Cancel the War and Fix the Wounded

Most people don't overindulge. Some do. Let's help the ones who need it, and leave the rest alone.


Never let anybody tell you Americans like to get drunk. That is not accurate. The truth is that Americans like to get not just a little giddy, not just mildly intoxicated, but draaauuuwwwwwnk. Loud, slobbery, try-to-sit-down-and-miss-the-couch drunk.

So reports the Centers for Disease Control, which says one in six Americans go on a binge at least once a month. This is 2 percentage points higher than the CDC found the last time. Even so, the new figure is probably a "substantial underestimate," says the head of the CDC's alcohol program, Robert Brewer (!), because people tend to under-report their own misbehavior. (No word on whether the study is weighted to account for those poor sots so hung over they couldn't even pick up the phone.)

Most binge drinkers don't go on a tear just once a month, though—they do it more than four times a month, which probably means every weekend. And most binge drinkers have eight or more drinks per session. Not surprisingly, such intemperance inflicts tremendous social costs: More than $224 billion – $746 per person—per year. That, friends, is even more than the annual cost of smoking.

This is interesting in its own right—but it gets more interesting when you note three other things.

First, the CDC attributes 72 percent of the social cost of heavy drinking to lost workplace productivity. Only 11 percent of the cost comes from alcohol-incurred medical expenses. (Law enforcement and vehicular-crash expenses make up the bulk of the rest.)

Second, many of the arguments for government intervention in Americans' personal lives today rest on similar considerations. The campaign against obesity, for instance, is driven in no small measure by estimates of its aggregate economic toll: Roughly $150 billion a year, according to the CDC. As with boozing, many of the costs are imputed: The CDC counts not only medical expenses directly related to obesity, but also "the value of income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, and bed days," as well as "the value of future income lost by premature death."

Similarly, the war on illegal drugs is heavily driven by imputed social costs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says illegal drug use costs society $181 billion annually. But: "Over two-thirds (71.3 percent) of the costs of drug abuse are attributed to lost productivity." It also notes that $39 billion of that lost productivity results from incarceration, so this "is not a cost of drug abuse but, rather, the costs of current [drug-control] policies."

Actual health costs from drug abuse? Less than 9 percent of the total. The reason you can't buy narcotics over the counter, then, seems to have just as much to do with other people's desire that you maximize your economic output as with their concern for your continued well-being by itself. Put another way, a big chunk of the concern about drug abuse arises not from altruistic paternalism (it's for your own good) but from selfish paternalism (it's for everyone else's).

The third interesting thing is that even though the rationale for both forms of prohibition is essentially the same, and even though the costs of alcohol abuse are higher than those of drug abuse (true, the gap might shrink if drugs were decriminalized), America no longer forbids drinking. We tried that, for 13 years, and it didn't work. It was, in fact, a disaster.

So the country switched from paternalism to altruism, in the genuine sense. We allow people to pursue their own good as they define it—not as someone else defines it for them. Society lets people drink as much as they want, so long as they don't endanger others. Even if that means some of them don't always come out of the chute at 110 miles an hour on Monday morning.

And it works. Most people don't overindulge. Some do. Some of those develop a drinking problem. And when someone with a drinking problem needs help, we provide it.

So why not try the same approach with other drugs—starting with marijuana? After all: If prohibition reduced drug consumption, then the U.S. could have declared victory long ago. From 2002 to 2009, national drug-control funding rose 39 percent. Drug arrests exceeded 1 million a year—roughly half of those for pot, of which 9 in 10 busts were for simple possession. Yet the rate of illicit drug use rose—from 8.3 percent to 8.7 percent. Some victory.

Maybe it's time to stop fighting the war, and start fixing the wounded.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.

NEXT: Bye Bye Land of the Free

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  1. *crickets*

    1. New International Version (?1984)
      Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

      God doesnt care if you smoke weed.

      1. “They will be yours for food.”

        Sounds like God wants us to eat more pot brownies.

        1. Questions for libertarians on Self-Ownership:

          ? To how many species on the evolutionary Tree of Life* does this Principle apply?

          ? If only one, at what point in biological evolution did “self-ownership” (which I correlate with the more widely used scientific term autonomy**) become “axoimatic” for that specie, and why only for that specie?

          * Evolutionary Genealogy
          The Great Tree of Life

          ** Life is a complex phenomenon that not only requires individual self-producing and self-sustaining systems but also a historical-collective organization of those individual systems, which brings about characteristic evolutionary dynamics. On these lines, we propose to define universally living beings as autonomous systems with open-ended evolution capacities, and we claim that all such systems must have a semi-permeable active boundary (membrane), an energy transduction apparatus (set of energy currencies) and, at least, two types of functionally interdependent macromolecular components (catalysts and records).

          Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo, Juli Peret? and Alvaro Moreno. (2004) “A Universal Definition of Life: Autonomy and Open-Ended Evolution.” Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. Volume 34, Number 3, 323-346.

      2. Stupid argument poison oak also grows from a seed should you consume that also.

  2. If productivity is the issue, then why are cocaine and amphetamine illegal?

    1. How many adults are on “legal” prescription amphetamines or other DEA-scheduled CNS stimulants?

      1. I was watching Drugs, Inc. on Natl Geo the other night, the hallucinogens episode, where various experts talked about how dangerous it can be for unsupervised people to use drugs. Then they went to a commercial for 5 Hour Energy Drink, and my head exploded.

      2. Diet pills.

    2. uppers ARE legal w a script

  3. I wonder if your approach of fixing is also TLTL. Should society not focus on prevention?

    1. No, it should not. If 100% of drug users committed actual crimes 100% of the times they got high, you would have a case.

      1. Not because of the crime we can account for but the suffering we cannot.

        Addiction is hereditary, and by prevention are we not focusing on further cases, and ergo the crime rate itself?

        1. Addiction is hereditary

          Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Some people may be genetically predisposed to addiction but addiction is a personal thing that the individual is responsible for.

          Also addict =/= criminal.

          1. ? Universal Koch oil pollution.
            ? Universal access to asthma.
            ? Universal opportunities for birth defects.
            ? No Universal Health Care for victims of pollution. Health Care is your personal responsibility, dammit!

            Remember, whenever you’re talking to a libertarian, you’re being hustled for their god??money.

            “Personal responsibility” is one of their debate conveniences. They use it when it is profitable, and eschew it when it’s not.

            1. Remember that when you’re a socialist moron, you’re being hustled by your team leaders and begging them to rob you and everyone else even harder.

              1. All you agricultural city-Statists are the same, promulgating some scam or another.

                1. says the guy using a city/statist product, the computer, to post his views on another city/statist product: the internet

                  hypocrite much?

          2. You’re right, FTFY. But you’re too stupid to realize you and socialist are both complete and utter morons.

            Reading this depressing claptrap for the umpteenth time, I came to the realization that you can in fact boil down the two main main competing modern economic philosophies into Me First (Austrian) versus Spoiled Rotten (Keynesian). One side believes that they should be able to keep everything they “earn” and fuck the common good, while the other side believes that we should rob from the rich so that the poor can afford to go out and beat each other senseless trying to be the first to buy the latest pair of overpriced basketball shoes or mindless video game. Both sides are utterly full of shit…

            Bill Hicks is Dead
            Monday, January 16, 2012

            1. Oh, if I was only smart like you, writing ridiculous bullshit on websites…

              Maybe you’re not a socialist per se, maybe you’re just a good little statist who is sure The Right People will decide how to wisely spend your money.

              Too bad The Right People don’t exist. Never have. You, and only you, know what is right for you. And maybe you are wrong about that. It’s possible that I spend my money foolishly, whether on myself, my family and friends or on charitable contributions (since I suspect you have the notion that libertarians such as myself are only concerned with accumulating money), but it remains my choice. What a shame you don’t believe in personal choice. Maybe one day you’ll see what a giant sucker you are for politicians Red or Blue.

              I’m not holding my breath, though.

              1. Agricultural city-Statism (civilization) is the problem.

                You like it. I don’t.

                But I am going to vote for Ron Paul, because he’s so fucking stupid, he’ll ruin civilization quicker than that buffoon in office now.

                End City-Statism now!

        2. Addiction is not hereditary, there are only genetic predispositions that may make it slightly more likely that someone who indulges in an addictive substance may become addicted.

          1. Damn you Apatheist

          2. Addiction is hereditary.

            The Genetics of Drug Dependence: Tobacco Addiction
            Neal L. Benowitz, M.D.
            N Engl J Med 1992; 327:881-883September 17, 1992

            1. So what?

        3. Proper legalization woudl deal with the crime aspect quite neatly. Heroin, for example, would cost next to nothing if it were legal. Still not the greatest life choice to start doing heroin regularly, but it wouldn’t require a life of petty crime to support it.

          1. Still not the greatest life choice to start doing heroin regularly, but it wouldn’t require a life of petty crime to support it.

            And, honestly, would you really notice a difference in the quality of checkout personnel if they were ALL on heroin?

            1. heroin is such that, for addicts, being on maintenance dose of heroin has little to no negative effects.

              it’s not hepatotoxic, it’s not toxic at all, and even the danger (and it’s not an insignificant one) of abscesses etc. are significantly reduced where needles are free, and in many cases subsidized (i’d support the subsidization by PRIVATE industry).

              a heroin addict ABLE to get at least maintenance levels is really no more a societal problem, or even a self-health problem than a person addicted to caffeine, who gets his morning fix, etc.

              show me a heroin addict able to get clean, accurately dosed heroin, and i’ll show you somebody who can be an entirely productive member of society

    2. Society should mind it’s fucking business. The vast majority of users of all drugs cause no trouble for anyone else not voluntarily affiliated with them.

