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Radical Libertarianism is the Drug War’s Best Friend

by New Dealer

linkedinOn Wednesday October 2, 2013 a 29-year old man was arrested by FBI agents in a branch of the San Francisco Public Library. His name was Ross William Ulbricht and he seemed no different from any other San Francisco techie. He studied at the University of Texas and did graduate work at Penn State. He looks positively boyish in photographs. However, Ross William Ulbricht was allegedly known on the Internet as Dread Pirate Roberts and the mastermind behind a site called Silk Road. For the last two years, the Silk Road was an anonymous market on the Internet. Most of the sales were for narcotics and fake IDs but allegedly other illegal goods could be purchased as well. Dread Pirate Roberts also allegedly briefly ran an anonymous weapons market called The Armory but that shut down after a few months for lack of interest.

Ross William Ulbricht did leave a strong Internet trail about his political philosophy. Sometime during graduate school he stopped being interested in science and developed a stronger interest in far-reaching libertarian economics. He wrote on his LinkedIn page that he wanted to use economic theory to “abolish the use of coercion and aggression from mankind.” I will point out the irony of this stance with allegedly opening up a black market for weapons: Mr. Ulbricht allegedly solicited a hit man to murder a Canadian father who threatened to reveal the names of Silk Road users and workers. According to the criminal complaint, he whined to the hit man that 150K was too high a price for a clean hit and he was able to purchase a clean hit for 80K previously. Again, Ulbricht wanted to use libertarian economics to free the world for “coercion and aggression.”

Reason.com described the FBI’s bust of the Silk Road as “[terrible] news for lovers of lovers of the black market (that is, free market) commerce free of the watching eyes and clutching hands of government.”[1] The reaction on reddit is equally hyperbolic with redditors expressing umbrage that undercover agents posed as a hit men — this ignoring the fact that Mr. Ulbricht was still allegedly the person who went to find a hit man in the first place.[2] There was also talk about jury nullification and other things to save their hero.

We talk about the Drug War on Ordinary Times and most of us are in agreement that the War on (some) drugs is bad policy for a variety of reasons. We do not agree on which side is more to blame for the continuing of the drug war and what are the best methods to end the drug war on a policy front.

I will argue that the kind of radical libertarian philosophy that animated the Silk Road is not going to end the Drug War anytime soon. In fact, sites like Silk Road are probably more likely to continue the drug war on multiple fronts. Most people can probably be convinced that marijuana, hash, and maybe some other narcotics are perfectly acceptable to use on a recreational level. They can probably be convinced that the drug war on for these narcotics is costly and an attack on civil liberty. However, they do not want a freewheeling market. They would like to be something like alcohol or tobacco and sold in particular manner and regulated against impurities. They would like a marketplace that does not make it easy for minors to get the narcotics or have a drug dealer operate out of the apartment next door at all hours.

I doubt that most people think that heroin, cocaine, LSD, crack, or meth should be treated the same way as beer, tobacco, or marijuana. Those drugs pose more damage to the economy, environment, public health, and personal lives and are probably generally seen as dangerous. Nick Redding’s Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town is a good example of how meth causes a public health and environmental crisis when it ravages a town.

You might be able to convince the public that jailing meth, cocaine, and heroin addicts is not a good public policy stance. I think we might be able to get in some kind of European policy that allows heroin addicts to receive limited and clean supplies of the drug at a supply center or pharmacy. I have yet to seen evidence or proof that the majority of people can be convinced that it is good for people to be able to order heroin or crack in a marketplace like the Silk Road or on an Amazon.com type place. I have yet to see a convincing argument about why heroin should be legal like beer.

As a liberal, I think that the stance of Mr. Ulbricht and Reason is a perfect example of the perfect being the enemy of the good and Tod Kelly’s views that ideology is the enemy. It is simply not enough for some members of the libertarian movement to end the drug war or enact significant reforms but the drug war needs to end in a way that is in perfect accordance with their libertarian and anti-government ideology. This seems to be a way to not get anything instead of getting something. Is it better to have a super-regulated narcotic market for marijuana, hash, and some other drugs or is it better to have the status quo? This is not a rhetorical question because it seems inadvertently that the libertarian side chooses the status quo by refusing to see that most people probably do not want and is wary of an unregulated market for some to many substances or goods.

I am a liberal who wants to end or radically reform the War on Some Drugs. I would like to see the legalization of marijuana, hash, and MDMA for adults. But in good liberal fashion, I would like a regulated market place that takes into account environmental regulations and protections. California has a huge problem with marijuana growers being very bad for the environment.[3] I would also like to see consumers be able to get a clean and safe product that is unadulterated and this requires rules and regulations. Cocaine, Crack, Heroin, and Meth seem like different beasts to me though and those drugs still present significant risks to the public health and safety and crime. They are poison. I firmly believe that sending drug addicts to prison is immoral and counter-productive but this does not mean I think that heroin should be legal and sold without restraint. Far from it. I don’t understand the inability of some people to see a that meth and heroin are different than marijuana. Nor do I see why the Silk Road is better than a regulated and safe marketplace.

 

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187 thoughts on “Radical Libertarianism is the Drug War’s Best Friend

  1. I was wondering if we’d get into this one around here. Thanks ND!

    The comment that made me laugh hardest in re: all this was from commenter “writebastard” at BoingBoing:

    “He went full Heisenberg.

    Never go full Heisenberg.”

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      • It works both ways!

        That was really the thing. Ever since I first heard about Silk Road a while back (and then its imitators), it seemed like only a matter of time – if *I* know about it, and articles are being published about it, then surely the govt. does, and it seemed like despite all the TOR/bitcoin stuff, there was still the fact that the merchandise itself needs to physically move from point A to B – a huge failure point.

        Not to mention that TOR/Bitcoin, even BEFORE we realized the NSA could see pretty much everything on the internet, are only as good as all users always using them correctly to their fullest (and in fact, this dude seems to have been busted by some personal security slip-ups, and the interception of a physical package of fake IDs).

        I just don’t understand how he thought he’d get away with it.

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      • He was an idealist and like all idealists, he possibly did not think it through.

        Though from what I’ve read his mistakes were more of the garden-variety and not thinking it through stage of asking questions about Tor with his real name and also some other stuff got connected to his real name and the Canadians alerted the FBI.

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      • MRS,

        The Silkier Road sounds like something on Skinemax. Their version of Rome perhaps.

        Kazzy,

        Probably. I’ve seen stories about The Silk Road since it opened in mainstream news outlets. You can bet that the Feds were looking for this guy as soon as there were stories in the news.

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      • Glyph, they apparently used the US Postal Service at times. Whose dumb enough to send illegal goods, even if its only fake ideas, through the United States mail? In a package to your legally rented apartment with your name on it?

        This guy needs the best lawyers on the planet.

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  2. Yeah, people pointed to the folks making moonshine as reasons that we needed to keep Prohibition around too.

    Don’t forget Al Capone!

    The problem is that, well, Prohibition pretty much created moonshine as industry while, at the same time, creating Al Capone.

    And here we are, a century later, repeating ourselves.

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    • I’m not saying we need to keep prohibition around but there is a huge difference and a lot of options between unregulated marketplace and prohibition. This does not seem to go through the heads of many libertarians. And there is not anything wrong or immoral with saying that some substances should be more regulated than others.

      There was an explosion at UC Berkeley this week. The explosion was caused because someone or some people stole copper wiring. Do you know why thieves like to steal copper wiring? Because it is an unregulated market place. Scrap dealers do not ask questions and apparently are not required to. When I sell my books to a used book store or my clothes to a used clothing store, I am at least required to provide a photo ID and address and say that the items are my property to sell. This does not seem like it is the case in the copper wiring industry.

      http://nation.time.com/2013/10/01/copper-theft-gets-weirder-and-more-dangerous/

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      • The problem is governments are often bad at hitting that regulation sweet spot. And when they do get it right, inevitably somebody comes along & demands protectionist regulations, or safety regulations to address rare events, etc. & our politicians can’t seem to say no.

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      • On a related topic, I’m consistently amazed at how often copper wire is stolen given its actual price. The spot price for copper is like $3.30 a pound (for *copper*, not for gnarly black-market ripped up wire with insulation and your blood all over it). Given the effort, risk and return, at some point you might as well just get a job.

        I can see snagging a spool of wire or a bundle of pipes if they’re just sitting there, but cutting into live wire installations? Jeez.

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      • <iThe problem is governments are often bad at hitting that regulation sweet spot.

        I don’t disagree with this sentiment, but I do disagree with some of the connotations it seems to imply. One is that the inability to hit the sweet spot is ascribed – negatively – to government when it seems to me that no one knows in advance of a policy what constitutes the sweet spot since that spot is most often determined by practice (given some moral or value presuppositions, of course.)

        The other is that focusing on government’s failures – from a certain value scheme, no doubt – rather than it’s successes leads people to think that, like Reagan, that government, as a general rule, is the problem and not the solution. But no serious thinker actually believes that even tho they like to say for political purposes.

