Legalization: Coddling the “Me Generation” and Putting the Country at Risk

Some final thoughts from me on what has been an interesting online conversation.

Ms. Hanson argued that attempts “to disrupt the supply or transit of drugs [would be] a futile endeavor.” In response, Dr. Castañeda pointed to “legalization as the only long-term solution.” Those sweeping statements made legalization sound like a “Silver Bullet” to me (a simple guaranteed solution for a difficult problem). I prefer the bullets used against drug smuggling predators to be the real ones carried by officers whose duty is to protect us and maintain rule of law.

Dr. Carpenter claimed that “Mexico’s cartels now exploit a $30 billion to $60 billion-a-year industry [and that ending] prohibition would change that into a $3 billion to $6 billion-a-year industry.” That prediction reminded me of the much-criticized media narrative that President Obama tried out a few months ago to defend his massive and wasteful $787 billion stimulus package by claiming that it had already “saved-or-created” hundreds of thousands of jobs. In both cases, the figures cited are impossible to verify.

Dr. Carpenter assured us that “Under a legalized regime, who would bother buying that product from the Mexican cartels when legitimate domestic producers could provide an ample supply — and probably at lower cost… . In fact, many consumers would likely just grow their own supply.” I would remind him of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. The government proved then that it will always tax luxury goods such as mind-altering chemical substances taken for pleasure, as generations of moonshiners in Appalachia have learned to their sorrow in the last two centuries from Uncle Sam’s “revenuers.”

It is impossible to believe that the government will not tax, and tax heavily, any legalized drugs. Soon enough there would be plenty of incentives for a gray market to develop, yet others in this debate did not want to discuss that eventuality. Admittedly, within the confines of this debate it is difficult for either side to present exhaustive and accurate cost-benefit analyses of legalization versus continued prohibition. Dr. Carpenter included a link for his side. Here is one for mine.

I will not repeat the many points I made disputing the claim that legalization is the only answer to this problem. Clearly I do not think that it is and, in fact, I believe that legalization would create more problems that it would solve. What should not be forgotten are other facts and figures that are difficult to estimate but equally valid for consideration, e.g. through past and current expenditures on law enforcement efforts to enforce prohibition statutes, how much money is being saved in terms of lives not ruined and productivity not lost? I had no takers on that request.

In a recent article (“Whatever Happened to the Work Ethic?”), Steven Malanga cites Tocqueville, who worried

that free, capitalist societies might develop so great a “taste for physical gratification” that citizens would be “carried away, and lose all self-restraint.” Avidly seeking personal gain, they could “lose sight of the close connection which exists between the private fortune of each of them and the prosperity of all” and ultimately undermine both democracy and prosperity.”

Malanga notes that the break-down of the

300-year-old consensus on the [Protestant] work ethic began with the cultural protests of the 1960s, which questioned and discarded many traditional American virtues. The roots of this breakup lay in …the rejection of traditional bourgeois qualities by late-nineteenth-century European artists and intellectuals who sought “to substitute for religion or morality an aesthetic justification of life.” By the 1960s, that modernist tendency had evolved into a credo of self-fulfillment in which “nothing is forbidden, all is to be explored,” [Daniel] Bell wrote. Out went the Protestant ethic’s prudence, thrift, temperance, self-discipline, and deferral of gratification.

Malanga ties all of this into a brutally honest assessment of the factors leading to the 2008 financial meltdown. The point here is that the home-made crises we confront today in the United States, which are having such a negative impact on the people of Mexico and other countries around the world, are directly linked to the social policies of the last 40 years that produced the hedonistic and narcissistic “Me Generation.” Pandering to that generation, and to their children, through drug legalization will only compound the problems and further weaken our economic and national security.

It’s time to grow up, America, and put away childish things.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • In his lead essay, Jorge Castañeda observes that the consequences of the U.S. drug war fall unevenly on Mexico. The U.S. taste for drugs — and for prohibition — are the chief causes of drug-related crime in Mexico, he asserts. This creates a problem that Mexico cannot solve on its own. U.S. assistance has been insufficient, and Mexican resources are too few to take on the drug cartels effectively. Even if the resources were available, the militarization of life in Mexico would be politically unacceptable to most Mexicans, who have enjoyed a relatively tranquil military in contrast to many other Latin American countries. Another approach to the war on drugs would simply be decriminalization, but again, Mexico cannot unilaterally decriminalize, because it would face severe diplomatic consequences from the United States and possibly become a refuge for addicts. The United States must lead the way toward solving this problem, which is of its own making.

Response Essays

  • Stephanie Hanson suggests that decriminalizing drugs, and possibly legalizing marijuana, is a promising strategy for reducing drug-related violence. Yet she acknowledges that coordination problems exist between the United States and Mexico on this issue, and she suggests that a second-best option may be to enforce stricter controls on guns leaving the United States and heading to Mexico.

  • James Roberts faults Prof. Castañeda for taking the easy way out: Drug legalization might not be much work for the elites, but it will ruin lives and degrade regional democracies. It won’t stop violence and may even increase it. The United States and Mexico should work together to fight Mexican drug cartels because the survival of the Mexican state is at stake, along with American lives and American morals. Mexico in particular needs to step forward, reform its corrupt government and enforcement agencies, and get its own house in order, rather than seeking U.S.-based solutions.

  • Ted Galen Carpenter commends Jorge Castañeda for recognizing the nature of the problem that besets his country, but he suggests a more radical solution: As long as U.S. prohibition remains in place, he writes, violent criminals will dominate the trade in narcotics. Only ending prohibition can solve the international problems of the drug trade. Militarization of enforcement simply escalates the violence and corruption, because the cartels have enough money to bribe and/or fight their way through any escalation we’d be prepared to mount.