  4. “Lost producivity” should never be the justification for any law. First, you can’t measure it, so they’re making shit up. Second, do we really want laws that mandate how productive people have to be?

    If they’re really worried about lost productivity, they should probably outlaw the internet.

    1. . . .and magazines, crossword puzzles, books. . . .

    2. If they’re really worried about lost productivity, they should probably outlaw the internet.

      We’ve found in my company that productivity shoots way down when internet access is heavily restricted. It’s better to blacklist anything known to be harmful and have immediate management be ultimately responsible for worker behavior then to waste so much effort keeping up a whitelist and exception policy, nevermind the intangible loss of decreased morale.

    3. The “lost productivity” argument is really the core of problem. People like Tony and millions other believe that any law that increases productivity or decreases is justified.

      1. Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control?in everyday language, to make money?by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

        ~Derrick Jensen

        1. Is this the synopsis of a new video game or something?

          1. Yes, it’s called “Worker’s Paradise”. In the game you play a party aparatchik in Cuba.

            1. No one should ever work.

              Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working…

              The Abolition of Work
              Bob Black

              1. Shit you got that down…always posting other peoples work.

    4. The biggest problem that I have with the lost productivity argument is the implicit assumption that I somehow owe my full potential to society. Fuck that. My potential productivity is mine to do what I will with.

    5. >If they’re really worried about lost productivity,

      They should really just quit their parasitic existence on the Federal teat and leave everyone else the f*ck alone, allowing them to lead the most productive lives they see fit.

    6. If they’re really worried about lost productivity, they should probably outlaw the internet.

      Ideas. Stop. Giving. To. Them.

  5. America never forbid drinking. The 18th amendment forbid the manufacture, sale, transportation or importation of alcohol, but not the actual drinking of it.

    1. Hmmm, sounds just like the laws against drugs. You must see the laws forbidding everything you listed were/are designed to prohibit consumption.

    2. Actually, there are still laws today forbidding drinking. Or maybe my Minor in Consumption ticket I got in college was imaginary.

  6. Why don’t we apply the same “lost economic activity” criteria to everything? Movies, sports, sex, napping? How much lost productivity from those things?

    That recent supreme court case where they ruled that growing marijuana for yourself was commerce because even though you weren’t engaging in commerce, you might have, so your choice to not engage in commerce had an effect on interstate commerce.

    Why not apply that to everything, and have the government prohibit everything that wasn’t making a buck?

    1. Sounds good; then we could make unemployment a crime and send everyone without a job to prison. Pow! We just solved the unemployment problem. Utterly brilliant.

      1. Nah, 1/2 the people are given jobs as ditch diggers, the other 1/2 fill them. Full employment!

      2. I already mentioned this, but in the People’s Republic of Hungary, one had to have a place of work entered & stamped in his ID booklet. If the coppers caught one with no valid entry then one was subject to a charge of “socially dangerous avoidance of work”.

    2. don’t give them ideas

  7. Is there any argument justifying the war on drug users that could not also be an argument favoring Prohibition?

    1. No. But that’s not really useful to point out since a lot of the drug warriors would be happy to see alcohol restricted or prohibited as well.

  8. eight or more drinks per session

    I don’t think I would have ever considered 8 drinks in a night to be a binge, even back when I was a 135 lb 15 year old that got sloshed off 3.

    1. yeah these difinitions have alwasy been suspect. And it doesnt take into account the other factors.

      A 110 lb woman downs 8 shots of wiskey in 2 minutes shes going to be plastered.

      A 225 lb male has 8 beers one night over a period of 5 hours while eating and drinking some water also might have a good buzz going on, but thats hardly trashed.

    2. The CDC defines binge drinking as 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for men and 4 or more in that time for women. But I know I’ve seen a variety of definitions, some more absurd than others.

      1. 5 drinks in two hours? That’s even worse. Even my quiet weekend nights at home with the future wife brand me as a substance abusing deviant. Between this and BMI, I’m Peter Griffin in the eyes of the CDC.

      2. This is yet more microaggression against gentlemen of size like me.

        1. Warty, did your girlfriend give permission for reason to use her photo?

  9. When do we Cancel the War on gamboling about plain and forest and Fix the Wounded environment?

    1. Gambol lockdown is in full effect, mother-fuckers. *Cocks shotgun.*

      1. Gambol Lockdown: Great catchphrase or GREATEST catchphrase?

        1. I’m getting rid of my no trespassing signs, and putting up “No Gamboling” signs.

          1. i kinda doubt your trespassers would get the joke.