        My two cents anyway.

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      • Copper thieves are not the brightest of criminals. If they were, they would demonstrate it by not cutting into live wires.

        Perhaps a better way to say it is not that government is bad at hitting the sweet spot, but rather politicians are bad at seeing beyond their own interests when it comes to regulation. Our leaders seem to have lost the ability to take the long view or see the big picture outside of their own little political career.

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      • When I sell my books to a used book store or my clothes to a used clothing store, I am at least required to provide a photo ID and address and say that the items are my property to sell.

        What Orwellian nightmare of a country do you live in?

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      • Slowly but surely legal recycled metals dealers are being forced to ask for IDs. When I turned two riding lawnmower batteries in I had to have my ID recorded. It is however a state and local matter what id’s are required.

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      • “I have some friends who know what to look for.”

        sure, but i’m assuming – perhaps wrongly – that most of what’s getting dumped isn’t first editions or unique short run pressings of rare books, but clancy paperbacks and the like.

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      • ” Because it is an unregulated market place. Scrap dealers do not ask questions and apparently are not required to.”

        That is patently untrue, and a few seconds with the Googles would show it
        http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=bpc&group=21001-22000&file=21600-21610
        I suggest looking at sections 21605 and 21606:
        “Every junk dealer and every recycler in this state is
        hereby required to keep a written record of all sales and purchases
        made in the course of his or her business.
        (b) For purposes of this article, “recycler” means any processor,
        recycling center, or noncertified recycler”
        So, regulation does not seem to stop anyone…

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      • The TSA: not a horror in my opinion.

        But to the extent that it is, it’s because its regulations (if you want to call them regulations) are either too invasive or too sweeping, ie. not targeted enough (though there are also problems with the ways they try to target them, viz. racial profiling).

        IOW, the horror with the TSA, to the extent there is a horror, is that their methods are poorly designed, or poorly balanced against the real magnitude of the threat they are meant to secure transportation against. (Yes, the rarity of realizations of that threat does come into play in determining that magnitude). Its not simply that they exist to address low-frequency events. We’re going to have policies (regulations) to address threats realizations whereof occur rarely. It’s not a horror. At all.

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      • DHX,

        I think that Tom Clancy novels just end up in the recycling or trash. Used book dealers are pretty good at selecting stuff that they think will sell. There are three used bookstores in SF that I frequent and they have a rather good and interesting selection of books.

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      • “I think that Tom Clancy novels just end up in the recycling or trash. Used book dealers are pretty good at selecting stuff that they think will sell. There are three used bookstores in SF that I frequent and they have a rather good and interesting selection of books.”

        right, but we’re talking about having to prove ownership because of them being a common theft item. which is what i’m confused about because whhhhhhut.

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      • If two meth dealers have a shootout that endangers the community in general, we should attribute it entirely to meth being illegal. Without that, the meth dealer and the M-60 dealer would be exactly like the friendly guy at the CVS counter who sells cough drops.

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      • Let’s make Meth even more illegal for a few years and see what happens. If people are still shooting each other, let’s make it even more illegal.

        Let’s make it so illegal that you can’t even buy cold medicine without showing your ID to a pharmacist who writes your name in a book.

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      • Yeesh. Ever seen a real live meth head? Boy-o, they sure are some of this society’s most productive members. Enterprising, too. Burglary a specialty. They don’t cost this society anything. Yep, fine idea.

        Not. A meth head gets to picking at himself for Ghost Bugs under his skin and he will disembowel himself. Don’t make me show you the pictures.

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      • You know, for years, the UK let the pharmacists work out how to manage addictive drugs. The solution was pretty obvious: they put the word POISON on the side of the bottle. This actually worked. Any drug where overdose was possible — and the pharmacists and physicians knew, they managed it without much government interference at all.

        But you, Jaybird, you think addiction is not a problem. The concomitant crimes they commit, the way they neglect themselves and their children. The horrible diseases they get, the diseases they spread. Even their prostitution is different. They’re walking disasters, slaves to their habits.

        But that’s just fine by you. You think an addict likes his life, that he ought to have the freedom to go on destroying. If it were only himself he were destroying, you might have a point. But the blast radius around them is a lot larger than you think.

        Y’know, maybe you should get out there and see a few of these people. Get up close ‘n smell ’em. Don’t get too close, they’ll steal anything they can get their hands on. Their parents can’t trust them, they’ve long since lost custody of their children. Even the pimps don’t want anything to do with these people. They’re fucking zombies. I strongly encourage you to meet a few meth heads, especially when they’re really hitting the pipe good and strong. Maybe take a few hits yourself. It’s dirt cheap, meth. Indulge in your freedom of choice. See where it takes you. See where it takes your family. Your job. Your friends won’t let you in their houses. You’ll be in the HOV Lane to a fine life. Yep, let’s legalise meth.

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      • But you, Jaybird, you think addiction is not a problem.

        SO LET’S DOUBLE DOWN!!! Let’s make Meth *EVEN MORE* ILLEGAL!!! What’s next to do, Blaise? Do you suggest making prison sentences longer? Hey, I know! Let’s have mandatory minimum sentences for people caught with meth! The only reason “illegal” hasn’t worked so far is because we haven’t put our backs into it.

        Actually… wait. I’m having flashbacks.

        Isn’t this one of the arguments they gave against the hardest of the hard liquors during prohibition?

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      • If you learn to use the bold tag, you can repeat yourself with more gravitas. You don’t think meth is bad enough to make it illegal. I do. They do harm to others, not just themselves. But not ol’ Jaybird, not yet.

        So you think meth is equivalent to booze. Clearly you have never been around meth or its users or you would never make such a stupid noise. I’ve have seen meth heads. Kind of a problem around here.

        Why, just the other day, a couple of them were cooking up some meth and burned down a garage and the fire spread to a sheltered workshop up here.

        It’s worse than crack. If we legalise meth, it will look like a fucking plague of zombies. I really hope you do get to meet up with a meth head. Soon. So you can tell him what a great person he is and how you support his personal choices.

        Nobody just does a little meth. Nobody can control a meth habit.

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      • Blaise, he’s repeating himself because you’re not getting his point. Criminalizing it has stopped nothing.

        Say hypothetically there is a point in enforcement past which the scourge of the meth head you describe actually was eradicated. Yay, woo hoo, you did it! Now… how much freedom is left at that point? Or does it not matter?

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      • Nobody just does a little meth. Nobody can control a meth habit.

        This is where it ultimately goes for me. I’ve known people who used different recreational drugs and didn’t let it take over their lives. If that’s generally how it goes, just make the drug legal. If a minority has a problem with addiction, that’s their problem. Maybe it’s the circles I run in, but I’ve never known somebody who says, “Yeah, I do meth a few times a year to blow off some steam.” I’m open to the research that says that there’s a big silent majority like that, but I doubt it.

        If that’s not the case and the users all eventually end up unemployed and doing anything for a few bucks to buy meth, then even a legitimate meth vendor is basically just the kingpin of a giant petty crime ring.

        I’m not sure where meth sits on the list of drug substitutes. Do people do it primarily because it’s cheaper and easier to acquire than other drugs? If that’s the case, legalizing other drugs may just about eliminate the problem. Why buy meth cooked in some guy’s bathroom when you can by safe mass produced cocaine just as cheaply?

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      • Freedom, you say. Is the meth head free? Are the victims of his concomitant crimes — that is to say, the crimes Libertarians agree are crimes — are they free?

        Those who would invoke that august virtue Freedom must answer the question “Freedom from what?” A bunch of hothouse flowers who have never met up with a meth head — such as these will never compare my freedom to have a beer or two or a snort of good scotch, thanks to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Meth is different. And until you’ve seen what meth does, don’t trouble me with talk of Abstract Virtues. Were it in my power, I would sentence meth dealers to death.

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      • With meth, there is no ramp-up period. You smoke meth, you are addicted to meth. You get some meth, you’ll burn it, binging and crashing, until you run out. Every few hours, you’ll be at it again. Days at a time. Your life will come to an immediate, crashing halt. This isn’t some Carrie Nation sermon about the Evils of Drink. I don’t want to see meth heads in prison but by God and his angels, those people do not belong on the streets you live on. They need to be put in stir, confined, cleaned up — and their dealer needs to be shot between the eyes.

        You smoke meth, unless you’re cornered and confined — and that by force, you goddamn freedom lovin’ lunaticks need to see what it takes to get one of these fucks off the street — it is not a pretty sight — if society doesn’t intervene with extreme measures, you will die. It is just that simple.

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      • Blaise, I agree with you on the dangers of Meth, though I’m not sure on much else. To what ends do you think we should go to combat meth use and addiction? What aren’t we doing now that you think we should? Is there anything we’re doing now that you think might not be having sufficient effect to continue?

        Most of the recent debate has hinged on Sudafed, which I have to admit I have turned against the increasing regulation of. I was supportive of the regulation when it first happened. But it doesn’t seem to have had a lasting effect, and it’s created problems for everybody else.

