

    1. Democrats aren’t “triangulating” on war or the WoDs. They are, historically, instigators of both.

    2. Generally, both parties triangulate against two Straw Men.

    3. Stealin.

      1. … when I shoulda been buyin’.

  4. With the Wire, Simon made such a great case for all of the reasons that government social engineering attempts make things worse. And yet he still thinks the government needs to do more social engineering. How do you think we got fucked up public housing and drug war? Government trying to protect the little guy.

    1. Yeah, methinks Simon’s occasional “libertarianism” springs from a pragmatic place, not a philosophical one.

      In other words, it’s not about freedom, per se, but about which “policies” work best in which circumstances.

      1. You can tell that he’s just a Democrat that doesn’t like the WoD.

        1. this

      2. ” which “policies” work best in which circumstances.”

        That’s a good way to put it. Still, it would be a good thing if more liberals would think about the consequences of supposedly well intentioned policies more, I suppose.

    2. I’m reminded of an exchange I had with a friend who didn’t understand how increased regulation of the internet (specifically, net neutrality) could actually benefit telecom companies. When I explained how regulation generally helps the big boys because they’re the ones at the negotiating table (and used CPSIA and the exemption of Mattel from testing requirements as an example), her response was “I guess you just have too little trust in the government, and I have too much.” The funny thing is, from my perspective, I’d say she has too little trust in the individual.

      1. I’m hearing lamentations about “too little trust in the government” with distressing frequency nowadays. I’ve yet to hear any statements justifying trust in the government.

      2. Well, noticing that you have too much trust in government is a good first step, I guess.

      3. “I guess you just have too little trust in the government, and I have too much.”

        You know who else had too much trust in the government?

        1. wait, wait – I know!

  5. Unfortunately, voters who choose candidates who are “tough on crime” never equate that with “punishing the innocent”.

  6. I read Simon in this interview as just saying spending money on anything but what its spending it on now on inner cities – say job programs – would be less violent, soul crushing and nihilistic than what we have now for inner cities – he didn’t indicate job training would be some sort of panacea – personally if you are going to ‘reinvest’ the saving from ending the war on drugs why not just cut everyone a check and let them do what they want with it – start a business, drink themselves to death – on the whole the outcome would be better than whatever the government would do with it…

  7. “And by the way, this is not a Republican-Democrat thing, because a lot of the most draconian stuff came out of the Clinton administration, this guy trying to maneuver to the center in order not to be perceived as leftist by a Republican Congress.”

    hilarious. it is not a democrat/republican thing, but the democrat did it because he was responding to those EVIL RETHUGLICANS. haha. its always the EVIL RETHUGLICANS. Bill did not want to do it, the republican congress made him do it. you can’t really blame him for doing it in order to hold onto power. can you? can you?

    either the DNC marketing department has an awesome book of jedi mind tricks or the RNC marketing department has it. i don’t know who has it, i don’t care who has it, i just want to read the chapter in it about how to make people believe convoluted theories that contradict physical evidence.

    1. The funny thing is that even works on some “libertarians”. The Democrat Party has never been the Party of Peace or the Party of Dope.

      1. If they were I would vote for them, but unfortunately for Democrats I’m not an idiot and I give far more weight to what they do when they’re in power rather than what they say when they’re not.

  8. a lot of the people who end up voting for that kind of laissez-faire market government intervention policy are people who get creamed by it.”

    There, that’s better.

  9. I favor legalization too but Simon is far too dismissive of the real changes in drug crimes that have been made through greater law enforcement.

    Let’s remember the 1980s and early 1990s shall we? Thousands and thousands of people were slaughtered in drug gang warfare.

    The murder rates associated with drug trafficking have collapsed over the past 10-15 years.

    Again: legalize is the best solution but Simon simply cannot dismiss out of hand the lives saved by cracking down on the drug trade.

    1. Mexico would like to have a word with you.

    2. Let’s remember the 1980s and early 1990s shall we? Thousands and thousands of people were slaughtered in drug gang warfare.

      The murder rates associated with drug trafficking have collapsed over the past 10-15 years.

