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November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman's thoughts on the "war on drugs"

As detailed in this New York Times obituary, famed economist Milton Friedman died yesterday.  The Times describes Friedman as "the grandmaster of free-market economic theory in the postwar era and a prime force in the movement of nations toward less government and greater reliance on individual responsibility."  A terrific reader sent me this link to an open letter Friedman wrote in 1989 to then federal "drug czar" Bill Bennett about the escalation of the "war on drugs."  It is a fascinating read (especially in the wake of this week's USSC crack hearing).  Here are choice snippets:

The path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users, and a whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad situation worse.  The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish.

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us.  You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns.  In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore....

Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike....  Had drugs been decriminalized 17 years ago, "crack" would never have been invented (it was invented because the high cost of illegal drugs made it profitable to provide a cheaper version) and there would today be far fewer addicts. The lives of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent victims would have been saved, and not only in the US.  The ghettos of our major cities would not be drug-and-crime-infested no-man's lands. Fewer people would be in jails, and fewer jails would have been built....

Alcohol and tobacco cause many more deaths in users than do drugs.  Decriminalization would not prevent us from treating drugs as we now treat alcohol and tobacco: prohibiting sales of drugs to minors, outlawing the advertising of drugs and similar measures.  Such measures could be enforced, while outright prohibition cannot be.  Moreover, if even a small fraction of the money we now spend on trying to enforce drug prohibition were devoted to treatment and rehabilitation, in an atmosphere of compassion not punishment, the reduction in drug usage and in the harm done to the users could be dramatic.

This plea comes from the bottom of my heart. Every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence.  A country in which shooting down unidentified planes "on suspicion" can be seriously considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that either you or I want to hand on to future generations.

November 17, 2006 at 07:09 AM | Permalink

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Posted by: Jeff Swan | Mar 9, 2007 7:44:49 AM

The great economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman turns 90 on July 31. President Bush, who invited him to the White House for a public toast and a private lunch to celebrate the occasion a few weeks ago, had some very nice things to say about him, for good reason.
Friedman, the president said, "has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision: the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions. ... (He) has shown us that when government attempts to substitute its own judgments for the judgments of free people, the results are usually disastrous."The president did not mention the best example of such a disaster: The so-called war on drugs, which Bush very much supports and Friedman has been opposing since the day it was declared by President Nixon in 1972.Writing in Newsweek in May 1972, Friedman took on "Prohibition and Drugs" in these terms: "On ethical grounds, do we have the right to use the machinery of government to prevent an individual from becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict? For children, almost everyone would answer at least a qualified yes. But for responsible adults, I, for one, would answer no. Reason with the potential addict, yes. Tell him the consequences, yes. Pray for and with him, yes. But I believe that we have no right to use force, directly or indirectly, to prevent a fellow man from committing suicide, let alone from drinking alcohol or taking drugs."It is a view consistent with the notion of individual freedom as being guided by one's own judgment rather than government's: Individuals will do unto themselves what they will, correcting their mistakes the same way that the "invisible hand" of the free market corrects its own. It so happens that Friedman believes that invisible hand to be infallible a considerable flaw in Friedman's concept of freedom, especially when it is applied to individual choice. Anything human is fallible, free markets included.But it is still better to fail by one's own hand (to be a drug addict, for example) than to be a victim of government's failure as it attempts to judge the good and bad of individual behavior (by putting drug addicts in prison). Just as government should temper the excesses of the free market by regulating it lightly, it should balance personal freedoms with the values and interests of society at large, which ideally complement rather than contradict those freedoms.The drug war has been a complete failure along those lines, punishing individuals, wrecking individual rights, turning Americans against Americans and inner cities into war zones, jamming prisons to levels unparalleled anywhere in the world, corrupting police agencies, costing more to fight (in 2002, anyway) than the $1 billion-a-month Afghan war, and to date yielding not even a hope for victory. An end in itself, it is a perpetual war written into the nation's budget, its social fabric and its election cycles.Friedman declared the war indefensible on moral grounds. President Bush, citing many free market successes tailored after the economist's ideas around the world, including China and Russia, noted how "the rest of the world is finally catching up with Milton Friedman." But Friedman's economic disciples at home have yet to catch up to him regarding one of the most damaging campaigns against Americans and individual rights in the nation's history.
--------------------------
juliana

[url="http://www.addictionlink.org/drug-rehab-center/vermont"]vermont drug rehab[/url]