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      • How do you know that? Of course, it hasn’t eliminated the problem, but how do you know that “Sure, it’s over there behind the aspirin” wouldn’t be much worse?

        Can we compare the problem we have now to the problems we had back when it was over there, behind the aspirin?

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      • The biggest argument against decriminalization is that tobacco is used regularly by one in five Americans or so. That seems to provide a template for how the availability of illegal drugs works. And even alcohol prohibition provides an argument: Once legal and commonplace, it’s really impossible to put that cat back in its bag.

        It sure seems to me that there has to be some daylight between War on Drugs and At Your Local Convenience Store In Bright Packaging.

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      • Jaybird,

        I am on the side of Mike and BlaiseP here. How do we know the legalization would not be worse? If the argument that criminalization does not stop an act 100 percent is bad, then why have laws at all? I don’t think people are convinced that laws prohibiting robbery or murder will prevent all robberies or murder. Rather they are because society considers robbery and murder to be wrong and seeks to punish those who would commit robbery and murder.

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      • Of course criminalizing some drugs has lessened use. How can anyone argue that making something illegal so that you have to buy it illicitly risking jail time doesn’t deter some users. If it was for sale at Bob’s Hot Dog and Meth Shoppe or Walgreens some people would certainly give a shot since it would be readily available, they could likely assume it was safe enough and they wouldn’t get arrested.

        Is making many drugs illegal a good idea? That depends on the drug. I certainly support legalizing some drugs with regulation. Some drugs like meth i think are just to dangerous so i know that makes me a horrible prohibitionist. I’d also support building more drug rehabs and research on drug addiction paid out of others people tax money so i’m a bad guy that way also.

        But really and truly, we should legalize a bunch of drugs but lets not pretend its some panacea. Booze helps people destroy their lives and of course they should have that right. Meth , coke, herion, etc aren’t magically better.

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      • : it sure does count. You needn’t go into too many personal details, this isn’t an inquisition here. Let me attempt to phrase this abstractly — can we say an addict is free? Is he operating on a freewill basis?

        I say he’s not free. I say his addiction compels him to continue in what can only be described as a slowly decaying suicidal orbit. Without intervention of some sort, they all burn up. Meth addicts don’t just say, “Hey, this has gotten out of control, think I’ll stop for a while.” Someone else tells them that. Someone, usually, who loves them, remembers who they were before the addiction enslaved them.

        There’s a profound difference between saying a drug should be illegal and sending addicts into the prison system. But these addicts aren’t usually sent to prison for mere possession, it’s usually on some other crime. Burglary, possession of stolen, robbery. You know, the Force ‘n Fraud stuff these Libertarians are always telling us they’re against.

        If it’s just a possession beef, they can get into a detox. But there aren’t enough beds and these guys detox in prison. Murderous. They’re constantly throwing up, having horrible psychotic fugues, they’re dangerous people.

        If we had an arbitrary chemical someone used an industrial process which killed as many people as meth, it would be illegal. But hey, that’s okay with the Libertarians. As long as someone got a ten minute buzz out of it, it’s a poster child for Liberty.

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      • Yes, robbery & murder are inherently wrong. Is getting high?

        See, the problems cited with drug use are mostly things done to obtain more. When illegal, it is artificially expensive — and lucrative for people to sell, people who respond to disputes over market access with violence. Those are arguments for ending the war on drugs, not against. Take those away & what is left is crimes of passion, which happen even with alcohol. Shit, I’m drinking right now, if the argument isn’t a moral one about use in and of itself but what people can do when under the influence, why shouldn’t I be arrested? If it’s about what people do do, then, well, we already have laws against robbery & assault.

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      • b-psycho,

        Usually not. However, I think that even if the price of drug were lower some drugs wreck such devastation that they wreck lives. Heroine and Meth are high in this category. Lower prices would not stop the associated crimes.

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      • There are still criminal penalties associated with both booze and tobacco. Sale to minors, DUI, tax stamp evasion, adulteration, false labelling, location of product in stores, a whole host of crimes associated with the manufacture, transport and sale of booze. Tobacco, pretty much same list of crimes.

        Insurance rate penalties, who’s going to take his auto insurance company to court on a discrimination charge because he got a DUI? Or his health insurer because he smokes?

        And both are so loaded up with taxes it’s hard to price the actual product any more.

        Any propositions for how to handle the manufacture and sale of a product as addictive and poisonous as crystal methamphetamine?

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      • The wacky thing from here seems to be that we’re not talking about ensuring that B&E remains illegal, or home invasions remain illegal, or driving whilst under the influence remains illegal… we’re talking about smoking a product.

        So catch them. Throw them in prison. Double down. Make it bothersome for honest people to buy Sudafed when they’ve got a sinus problem. Double down. Make “THE FACES OF METH” slideshows for various humor websites that show fat people after their first conviction and skinny people with stupid haircuts and burns on their faces for their 5th conviction. (Fifth conviction? How are they not still in prison???) Double down again. More police. More SWAT. More detectives. More people investigating the coffee pots at the Motel 6.

        Surely the only reason people are still doing it in greater numbers than in the past and that the price of meth remains low is just that you haven’t shot enough dogs.

        Get crackin’.

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      • I thought Libertarians’ first principles were all about protecting us from Force ‘n Fraud. Clearly, you cannot connect an addiction to the addicts’ behaviours — that’s okay — everyone has his pet delusions, I have mine, Lord knows. God, I believe in a God who loves us. I believe in the power of good over evil. That might qualify me as delusional.

        The difference is, I know better than to foist these beliefs onto others. But whatever other fairy tales and religious precepts I privately entertain, I don’t run around avoiding causality. I know what addicts do. I know their addictions drive them to terrible acts. I can extrapolate, using that wonderful tool, cause ‘n effect, that otherwise decent people can be enslaved to a chemical, that such enslavement is no different than any other form of enslavement, worse, really. And that such enslavement is not only evil — may I use the word evil? — and ought to be opposed by every decent human being on the basis of cause and effect.

        Not for you Libertarians. Your principles are more important than anything cause and effect might demonstrate. And I’ve seen people like that before. Religious kooks. So you must tell me why you’re any different.

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      • Heh. And despite our most earnest efforts, Force ‘n Fraud continue to bedevil our species. Stupidity, too. But when the Libertarian Kwisatz Haderach comes, all this shall be corrected. Lions shall lie down with lambs, meth heads will grow new teeth, stop burglarising people’s houses. Instead, they shall write sonnets in praise of their Liberator. The way shall be shortened.

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      • Jay and Will,
        What can we do to make meth more illegal?
        Make crack easily obtainable. And educate people that meth is just as bad as mercury.

        Seriously, I’ve not met a libertarian stupid enough to argue that mercury ought to be free to use as a recreational substance. It’s an environmental toxin, so bad that even “Freedom of Religion” ain’t an excuse to have it.

        Sudafed is psychoactive in some people — it can actually be pretty deadly.

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      • BlaiseP needs to read “Last Call” and pay attention to which historical figures he’s quoting here.

        Seriously, though. Vodka will self-destruct you just fine, and there’s a big ol’ shelf of vodka right down the street from me at the grocery store, and I can buy enough of it to kill myself today. All I have to do is prove I’m older than 21. And if for some reason that grocery store won’t sell me six liters of vodka, I can drive further down the street to the next one, and the one after that, and so on.

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      • Oh, Heffman. You’re such a card. If everyone who drank a vodka tonic became instantly addicted, stopped working and started stealing, we might still have Prohibition in effect. You really think meth can be compared to booze, doncha?

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      • “You really think meth can be compared to booze, doncha?”

        I really think that you’re saying exactly the same things about meth that people said about booze.

        And sure, maybe you’re describing true events and actual facts. But the solution to the problems caused by alcohol–the same problems you are describing meth causing–turned out to not be banning alcohol.

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      • I really think I’m talking about meth. You’re the one talking about booze. Until you have something to say about the pros and cons of tolerating crystal methamphetamine as a commodity in American society, or any reasonable restrictions on it, do me a favour, will you? Don’t talk about booze? Pretty please? Because it embarrasses me to see you saying stupid thing like this.

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      • There is one thing, one single thing, that is the scourge of modern society. It is destroying both inner cities and outer suburbs, it is creating a generation of blasted minds who will never be anything but a drain on society, it is encouraging criminals to murder and steal all for a just a taste, it allows the animal brain to take over and commit all sorts of disgusting acts, and it does all this with just a small exposure. And the name of this demon is LIQUOR. I mean, MARIJUANA. Er, wait, it’s PCP. Actually it’s crack cocaine. No, wait, it’s meth these days.

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    • It is possible to condemn this guy for soliciting murder, while still noting that if the market he was working in were legal and he could go to the police upon receiving the blackmail threats…he shouldn’t have done what he did, clearly. But the thing he was being blackmailed over (that is, creating and running an eBay-type site with identity-obscuring features) maybe shouldn’t (IMO) have been illegal, which might have prevented the blackmail, which might have avoided the haggling over hitman prices.