            1. Thank you, Thank you very much

      2. The occupation of the Land via agricultural city-Statist privation property takes daily aggression, even if mostly just threats of lethal violence.

    2. For example, the Secretary acknowledges that the record shows that there were no villages or permanent settlements in the Columbia Plateau region 9000 years ago and that
      human populations then were small and nomadic, traveling long distances in search of food and raw materials. The Secretary’s experts determined, and the Secretary acknowledged, that it was not until 2000 to 3000 years ago that populations began to settle into the villages and bands that may have been the antecedents of modern Indian tribes something like those encountered by European settlers and colonists. As the Secretary summarized, “[c]ultural discontinuities are suggested by evidence that the cultural group existing 8500-9500 years ago was likely small in size and highly mobile while the Plateau culture consisted o[f] larger, more sedentary groups.”


      Fuckin’ Columbia Plateau village-statists locking down gambol on themselves.

      Kennewick Man was the true gamboler; of course he had to gambol with a projectile head embedded in his hip, but that’s a small price to be paid for unrestricted gamboling…

      1. “…a projectile head embedded in his hip…”


        The current literature consistently reports that until the final stages of the Paleolithic Age?until just prior to the present 10,000-year era of domestication?there is no conclusive evidence that any tools or hunting weapons were used against humans at all.

        The Origins of War
        John Zerzan…..ins-of-War

  10. Second, many of the arguments for government intervention in Americans’ personal lives today rest on similar considerations.

    The government’s still wrong there, too.

    This is the basis of your argument? That the government should pay for addicts’ rehab because it’s already nosing around in other areas of our lives where it doesn’t belong and is largely ineffective?

    Um sorry, but I don’t want to pay for rehab for druggie losers. Decriminalize, let people make their own choices, and if they choose to become addicts, let them suck up the consequences themselves.

    1. I don’t think Mr. Hinkle anywhere in the article specified government as the one paying for rehab for “druggie users”. Perhaps you should actually read the article instead of having the libertarian reflex of checking your wallet to make sure it hasn’t been picked while you’re sitting there.

      Granted, government is picking your wallet while you’re sitting there.

      1. how much would rehab cost in a market where all the customers weren’t attending by court order?

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  12. If they’re counting lost productivity, I wonder how much video games cost society 😛

  13. fuck the wounded…really, just fuck ’em

  14. I’ve never really understood the drug laws. If they’re about the health of the users, is marijuana really that much more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol for the of-age user that it’s illegal while they are not? If it has to do with productivity, is it really the government’s job to concern themselves with productivity, or should that be any given company’s issue (i.e., it may not be “illegal” to show up to work drunk on a daily basis, but it can still get me fired)?

    Even though I don’t do drugs and have no desire to, I would love to hear just one thing about pot that makes it so much more dangerous than alcohol or nicotine that it’s illegal but I can consume all I want of the other two.

  15. This doesn’t necessarily bear on the fundamental question of legalization, but it’s very pertinent to the discussion of costs and benefits.

    It should be noted that the oft-cited figures about incarceration for simple possession are somewhat misleading. Those figured usually represent what the person plead to. So they were caught distributing, but plead to possession (plea bargains are the only way the overloaded system keeps chugging along). Here in Portland, Oregon, I have charged someone with possession of Marijuana perhaps six times in eight years (making me an anomaly; most officers throw it away, as it’s not worth the extra paperwork).

    Similarly, most possession arrests serve as sort of proxy arrests for the staggering amount of property crime fueled by addiction. You stop someone out prowling cars, search him, and find the meth. I see little to suggest that legalization will somehow create jobs with which addicts can pay for their dope, rather than break into your car.

    It shouldn’t be a mystery why poor people suffer the brunt of drug arrests. They are the ones whose habits fuel the property crimes that put such a strain on law enforcement and the public. Legalization might save money spent on narcotics enforcement, but it will have no (or a negative) impact on all the money spent on property crime.

    As a patrol officer, maybe a third of my time is spent on property crime related to drugs (mostly meth) a third on things related to alcohol (transients, fights, DUIIs) and a third directly related to neither (but mostly indirectly related to one or both of the former). So if I make $100k a year (benefits included), call it $66k you’re paying me to deal with drugs and alcohol, and you’re probably getting eight actual possession charges out of it. Most of the people I deal with are hand to pipe; they steal, buy the dope, smoke it, then steal some more. I usually get them during the steal stage and all I find are empty baggies and a nasty pipe that I don’t charge them with (it’s a throw away charge).

    That’s my two cents.

  16. question for my homework at school, could be nice to have your opinion on this…. Give an example from the text that justifies the line “so the country switched from paternalism to altruism, in the genuine sense, we allow people to pursue their own……. blahblahblah…. defines it for them”… thanks 🙂

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