Friday, November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman

I'd like to honor him by posting a bit of his stuff on drug prohibition. Randy Paige is interviewing Friedman:

Paige: Is it not true that the entire discussion here, the entire drug problem is an economic problem to...

Friedman: No, it's not an economic problem at all, it's a moral problem.

Paige: In what way?

Friedman: I'm an economist, but the economics problem is strictly tertiary. It's a moral problem. It's a problem of the harm which the government is doing.

I have estimated statistically that the prohibition of drugs produces, on the average, ten thousand homicides a year. It's a moral problem that the government is going around killing ten thousand people. It's a moral problem that the government is making into criminals people, who may be doing something you and I don't approve of, but who are doing something that hurts nobody else. Most of the arrests for drugs are for possession by casual users.

Now here's somebody who wants to smoke a marijuana cigarette. If he's caught, he goes to jail. Now is that moral? Is that proper? I think it's absolutely disgraceful that our government, supposed to be our government, should be in the position of converting people who are not harming others into criminals, of destroying their lives, putting them in jail. That's the issue to me. The economic issue comes in only for explaining why it has those effects. But the economic reasons are not the reasons.

Of course, we're wasting money on it. Ten, twenty, thirty billion dollars a year, but that's trivial. We're wasting that much money in many other ways, such as buying crops that ought never to be produced.

Paige: There are many who would look at the economics--how the eco- nomics of the drug business is affecting America's major inner cities, for example.

Friedman: Of course it is, and it is because it's prohibited. See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That's literally true.

Paige: Is it doing a good job of it?

Friedman: Excellent. What do I mean by that? In an ordinary free market--let's take potatoes, beef, anything you want--there are thousands of importers and exporters. Anybody can go into the business. But it's very hard for a small person to go into the drug importing business because our interdiction efforts essentially make it enormously costly. So, the only people who can survive in that business are these large Medellin cartel kind of people who have enough money so they can have fleets of airplanes, so they can have sophisticated methods, and so on.

In addition to which, by keeping goods out and by arresting, let's say, local marijuana growers, the government keeps the price of these products high. What more could a monopolist want? He's got a government who makes it very hard for all his competitors and who keeps the price of his products high. It's absolutely heaven.

Another Friedman Drug War link:

National Review H/T MGL who is a Buddy.

Let me note that Friedman was the inspiration for this little political gem of mine:

Do Republicans support drug prohibition because it finances criminals or because it finances terrorists?

Republican Socialism. Price supports for criminals and terrorists.

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