      Here’s something I wonder about. If all recreational drugs *were* legal, aside from the difficulties in verifying buyers’ ages to prevent minors participating, wouldn’t an online market for drugs (and booze, for that matter) be somewhat of an improvement in ameliorating some of the perceived social problems that can come along with them?

      I mean, assuming that the buyer/seller rating thing works, and that anybody selling bad product can be downrated and/or identified & prosecuted…wouldn’t it be better to get a small shipment sent directly and discreetly to the buyer’s residence, than to maintain physical storefronts? Aren’t liquor stores often seen as neighborhood blights, due to the winos hanging around, the broken bottles, and the constant threat of stickup?

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      • To their credit: Reason did just that.

        The people on reedit….not so much.

        That being said I am convinced that serious reform and liberty is needed to the War on (some) Drugs. I am not convinced that Silk Road should exist though. I consider environmental protection, worker safety, and substance purity to be very important. We know that meth can be a severe health and environmental hazard and also many of the bigger pot growers in California seem to not care at all about environmental protection and stewardship.

        So regulation and legalization it is. I’d rather have someone purchase a clean and safe but regulated product than a super-free market product.

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      • Thanks, ND.

        What is the legal definition of black mail?

        Because suppose the guy simply said, “I’m going to release names.” And then someone else said, “I’ll give you $500K not to.” And they agreed and the first guy gets his dough and doesn’t release names. Nothing illegal, right?

        But if the situation is different and the first guy says, “In exchange for $500K, I’ll continue to keep these names secret,” I’m a bit unclear as how exactly that is or ought to be criminal.

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      • As far as I know, this guy is alleged to have bought nor sold no illegal drugs personally (though obviously he did profit off the sales).

        Leave aside the murder solicitation, and even drugs specifically, for a minute.

        Let’s say I own a warehouse, and I set it up to facilitate transactions between parties who wish to retain their privacy.

        On one side of the building sellers pay an entry fee and enter, on the other side buyers do the same, with all entries and exits timed carefully, so that nobody sees anybody else entering or leaving.

        I provide building security, and disarm buyers and sellers prior to entry, so participants don’t get robbed or killed inside; and I hang a screen down the middle that prevents buyers and sellers from seeing each other, though they can speak through it to negotiate their deal (it’s a thick screen, it muffles their voices sufficiently to prevent ID).

        They must pay cash, which they slide through a hole in the screen to each other. I do not take a percentage; my profits are solely from a flat entry fee charged of all entrants.

        I myself engage in no illegal activity, and I pay all taxes on the fees I charge to enter the warehouse.

        It’s a fair bet some (maybe most) customers are negotiating deals involving hiring hitmen, evading taxation, buying and selling drugs, weapons, pornography; possibly people. I do not observe nor broker the transactions.

        Should such a warehouse be legal?

        Is there any conceivable use of such a warehouse which is not breaking some law?

        I’m inclined to say “probably not” – that since most users of such a warehouse would likely be using it for illegal purposes, then the warehouse itself should probably be illegal. Which is why I can’t be a radical libertarian.

        But I admit that idea doesn’t sit well with me. This idea that any and all transactions must always be visible to the government; that there can never be any transaction between two parties (and two only), which can be considered legitimate, legal and also supremely private.

        And should the government reach a certain state of injustice, such a hypothetical space could flip from being “immoral” to “moral”, if it allowed the secret, private coordination of activities which countermanded the depredations of an unjust government.

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      • – good question. I guess to me blackmail was implied, since the person was “threatening to expose the identities of thousands of…clients that he was able to acquire”. If the person only cared about justice, I assume they wouldn’t have threatened (it sounds like a leverage move), just done the exposing.

        But maybe it wasn’t technically blackmail (and even if it was, you can’t murder a blackmailer).

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      • Because suppose the guy simply said, “I’m going to release names.” And then someone else said, “I’ll give you $500K not to.” And they agreed and the first guy gets his dough and doesn’t release names. Nothing illegal, right?

        That’s an interesting question. I have had [unnamed employer(s)] voluntarily offer to pay me [sums of money that may be greater than zero] to sign a contract agreeing not to “disparage” them, which would include releasing factual information about them that may be embarrassing. That was clearly legal and even pretty normal.

        If I went to them and demanded payment? I’m thinking probably not so much.

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      • I read that somewhere that the guy wanted 500,000 USD.

        “Blackmail” is a non-coercive, positive-sum transaction. No one would pay more than it’s worth for the information to stay private. Although a true free-market entrepreneur would have asked for BitCoins.

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      • I would agree that that scenario both is and should be legal.

        Is it the threat that makes blackmail illegal? What if it was structured not as a threat, but as a promise. “I’ve been staying quiet for free. But now I want to talk. If you want me to stay quiet, pay me.”

        Imagine another scenario… I come by each week and mow your lawn. For free. We both seem happy with this deal. You like getting your lawn mowed for free and I don’t mine mowing it. But then one day I say, “Hey. I need to make some dough. Pay me $20 or I stop mowing the lawn.” That wouldn’t be blackmail, would it? So why would it be if, instead of lawn mowing, we were talking about keeping information secret.

        So long as the acts themselves are legal, I struggle to see how such brokering is or ought to be illegal.

        SEND UP THE BURT LIKKO SIGNAL!

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      • Your warehouse provides an interesting case.

        Here is one way to think of it: Are the deals being made legal? If not, what is your legal obligation and/or culpability?

        But suppose they weren’t making deals. Suppose they were actually carrying out other crimes. Suppose one of the “buyers” brought his mark with him. The mark walked in voluntarily, unaware of his fate. Once inside, he is shot dead through the curtain. An illegal act, yes? What is your legal obligation or culpability there?

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      • I think that’s actually extortion rather than blackmail, though blackmail could properly be seen as a subset of extortion.
        Robbery – use of force to take without consent
        Extortion – use of threat of force to take with consent
        In this case, the threat of force was the force of the state.

        I believe the element of threat of force is missing in blackmail.

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    • I think the questions ND’s asking is: Were Al Capone’s actions helping to end prohibition? Were the moonshiners insistence that they be free of government regulation helping to end prohibition?

      It’s a different question than whether the war on drugs/prohibition created the problem in the first place. I would bet we (almost) all agree that the criminal enterprise around drugs was/is created by the war on drugs, and that the sanest response is decriminalization/legalization. I see ND pointing out to those on our side of this issue that their arguments/actions aren’t helping persuade people to change the laws.

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      • More or less. My argument is that as a liberal, I think the War on Drugs is a major problem and evil and needs significant reform.

        However, libertarians seem so wielded to having everything be super free-market and like the Silk Road that they can’t accept legalized but heavily regulated marketplace that would address the concerns of parents and everyday citizens. The libertarian side of that argument just seems to hand waive away the concerns of people who need to be on the side of reform for change to happen.

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      • But the only reason the Silk Road existed is because it conducted transactions that Amazon wouldn’t touch. And the profit/risk calculation only works out for something like heroin and computer viruses, and not say, out of state wine, which is of varying legality to sell on the internet.

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      • Actually, Amazon does touch outfits like Silk Road. AWS and EC2 are notorious for hosting all sorts of crap, malware and skeeviness. Some places simply block EC2 out of hand, it’s gotten so bad. Amazon has a long and intricate relationship with Tor and anonymity.

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    • Actually, the biggest problem with Prohibition is the biggest problem with pot.

      Too many drinkers, who weren’t going to stop because it was against the law. To boil it down: If a certain percentage of your population is going to ignore a law, then it’s not really going to be an enforceable law.

      Make booze illegal? Kinda tough when half the country is gonna keep swigging. Same with pot.

      Now, heroin or meth or a few other things? I dunno, is the percentage of users high enough to amount to, well, widespread civil disobedience? (Honestly, I think not).

      Laws require more than just police and courts — it requires enough of society to buy into it, and to exert societal pressure as well as legal pressure.

      (There’s also the notion of substitute goods — one can see a ban on, say, vodka being more enforceable than a blanket ban on booze — because most people would accept another hard liquor rather than violate the law. That might affect usage patterns if you legalized some drugs but not others).

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      • I would agree here. Prohibition was doomed to failure from the start. Marijuana eased its way into the popular culture and imagination and is now the same as beer and alcohol in the way people use it.

        I think it is incredibly hard to come up with statistics about how many people use harder drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin. Much smaller than pot but probably still a number that would surprise people. That is partially the problem of taboo, people don’t talk about things that much.

        When I was in one of my schoolings, I heard about a post-finals party ex post facto. A friend threw the party and I told him I was upset for not getting an invite. The response was that I was not invited because my friend did not think I did drugs. Now I have no idea what was consumed at that party but my guess is that it was more than pot. I’ve been to plenty of parties with people smoking pot.

        I’ve seen people be fairly blaise on facebook about using MDMA and other club drugs.