Posted by: juliana65 | Nov 13, 2008 2:11:48 AM

The great economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman turns 90 on July 31. President Bush, who invited him to the White House for a public toast and a private lunch to celebrate the occasion a few weeks ago, had some very nice things to say about him, for good reason.
Friedman, the president said, "has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision: the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions. ... (He) has shown us that when government attempts to substitute its own judgments for the judgments of free people, the results are usually disastrous."The president did not mention the best example of such a disaster: The so-called war on drugs, which Bush very much supports and Friedman has been opposing since the day it was declared by President Nixon in 1972.Writing in Newsweek in May 1972, Friedman took on "Prohibition and Drugs" in these terms: "On ethical grounds, do we have the right to use the machinery of government to prevent an individual from becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict? For children, almost everyone would answer at least a qualified yes. But for responsible adults, I, for one, would answer no. Reason with the potential addict, yes. Tell him the consequences, yes. Pray for and with him, yes. But I believe that we have no right to use force, directly or indirectly, to prevent a fellow man from committing suicide, let alone from drinking alcohol or taking drugs."It is a view consistent with the notion of individual freedom as being guided by one's own judgment rather than government's: Individuals will do unto themselves what they will, correcting their mistakes the same way that the "invisible hand" of the free market corrects its own. It so happens that Friedman believes that invisible hand to be infallible a considerable flaw in Friedman's concept of freedom, especially when it is applied to individual choice. Anything human is fallible, free markets included.But it is still better to fail by one's own hand (to be a drug addict, for example) than to be a victim of government's failure as it attempts to judge the good and bad of individual behavior (by putting drug addicts in prison). Just as government should temper the excesses of the free market by regulating it lightly, it should balance personal freedoms with the values and interests of society at large, which ideally complement rather than contradict those freedoms.The drug war has been a complete failure along those lines, punishing individuals, wrecking individual rights, turning Americans against Americans and inner cities into war zones, jamming prisons to levels unparalleled anywhere in the world, corrupting police agencies, costing more to fight (in 2002, anyway) than the $1 billion-a-month Afghan war, and to date yielding not even a hope for victory. An end in itself, it is a perpetual war written into the nation's budget, its social fabric and its election cycles.Friedman declared the war indefensible on moral grounds. President Bush, citing many free market successes tailored after the economist's ideas around the world, including China and Russia, noted how "the rest of the world is finally catching up with Milton Friedman." But Friedman's economic disciples at home have yet to catch up to him regarding one of the most damaging campaigns against Americans and individual rights in the nation's history.
--------------------------
juliana

[url="http://www.addictionlink.org/drug-rehab-center/vermont"]vermont drug rehab[/url]

Posted by: juliana65 | Nov 13, 2008 2:14:07 AM

The great economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman turns 90 on July 31. President Bush, who invited him to the White House for a public toast and a private lunch to celebrate the occasion a few weeks ago, had some very nice things to say about him, for good reason.
Friedman, the president said, "has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision: the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions. ... (He) has shown us that when government attempts to substitute its own judgments for the judgments of free people, the results are usually disastrous."The president did not mention the best example of such a disaster: The so-called war on drugs, which Bush very much supports and Friedman has been opposing since the day it was declared by President Nixon in 1972.Writing in Newsweek in May 1972, Friedman took on "Prohibition and Drugs" in these terms: "On ethical grounds, do we have the right to use the machinery of government to prevent an individual from becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict? For children, almost everyone would answer at least a qualified yes. But for responsible adults, I, for one, would answer no. Reason with the potential addict, yes. Tell him the consequences, yes. Pray for and with him, yes. But I believe that we have no right to use force, directly or indirectly, to prevent a fellow man from committing suicide, let alone from drinking alcohol or taking drugs."It is a view consistent with the notion of individual freedom as being guided by one's own judgment rather than government's: Individuals will do unto themselves what they will, correcting their mistakes the same way that the "invisible hand" of the free market corrects its own. It so happens that Friedman believes that invisible hand to be infallible a considerable flaw in Friedman's concept of freedom, especially when it is applied to individual choice. Anything human is fallible, free markets included.But it is still better to fail by one's own hand (to be a drug addict, for example) than to be a victim of government's failure as it attempts to judge the good and bad of individual behavior (by putting drug addicts in prison). Just as government should temper the excesses of the free market by regulating it lightly, it should balance personal freedoms with the values and interests of society at large, which ideally complement rather than contradict those freedoms.The drug war has been a complete failure along those lines, punishing individuals, wrecking individual rights, turning Americans against Americans and inner cities into war zones, jamming prisons to levels unparalleled anywhere in the world, corrupting police agencies, costing more to fight (in 2002, anyway) than the $1 billion-a-month Afghan war, and to date yielding not even a hope for victory. An end in itself, it is a perpetual war written into the nation's budget, its social fabric and its election cycles.Friedman declared the war indefensible on moral grounds. President Bush, citing many free market successes tailored after the economist's ideas around the world, including China and Russia, noted how "the rest of the world is finally catching up with Milton Friedman." But Friedman's economic disciples at home have yet to catch up to him regarding one of the most damaging campaigns against Americans and individual rights in the nation's history.
--------------------------
juliana


http://www.addictionlink.org/drug-rehab-center/vermont

Posted by: juliana65 | Nov 13, 2008 2:16:30 AM

But it is still better to fail by one's own hand (to be a drug addict, for example) than to be a victim of government's failure as it attempts to judge the good and bad of individual behavior (by putting drug addicts in prison). Just as government should temper the excesses of the free market by regulating it lightly, it should balance personal freedoms with the values and interests of society at large, which ideally complement rather than contradict those freedoms.The drug war has been a complete failure along those lines, punishing individuals, wrecking individual rights, turning Americans against Americans and inner cities into war zones, jamming prisons to levels unparalleled anywhere in the world, corrupting police agencies, costing more to fight (in 2002, anyway) than the $1 billion-a-month Afghan war, and to date yielding not even a hope for victory. An end in itself, it is a perpetual war written into the nation's budget, its social fabric and its election cycles.Friedman declared the war indefensible on moral grounds. President Bush, citing many free market successes tailored after the economist's ideas around the world, including China and Russia, noted how "the rest of the world is finally catching up with Milton Friedman." But Friedman's economic disciples at home have yet to catch up to him regarding one of the most damaging campaigns against Americans and individual rights in the nation's history.
----------------
juliana
vermont drug rehab

Posted by: juliana65 | Nov 13, 2008 2:20:58 AM

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