      Yeah, it’s a good thing we finally outlawed drugs in the mid-90’s.

  10. “Mexico would like to have a word with you.”

    I have no idea what that means since, as the evidence shows, what’s happening in Mexico has stopped happening here. It was happening here in the 1980s and early 1990s; but no longer.

    Again, I favor legalization and think the “drug war” has been an overall failure. But the evidence is overwhelming that greater law enforcement has greatly reduced drug homicides. With a very heavy cost to be sure.

    And those numbers haven’t been cooked. The bodies aren’t showing up in the morgues.

    1. But the evidence is overwhelming that greater law enforcement has greatly reduced drug homicides.

      Why do you credit law enforcement with the consolidation of crack markets?

    2. And those numbers haven’t been cooked. The bodies aren’t showing up in the morgues.

      That’s ’cause they’re in the vacants.

    3. Right, those bodies are showing up on the US-Mexico border’s Mexico side. Problem solved.

      I am saying that your theory has an enormous problem with the results of Mexico’s increased enforcement (and Portugal’s decriminalization, for that matter). Drug violence has little to do with the inherent violence in those who would sell a specific type of mind-altering product than it does with property rights. Enforcement naturally exacerbates those issues, but its effect has been countered in the US by turf wars settling.

      And, of course, you dismiss the litany of (far less tenuous) sins greater enforcement entails: financial cost, exported violence to supplier nations, the world’s highest incarceration rate, disproportionate penalties along race and class lines, further disrespect for the right to one’s own body, etc. It sounds a great deal like “at least the trains run on time.”

      So I’ll submit that there would be no drug violence on the supplier side if drugs were legal, just as alcohol-related violence dropped like a rock after alcohol was re-legalized. Anything less — zero deaths and decreased costs to society from addiction — will not challenge anything to me.

  11. Let’s note that one of the obstacles to drug legalization is the strong opposition by the black community as a whole to the changes.

    Many liberals support reducing the penalties for possession but very very few come outright and support legalization. Because of the political consequences in doing so.

    1. Let’s note that one of the obstacles to drug legalization is the strong opposition by the black community as a whole to the changes.

      And? You can find majority support for wars, Medicare, the mortgage interest tax deduction, banning gay marriage, etc. This wouldn’t be the first time a community’s problems are partly self-inflicted.

      Many liberals support reducing the penalties for possession but very very few come outright and support legalization. Because of the political consequences in doing so.

      Categorically false. There was majority popular support for Prop 19 in California until a month or so before the polls, and very few major politicians in one of our most liberal states came out in support of the measure.

  12. Many liberals support reducing the penalties for possession but very very few come outright and support legalization. Because of the political consequences in doing so.

    1. How “many”
    2. Name one
    3. There are no “political consequences” to advocating drug legalization for a liberal pundit, “senior statesman” or any other lefty not seeking elective office. I hear a murmur of “harm reduction” and an occasional whisper of decrim but where are the left/liberal legalizers?

    1. but where are the left/liberal legalizers?

      They largely exist in the heads of “liberaltarians”.

      1. I know that.It’s one of them “rhetorical” questions.

      2. They largely exist in the heads of “liberaltarians”.

        Wouldn’t a liberlatarian be a leftist who believes in legalization. That means that the liberaltarian exists in his own head, but not necessarily exclusively so.

        Are there those out there that are so un-self-aware as to not exist in their own heads? I would say not, and would hope that we all sit inside our own skulls occasionally.

        1. ^Who the fuck stole my question mark ?

    2. Where are the left/liberal legalizers?

      I suspect that the reason they don’t appear in nature is because it would be odd for someone to believe that people need the guiding hand of the State in every area of their life except just this one.

      Although the lefty pro-lifers seem to be able to maintain that level of cognitive dissonance.

  13. From the Wire top 100 video I like the murdering totally corrupt Union boss bitching about how America does not build anything anymore.

    Classic.

    Even better that he is the union Boss for the port authority and it is set in Baltimore.

    The irony here is so deep that i don’t even think the writers knew it and simply stumbled upon it by accident.

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