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      • NewDealer,
        “I think it is incredibly hard to come up with statistics about how many people use harder drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin.”
        … why not just talk to the drug dealers in your neighborhood? That would probably make a nice floor on drug use. [assuming that you don’t live in either an extremely rich or poor neighborhood]

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      • “Excuse me, are you perchance a drug dealer? I only ask because you’re kind of loitering out here and you look like a shifty fellow. I swear this has nothing to do with your race, you’re just generally shifty-looking and that’s all I promise. Anyway, I was wondering if perhaps you could inform me what your customer base looks like. In terms of numbers. Who am I? I’m a guy who contributes on this blog, you see. Hey, where are you going?”

        Then again, I’m just a white guy that doesn’t look or act like a drug dealer. I have no official capacity that I could present to them. The government might have an easier time. They might talk to me if I said “Excuse me, sir, I am with the government, are you perchance…”

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      • Kim,

        How would I know who the drug dealers are?

        I live in a gentrified neighborhood. There are some buildings that I know of as being “hold outs” from the old days but it is mainly young professionals and families.

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      • Too many drinkers, who weren’t going to stop because it was against the law.

        This reads to me like “too many masturbators, who weren’t going to stop masturbating because it was against the law.”

        The emphasis seems to be upon the intransigent people who enjoyed unauthorized pleasure rather than on the nosy types.

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      • – I think the substitute goods notion is an important one in this discussion.

        (A) Heroin, particularly street heroin, is a substitute good to other opiates, and I have to imagine not a very desirable one at that. I don’t think anyone wants to inject an unknown mix of that could be as little as 10% active opiates and 90% god-knows-what added by god-knows-how-many middlemen, directly into their veins. That’s actually less pure than the raw opium from which it was synthesized, which is about 12% morphine. If you could just buy pure opium, affordably enough that smoking or eating it isn’t an unimaginable waste, II can’t imagine the heroin market would last long at all.

        The entire enterprise of refining heroin from opium is for the benefit of the smugglers, to maximize the value of a kilo of material successfully smuggled across a border. It’s the same process that led to the sudden move from beer to hard liquor in the 1920’s – who would haul twelve barrels of beer off a ship in the dead of night, when a single barrel of whiskey has as much alcohol? Consumers might have preferred beer, but they couldn’t get it.

        (B) Anonymous online markets are a substitute good for both illegal street purchases (probably better than those) and legal purchases (a vastly inferior substitute there).

        Would you buy moonshine online from someone you know nothing about, except that they’ve decided to take up moonshining as a profession? I wouldn’t – the value of knowing that the facilities are inspected, that nasty additives haven’t been added to stretch production, that the declared 40% ABV on the bottle is probably reliable to +/- 0.1% – that’s huge. If I could buy weed, knowing that safe pesticide practices were followed in its production and the facility was inspected to ensure it, that the chance of its being dusted with PCP is nil, that when it says 8% THC on the package, it’s accurate – that would be worth one heck of a premium.

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      • “How would I know who the drug dealers are?

        I live in a gentrified neighborhood. There are some buildings that I know of as being “hold outs” from the old days but it is mainly young professionals and families.”

        some of those young professionals and family members do drugs. and someone among them supplies at least some others of them as a local resaler.

        i presume sf is like nyc and has delivery services as well?

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      • NewDealer,
        I noted that you went to parties where pot was available. Doesn’t seem too big of a stretch to find the drug dealer at said parties (or ask a friend where he’s scoring it), and surely he’d be willing to tell you if he’s capable of selling harder stuff.

        Hell, doing a simple survey of “how many” drug dealers there are, and how much they make, might give you enough right there.

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      • Dragonfrog,

        The irony of heroin is that it was developed and marketed by Bayer as a non-addictive substitute for opium/morphine. You used to be able to get “tincture of heroin” as an over-the-counter drug.

        dhx,

        Yes, we probably have delivery services. I really don’t have much of a desire to experiment with drugs or do minor sociology. I have some friends in NYC and SF that are fairly regular to regular pot smokers but in the SF-Bay Area, marijuana is de facto legal and getting a medical marijuana card is the easiest thing in the world. Though I heard LA is where it is absolutely comical in terms of getting medical marijuana cards. You can walk down Manhattan Beach and just look for someone in a green medical coat and have one in a half hour or so.

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  3. This just proves that the powerful get richer,
    and the less powerful go to jail (not that said
    “less powerful” person didn’t deserve it).

    Let me know when the Feds start prosecuting
    corporations for putting out hits on folks.

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  4. First of all, a quibble: you might want to remove LSD from the “super harmful” list. Check out this study from the Lancet, which in terms of harm places it way down there with MDMA and mushrooms. Honestly, there’s probably a better case for legalization of LSD than there is for MDMA (although both should be legal IMHO, albeit regulated).

    My larger objection, though, is that your position has a poor theory of change. The way that policies change, generally, is that true believers advocate an extreme position, and society gradually shifts in their direction, if they’re successful. For example, if a large group of people mobilize to end Social Security, they probably won’t manage it completely, but they could force benefit cuts. And it’s much easier to mobilize people around a purer vision than around compromises and half-measures–the types of people who are willing to be politically active generally have pretty far-reaching preferences about what policies they desire, be it single-payer health care, abolishing the welfare state, or (to use a 19th century example) completely instituting racial equality. If you start by advocating the “politically realistic” option, you’re likely to end up with much less than that.

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    • As a follow-up: even if you’re not a radical libertarian who wants to legalize heroin, if you’re somebody who wants to end the drug war, it’s not in your best interest politically to punch those who are. They’re your allies, and they’re making your job easier by pushing for extreme measures. Even if you don’t endorse their policy position, you should minimize your differences with them, and instead use it to pivot to talking about how insane efforts to keep the drug war going are.

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    • Leftists like to advocate this theory all the time when it comes to the welfare state. Under their view of history, we got the New Deal/Great Society/European welfare state because there were real radicals running about during the early and mid-20th century and the ownership class let moderate liberals create a welfare state in order to avoid a communist revolution.

      I think that this theory is really dumb and that there is no evidence to support it. A cursory glance of American history shows that the moderate reforms of the New Deal and Great Soceity were opposed with the same fervor that was used to oppose communism. In fact, many on the American Right made no distinguishment between the New Deal and Stalinism just like the current right does not distinguish between the ACA and NHS. J. Edgar Hoover went so far as to believe that Civil Rights for people of color was a Communist plot to undermine America.

      True Believers are basically irrelevant to change and make things worse by refusing to compromise at all. We saw the same thing happen during Prohibition, when the Drys passed the Volstead Act and refused any reform to even allow low-alcohol level beer and wine.

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      • If true believers aren’t the ones driving political change, who is? Who do you think forces an issue onto the agenda? Who forces politicians to adopt it as a priority? Who decides that this issue, out of all the possible issues, is deserving of attention? If anything, your example of the prohibitionists proves my point. They were extreme–and they got exactly what they wanted, a constitutional amendment to ban booze. The same goes for Grover Norquist and his tax-cut agenda, or the abolitionists in the 1850s and ’60s. If it weren’t for people willing to organize campaigns like the ones in Washington and Colorado, then weed would still be illegal there, and legalization certainly wouldn’t be part of the national conversation.

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      • I think Dan is correct that True Believers are often critical to driving change. However it takes more than just TB’s, there have to be some moderate types who can work with the system to push it on the chosen vector. What we see in discussions of the WOD, like this thread a bit, is a group of people who all believe to a great degree that the WOD is bad. The TB’s castigate the moderate types for being squishes and the moderates say “we agree with each other a lot more than with drug warriors so why are you yelling at us?” We would be better off with the moderates and TB’s together a bit more instead of debating purity vs pragmatism since we need both.

        Lee- That Conservatives have a massive blindness about anything to the left of them doesn’t really make the thesis incorrect. Yeah C’s can’t tell the diff between FDR and Stalin, but there was a communist movement in this country in first half of the century. FDR’s third way can easily be argued to have headed off the commies at the pass.

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      • greginak, I’m pretty sure that there was no way in hell that Communism had any chance of coming into power even without FDR and I say that as a big FDR admirer. The Constitution is not exactly kind to third parties, it never was. Large swathes of the American population seem to possess hereditary immunity to radical leftism even though their equivalents in other countries really go for it. Having a widespread Communism movement in America would require a divine act.

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      • Lee, i agree the communist party was never going to be an effective or long lasting third party for the reason that our Constitution doesn’t work well for any third party and this country has never showed that kind of left ward trend. However there going to be some sort of leftward move just like in all the other western countries. FDR made that leftward move work and work so well its influence lasted for decades. If FDR had botched the job then that might have strengthen a failing commie party that would prevented the modern D party from being what it was.

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      • The argument you dislike is not just about getting conservatives to agree to the New Deal in order to stave off even more radical change. The argument also is that the radicals got support from a constituency that FDR depended on, and that they made such programs as SSA and Wagner Act more agreeable to him as a president. I’m thinking particularly of Brinkley’s study of Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and Francis Townsend (“Voices of Protest”).

        Also, you and Greg are correct that the communists never really stood a chance to gain power. But I’m not sure that outcome was so clear at the time to those who lived through it. Marxist-Leninism had a much more welcome hearing in the US during the 1930s and mid 1940s than it ever would have again. And the communists’ program wasn’t only to gain political power, it was to gain industrial power through “popular front” union organizing. And on that level, the possibilities open for them to succeed were much stronger.

        (Caveat: I’m not trying to red-bait 1930s unionism or unionism in general here. I’m just saying that the communists really did try to use 1930s unionism to their advantage and sometimes succeeded. I’m also not trying to be an apologist for communists. Not only do I tend to dislike fanaticism, but I think that by the mid 1930s, it should’ve been clear what the nature of the Stalinist regime was, even if the true extent of the damage he and his caused was not then fully knowable.)

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  5. Jaybird is right on the merits. This guy tells us little or nothing about the effects of legalized drugs. When we don’t let good eggs sell it, then it will be sold by bad eggs. The badness of the eggs are, if anything, an argument for legalization. Not a conclusive one, one, though, because sometimes the danger of the stuff being widely available outstrips the badness of illicit trade.

    As far as optics go, though, NewDealer is right. This sort of thing does reflect negatively Fair or not, this sort of thing is damaging to the cause. It’s a variation of The Barry Cooper Problem. Cooper being a former drug cop who was well-situated to become an awesome spokesperson. He has damn near the perfect biography for it. Unfortunately, he comes across as someone you wouldn’t trust to watch your dog, much less influence policy.

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    • I don’t know if it’s just optics. I read the OP as arguing against the absolutist position on drug legalization as being unpersuasive or unhelpful.

      After I read Our Right to Drugs during high school I talked up anybody who would listen about our fundamental right to control over our bodies, and the consequent immorality and injustice of our countries drug laws. These discussions were not well received by anyone who didn’t already feel the same way. These conversations go much better when arguing that decriminalization/legalization would decrease crime, lower incarceration costs, and help alleviate the social problems associated with drug use. Part of being persuasive is arguing on other people’s turf, and speaking to their concerns.

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      • My eleventh grade health teacher begrugindly gave me an A for a paper where I argued that legalizing drugs would be a health benefit because they could be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. She said she disagreed but my points were well made.

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      • LeeEsq,

        Her begrudging acceptance of your argument is interesting. It makes me wonder of if people back in the day (and in this day, too) believed that a governmental prohibition was functionally indistinguishable from a traditional cultural prohibition in that simply recognizing that something was prohibited sufficed for people to actively refrain from engaging in it?

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      • I think that you talking about fundamental rights to control your own body opens up social space, though, for the people talking about alleviating the social problems of drug use. If you weren’t there, then they would be the most extreme pole of the debate, which is a position that a lot of people find uncomfortable. Your presence drags the whole debate further towards the pole of complete legalization, even if that’s not the final answer to the problem. And the partial-legalizers should welcome your participation, because you and New Dealer are a lot closer on preferences than New Dealer and the drug warriors.

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      • I think your right that extreme or fringe positions can open up space for debate, though they can also harm their own cause by presenting an easy target to those in opposition. The slippery slope, while not best argumentation technique, is nonetheless widely used.

        Which is why there should be a distinction made between those that will compromise their possibly extreme beliefs and those that won’t. The true-believers who won’t compromise are much more likely pushed out of (what Mal Blue called) the circle of reasonable discourse (and hence influence the space for debate, or the debate itself), while also providing a handy caricature for the opposition.

        To use an example from your comment above. The abolitionists who advocated not just freeing the slaves, and/or their equal rights under the law, but AA’s integration into white society or the violet overthrow of slavery (both perfectly moral positions in this day and age) might have have done serious harm to the cause they cared so deeply about. Though again, the true believers in ending slavery surely held extreme positions for their time, and their efforts were instrumental in bringing about the end of slavery.

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      • I think that gets it exactly right. It’s foolish to vote against Obamacare because you’re holding out for single payer. But it’s not foolish at all to openly advocate for single payer, or to loudly state your preference for it, or even to primary somebody who’s opposed to it now and again.

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      • Galen,

        I would say that argument is somewhat unpersuasive to me and feels like a fever dream.

        I agree with it to a certain extent but not completely because I think that food and drug safety is important. Let’s use Accutane as an example. Accutane is known to help with severe acne. It is also known to cause very severe Crohn’s Disease as a side-effect and this could disable people. I would not fault a government or think they were committing a great evil by saying that the risks of Accutane outweigh the benefits and banning it from the market.

        The thing I don’t get about libertarianism is that it sees government as being alien and hostile to the people. This might make sense in a dictatorship but not so much in a Democratic Republic like the United States or much of the Western world. We elect our politicians and they vote on policies (good and bad) and we reelect them or not. So if people think that the FDA is good and keep on reelecting politicians who support the FDA (as an example), are they really losing the fundamental right of control over their bodies.

        I do believe that people have autonomy over their bodies to a certain or even large extent but there are times when it is perfectly acceptable for government to make a decision and ban something risky or dangerous or uncertain. Or to enact certain public health measures like mandatory vaccination and flouridation.

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      • That can cut both ways, though. Having an extreme flank can have one of two effects:

        1) It can shift the window of the debate, like you say. Or…

        2) It can cause people to believe that supporters of the middle ground are actually biting their lip and have something more extreme in mind.

        For instance in #2, the more pro-lifers who argue that rape victims should have to carry their babies to term, the harder it becomes for other pro-lifers to argue for more moderate steps like late-term abortion. Talking about banning guns does not actually help pass laws restricting gun sales.

        For #1, though, I would actually agree with your fer-instance. I don’t think people advocating for single-payer hurt PPACA at all and may indeed have helped.

        So the most effective tactic is going to vary from issue to issue, stance to stance.

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      • ND,

        I agree, there are a number of perfectly legitimate reasons for society to regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of products that we ingest. Lecturing people about how all drugs laws and regulations violated our right to personal autonomy was a phase (one I’m sure many of my friends and family were happy didn’t last very long).

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      • The thing I don’t get about libertarianism is that it sees government as being alien and hostile to the people.

        There’s a reason for this. Inherently with “representative government” there is a gap between the knowledge & interests of government officials and that of the people they are alleged to represent. Government officials have power & access such that they can act in ways that primarily — or even solely — benefit themselves and their peers, to the ignorance of the public. The more distance and complexity between them and us, the more dispersed our views & confused our understanding of what’s going on, thus the less influence the average person seriously has on what is conducted in their name. Result: a politics ran largely by elites, with “we the people” helplessly dragged along within a particular status quo regardless of who is in office.

        True, it’s more blatant in dictatorships, but it’s still here. We usually matter very little in practice.

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      • +1 to B-Psycho. We can’t use the fact of election of representatives to assume government has identical interests to the public or even necessarily has our best interests at heart. It’s impossible to accurately calculate a multitude of interests outside a market,* there is inherently a divergence of both interests and knowledge between regulators and regulated,** and both the principal-agent and the adverse selection problems are unavoidable.

        The genius of democracy is not that we can reliably elect good representatives, but that we can unelect those who stray intolerably far from their constituency’s median.

        *which is not to say markets can calculate all our interests accurately; some are such that functioning markets can’t be developed around them.
        **the regulators often have more technical knowledge, but the regulated (collectively, not individually) have more knowledge of their own values (both ethical values and material values).

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      • The republic is a tacit admission raw democracy won’t work. Someone has to make the tough decisions. We grant our representatives enough mandate, for enough time, to do the needful. A pure democracy is little more than anarchy.

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      • I have to wonder how often a “true democracy” would reverse its own decisions.

        I was watching The Eyes of Laura Mars a month or two back, and Tommy Lee Jones is wearing a turtleneck in that one a lot. That really struck me as odd, because I tend to think of TLJ as the guy from Men in Black.
        If popular opinion can put a turtleneck on TLJ, there’s no telling what other horrors it might wreak.

        And I have to wonder if the guy’s sitting around his house in a turtleneck right now . . .

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      • How often does raw democracy change its mind? It doesn’t “change” its mind. It throws out the old one and replaces it entirely. There’s no collective memory to raw democracy, every issue is completely fresh ‘n new. It can’t implement any long-term plans because it has no long-term strategy, no sense of continuity.

        Écrasez l’infâme. Crush the infamous. Raw democracy has no vision of correction, of repair, much less persuasion or use of process. All must be destroyed and made anew. That such a tactic is not only hugely inefficient but also tends to re-create the same stupidity never seems to enter the picture, because raw democracy has no memory.

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      • “Accutane is known to help with severe acne. It is also known to cause very severe Crohn’s Disease as a side-effect and this could disable people.”

        Aspirin is known to help as a pain reliever. It is also known to cause severe damage to the liver as a side-effect and this can (and does) kill people.

        Soooo we should ban aspirin, then?

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      • Aspirin is known to help as a pain reliever. It is also known to cause severe damage to the liver as a side-effect and this can (and does) kill people.

        Nitpick: You’re thinking of acetaminophen, (aka paracetomol, aka tylenol). Aspirin is much less dangerous in most cases, at least for adults.

        Aspirin’s most common side effect is stomach discomfort and minor GI bleeding; the main actually dangerous side effect is Reye’s syndrome, not liver damage.

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      • And, yes, given the severe damage acetaminophen can cause and the fact that there are much safer alternatives, banning it as an over-the-counter drug makes perfect sense.

        Not disagreeing, exactly, since putting Tyleonol behind the counter isn’t TYRANNY or anything, but my life would be slightly more difficult (if also, possibly, safer) if they did that.

        A little while back my boy had a febrile seizure. Apparently can be triggered by fever in some small children; usually harmless (unless they injure themselves) but pretty terrifying.

        Afterwards the doctor advised us to to give him something to reduce anything more than a slight fever pretty much immediately upon noticing it (I was raised to not worry about a fever unless it went over, say, 101-102 for any length of time, and in fact if possible to let the fever run its course, as it is performing a function).

        We can’t give him aspirin (Reye’s), and we’ve noticed with both kids that ibuprofen only seems to work sometimes for fever reduction (other times, it seems to have no effect on fever whatsoever).

        So we keep both acetaminophen and ibuprofen on hand, so that if we dose with ibuprofen and the fever is not coming down, we can use the acetaminophen.

        Again, it wouldn’t kill us to put acetaminophen behind the counter (and in point of fact, we try not to use it on them, nor do we often use it ourselves, because we’ve known for a long time about its dangers); just wanted to point out that ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not always otherwise equivalent.

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      • “Point. Though since in that circumstance your pediatrician would certainly write you a prescription for it, just an inconvenience.”

        Unless one doesn’t have easy access to a doctor. Also, if it becomes a prescription only drug, I imagine it will become more expensive.

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    • I think it is more than just the optics but the all or nothing philosophy that something like Silk Roads represents.

      It is clear that voters will support a heavily regulated narcotics market. Colorado and Washington voters legalized marijuana and this goes further than Amesterdam but they did so in a extremely regulated kind of way. They did it in a way to make sure your next door neighbor does not turn his or her apartment/house into a place where people come at all hours to buy marijuana.

      This sort of legalization still seems unacceptable to many libertarians like the guy who ran the silk road. I have no problem with home brewing beer or vinting wine or growing some marijuana for personal use. I would have a problem if my neighbor turned his apartment into a late-night bar because his home brewed beer was that tasty.

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    • sometimes the danger of the stuff being widely available outstrips the badness of illicit trade

      This is perhaps the most sensible single phrase ever typed on the topic of the War on Drugs at this site. It’s sad that that is true, but I think it might be true.

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    • Point. Though since in that circumstance your pediatrician would certainly write you a prescription for it, just an inconvenience.

      And about a 50x increase in the price. Doctors don’t give you face time or signatures for free.

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      • How many doses per year are you amortizing over? My household goes through less than a bottle of Advil per year. Unless that prescription is good for a pretty long time, that’s a substantial bump in the per-bottle cost.

        Does anybody know how much extra pharmacies charge for the “service” of getting something off the special prescription shelf?

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    • I am in agreement as well.

      But the one thing going through my mind as I was reading the article (and I was hoping someone else would bring this up in the comments) is the issue of prescription medications.
      Everyone seems to run right to the Crack / Meth / Heroin argument– what about ether? What about poppers, and other inhalants?
      Should all medications be available without a prescription, just because somebody wants them? No more breaking into the pharmacy for oxycontin– just walk up to the counter at the pharmacy and say, “Fill. It. Up.”

      I’m not down for going back to leaded paint on the walls.

      Sorry guys, but this conservative believes that regulating business and industry is a legitimate role of government.
      When we get down to the finer points of how much and why, there might be some differences.

      But currently, we have one of the greatest human rights catastrophes on the planet, in that some 3% of our population is incarcerated.
      The proposition is this: If you take a Spaniard, a German, and an American, put them in a room together, and come back five years later, you will consistently find that the American has committed three times as many criminal acts during that span than either of the others– which I find to be self-falsifying.

      That is, I don’t think the issue is truly one so much of chemical enhancement, but more of our views on the role of law enforcement.

      Looks like a whole different rabbit hole from over here.

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      • will,
        Meth’s an environmental toxin, just like mercury and ought to be regulated as such. If what you’re going to put in your body is just going to hurt you, take it.
        (I’m also against some of the current pharm laws, which seem designed to milk money out of people, for very little reason.).

        Prescription drugs ought to be those that have a high side-effect rate (or, alternatively, a high drug interaction rate). I don’t mind if a doc is prescribing heroin or cocaine, if that’s the best policy.

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  6. I agree completely. For one thing, murder-for-hire has no place in my libertarianism. For another, I have no problem with the idea that if you sell something or human consumption you have implicitly claimed that it is fit for human consumption, and you have misrepresented your product if it is not so. That means I have no problem with regulations regarding product safety.

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  7. I’m pobably about as hard core libertarian as anyone can be, and I’m all for making every “illegal” drug legal. Yes, generally I’m a purist, but I also think movent towards my end goal is a lot better than the status quo. I’m also cool with some regulation in terms of selling it and I’d damn well prefer all the money that is currently spent in the criminal justice system elated to drugs to be used to tread addicts rather than lock them up. In my calculus, the level of freedom would go up for everyone and there would be actually be help for those needed it.

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    • “Treating addicts” is a whole other ballpark.
      Our current method of treating heroin addicts is to give them methadone– that is, get them addicted to something even more addictive while they’re still addicted to the heroin, in hopes that the jonesing for the new dope will make the junkie play ball to keep the gravy train running.

      And if you’ve ever noticed, most junkies OD after coming out of treatment.
      That’s because they come out and think they’re going to need as much as they did before to get high, but the tolerance has worn off a bit.

      NOTE TO ALL JUNKIES LEAVING TREATMENT:
      Start small.

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    • Frankly, this is a really stupid idea. We regulate mercury because it’s an environmental toxin.
      So’s meth. By using meth, one makes the area one lives in uninhabitable to others, for long after the bloke has blown himself up.

      I don’t think any of the other drugs are this toxic, but please, keep meth banned!

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      • There are lots of industrial processes that produce hazardous wastes as a byproduct.

        The difference is that since these processes produce a legal product, they can be done in a controlled facility that is set up to deal with those wastes, rather than a cheap hotel room where you dump the effluent down the bathtub drain.

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      • Jim,

        That is part of my argument. I think Ulbricht would be unable to accept a regulated market place that mandate safe production. He would set up silk road anyway and find someway to market for the sake of his free-market economics.

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      • The problem with claiming a thing is toxic is that it’s really a matter of levels; i.e., an ill-defined term.
        As the saying goes, the solution to pollution is dilution.
        But that’s not always the case; as with benzene, boron, etc.

        Water can be toxic at high levels.

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  8. Forgive me if the question was addressed in the comments, but where are all these libertarians who don’t understand the difference between regulation and prohibition? Can’t say I’ve run across any of them.

    More to the point, and this was addressed in the comments, it makes little difference if you or I or anyone else thinks markets like Silk Road are a good thing. Black markets arise whenever, either by prohibition or regulation, demand for goods or services exceeds the legally available supply. So, yes, there will be other, more careful cyber-markets if, indeed, they don’t exist already.

    Finally, assuming the question is to be decided consequentially, one need not try to pretend crack is a harmless drug or that middle school children should have ready access to heroin in order to contend that the cost of prohibition in terms of both wealth and human suffering is too great even for those drugs. Personally, I think a better case can be made for controlling the availability of antibiotics than of opiates, but then I have little faith the state will manage to control either efficiently, let alone fairly, a good example being the absurd inhumanity of withholding adequate pain medication to the terminally ill..

    And it is the liberal, it seems to me, who must bears the burden of proof and persuasion for that question; that is, can the state be trusted to regulate much of anything without the costs, broadly understood, exceeding whatever putative benefit such regulation is claimed to produce?

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    • This Liberal might respond with the following proof: insofar as any agency can be made trustworthy, it must be made accountable. The free market in antibiotics has led to two destructive trends: the adulteration of the product and the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases such as gonorrhea. In the USA, the sale and distribution of antibiotics has been heavily regulated. Other nations’ failure to regulate, cases in point: India and Mexico, where fake medicine has been compounded and sold, has led to disastrous consequences.

      How do you propose to measure the downsides of not-regulating? The USA, in the form of FDA, has a long track record of attenuating these problems. The Free Market gives us adulterated product and it’s an ongoing problem.

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      • Well, gee-wiz, I did cite antibiotics as a possible exception to what I think is a pretty good general rule. Anyway, as I recall from the last time I looked at any actual data, MRSA rates were about the same in the U.S. and Latin America (taken as a whole). Moreover, much of the blame for the rise of strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria lay at the feet of (regulated) physicians overprescribing antibiotics to their patients for diseases they knew full well to be viral. So it’s hard to see an overwhelming cost/benefit advantage of the FDA in that case.

        As far as safety and quality control goes, it seems to me that the FDA has been a mixed blessing, at best, since the infamous Thalidomide crisis of my early youth. Can a convincing case be made that a drug that has been found safe by Germany still needs to await the costly and time-consuming process of being vetted by the FDA. Moreover, even acknowledging that consumer protection issues can’t be dismissed with hand-waving and cries of “Free Markets!” it doesn’t follow that the government should be the only or best mechanism for addressing those concerns. Consumer Reports, Underwriters Laboratories, etc. are examples of non-governmental quality assurance organizations and they have, as far as I can tell, the advantage of being comparatively free of political pressures, bureaucratic inefficiencies and regulatory capture.

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      • Don’t be that way. You did ask, however rhetorically, for an answer from a Liberal, answering your question, however begged the question and inane the basis — can the state be trusted to regulate much of anything without the costs, broadly understood, exceeding whatever putative benefit such regulation is claimed to produce.

        Oh ye of of little faith (and far less wit), you brought up antibiotics, saying the state hasn’t managed them efficiently, or fairly, with much handwaving and harrumphing about Adequate Pain Medication. I have just finished watching someone die over a longish period of time. His pain was managed very nicely. If he needed a whack of morphine, he pressed the button. Worked very nicely, thank you for asking. Those who make such statements ought to keep current with trends in hospice care.

        But all this is quite irrelevant. Do you have any guiding strategies for managing the market in crystal methamphetamine? Do you know that Ritalin is a close analogue of methamphetamine? Very similar molecules. It’s very widely prescribed for unmanageable children. Good ol’ Dexedrine, still used, still available for treating narcolepsy.

        I’ve asked you a question, one you’ve avoided: how does one go about measuring the downsides of not-regulating? Squirting much squid ink about political pressures and other non-governmental agencies — none of which kept Thalidomide off the American market — for that you may thank the FDA and a very brave researcher, Frances Kelsey. Those non-governmental agencies, the drugs firms? All said Kelsey was lying. Managed to fool the UK into accepting the drug.

        No, D.A. when it comes to measuring human suffering, the burden of proof and persuasion, I will go with the guy who doesn’t have a financial interest in the outcome.

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      • It’s very widely prescribed for unmanageable children

        You mean for ADD and ADHD? Quite a fascinating little biochemical issue, that.

        I find it deeply amusing that stimulants calm them down, which I also find pretty darn compelling evidence against the idiots who claim it’s just poor behavior. I’m pretty sure giving stimulants to badly behaving children doesn’t settle them down.

        It’s probably a bit over-diagnosed (it’s really hard to tell, honestly — people with ADHD tend to self-medicate, caffeine being quite common — and as they grow older, learn ways to cope and get around it. It’s not like there’s a baseline “X percent should have it” and we can say “Oh noes, we’re at X+1 percent”).

        Only true test for it is an fMRI — it can highlight the little irregularities quite nicely — but you can fake it with a much simpler test: Give the kid a stimulant and see if it settles them down. Much cheaper and easier if you suspect ADHD to just stick them on meds for a week and see if it winds them up or slows them down. (In fact, teachers with the proper training have cheerfully administered doses of soda to ADHD kids — the sugar and caffeine won’t hype them up, but settle them down).

        Then there’s the lovely dark side — idiots parents whose kids are basically non-functional without meds, and who don’t give them. My personal favorite story was one wherein the mother said she just couldn’t get her kid to take his meds (and he was an unholy terror without them, god help anyone nearby).

        It was all I could do not to suggest putting his pill in a block of cheese, because that’s what works for my dog. (I believe, after being flat out told ‘either medicate your kid or we yank him from regular classes and shove him in special education where people with training can at least mitigate the worst of his issues” she took to hiding it in pudding. Which would also work on my dog, I bet.)

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  9. A point I haven’t seen addressed here is that he had some 26,000 Bitcoins worth about $3.6M when he was arrested. So now we have Bitcoins, which governments were already looking at sideways, right in the middle of this mess.

    Fully expect governments to view possession of Bitcoins as probable cause that the bearer had sold something illegal, sought to purchase something illegal, was evading taxes, etc. And not for good reason, i hasten to add.

    So the feds take down Silk Road and Bitcoins, at least as you know them, go down with it in the end. And you really only have this asshole and his ilk to blame.

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      • Yes the government took possession of the bitcoins. Its what we would call evidence. I definitely expect that there is going to be more investigation into the dark internet and bitcoins because both infringe on several government powers and responsibilities.

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      • What I mean is that now that they have bit coins, they can fully engage in bitcoin transactions, something (I presume) they couldn’t do in the past. This gives them much greater ability to infiltrate this world. Which is either good or bad news, depending on where you stand.

        But it seems to me that the acquisition of such a substantial load of bitcoins further empowers the government. Do I have that right? Did they already have bitcoins? Should we assume that they did even if we don’t know for sure? Bitcoins, as I understand them, allow participation in a certain part of the world that the government now has.

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  10. Okay, let me get this straight, Blaise, difficult though that will be for someone with as little wit as me. Not fully answering your comment constituted an evasion? Anecdata about one patient who you claim did receive adequate pain medication is supposed to be a sufficient refutation of the myriad stories to the contrary?

    But now to your question. No doubt the best way to evaluate the comparative advantages and disadvantages of regulation versus non-regulation would be to set up a controlled experiment or even an uncontrolled experiment, for that matter. For example, at least with respect to prescription drugs, we might look to see whether residents of, say, El Paso, who have de facto open access to a wide array of controlled substances just by driving over to Juarez, have been adversely affected as a result. As far as I know, the answer is no but if there is actual research showing that there is, well, that’s one for your team. (And, by the way, I’m reliably informed by one of my children that Ritalin is easier for high school students to obtain than whiskey. The U.S. is awash in prescription amphetamines irrespective of their being controlled substances.)

    If you believe, as you seem to suggest, that government agencies and their employees are less corruptible or dangerous than private individuals and organizations, I have little reason to believe anything I could say or evidence I could produce could shake that sort of naive faith. I certainly don’t have sufficient time or interest to try.

    For what it’s worth, my original comments were made in good faith. I am at a loss to see how they could have provoked such a defensive, supercilious and ad hominem attack. Anyway, I’ll withdraw and let you get in whatever parting shot your sense of rectitude requires.

    ***

    Hi, James!

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    • The Pure Food and Drug Act arose from many different quarters, unsafe food, unsafe medicine, both of which were sickening people. It did much good and no perceptible evil. It has been subsequently amended many times, strengthening American branding. Even the most cynical of Free Merketeers likes the imprimatur of Safety and Quality. Affects the bottom line in ways mere advertising can’t.

      Such regulation is often impersonated in marketing, avuncular types in dentist’s white jackets, extolling the benefits of Glint-ee Toothpaste over Brand X. They’ve had to regulate that sort of thing a bit, as I’m sure you know, especially shilling for lawyers, making them say IANAL, out loud, lest anyone construe the advert as legal advice.

      D.A., we have run these little experiments, time and again. China’s learning what happens without regulation in place. Melamine in the milk to increase the “protein” content. Chinese melamine has been appearing in American dog food. The Chinese know we’re now testing for melamine, so they’ve taken to hydrolising scraps of leather to do the protein shamming. Charlie Chaplin at least used licorice to make his shoes for the famous scene where he ate them. Chinese “protein” accepts no substitutes. Only real leather will do. Well, they also use hydrolised poultry feathers. The free market constantly promotes innovations of this sort.

      But to your point about Mexican fake-o drugs, they are a problem in the USA. Counterfeit Lipitor, counterfeit Evista, counterfeit Viagra — would you buy Viagra online, D.A.? Every spam filter checks for that word now.

      You do not like the answer you got and have not answered the questions asked of you. Who, now, is being supercilious? You were not expecting an answer at all. You sound a bit flustered, like the preacher at the wedding who gets to that part about “Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.” — only to find the groom’s hitherto-unknown wife yell out “What about any woman showing just cause, dammit?”

      I do not believe government is the be-all and end-all. I’ve recently done a gig for a large group of independent testing laboratories in the Twin Cities. Insofar as any external agency does not have a financial interest in the outcome of a given test, I wouldn’t care who did the testing.

      There is a measurable downside to not-regulating. I have made my case clear enough. High time for you to respond to it, with more than whinging and ersatz umbrage, every bit as fake as that Mexican Viagra.

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    • If you believe, as you seem to suggest, that government agencies and their employees are less corruptible or dangerous than private individuals and organizations, I have little reason to believe anything I could say or evidence I could produce could shake that sort of naive faith.

      Presumably, tho, you have justifiable reasons to believe that government employees are more corruptible than private individuals, which makes the second part of the sentence strange. I mean, if there’s evidence you have access to, then sharing it presumably “could” change BP’s mind.

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