Best line of the day

Keith Humphreys, summing up a day-long Chatham House conference on drug policy reform:  “Demonstrating that the frying-pan is hot does not prove that it would be prudent to leap into the fire.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “Best line of the day”

  1. Hi Mark! I hope you’re having a lovely day, wherever you are. Did you happen to see that piece in the NYT mag this weekend, about the police informant? ‘Cause when I was reading it, I kept wondering if these things get factored into this whole legalization debate. (Really, I’m curious, I’m not trying to snark.) How do you weigh getting rid of corruption and violence v. the likelihood of more addicts?

    1. Of course they do. Any law needs enforcement; no enforcement effort is free of police misconduct and corruption. Enforcement against transactional crimes is worse on those dimensions than enforcement against predatory crimes. That’s one reason to be a minimalist when it comes to drug law enforcement, even if you think – as I do – that having drug laws probably outperforms not having them.

      But note that taxes and regulations are also laws, and therefore also need enforcement. Liquor control is among the most notoriously corrupt features of state and local government.

      1. Enforcement against transactional crimes is worse on those dimensions than enforcement against predatory crimes. That’s one reason to be a minimalist when it comes to drug law enforcement, even if you think – as I do – that having drug laws probably outperforms not having them.

        I see a paradox in this sentiment. In short, some people wish to trade in drugs; and some other people don’t want this trade to occur. So, the umbrella of activities related to drugs is made out as a dire threat and turned into an array of criminal acts carrying moderate to severe penalties. After having engendered such a social climate around this phenomenon, wanting to have “minimalist” enforcement is incongruous and maybe even absurd, considering that stopping voluntary transactions, in the main, relies on deterrence, which requires that the law show its teeth. Even HOPE relies on that, except that the severity is replaced with swiftness and certainty of some punishment. Maybe, in some society where drugs never established themselves to an appreciable degree, the law enforcement could be largely passive, and simply rely on social mores; but, in the United States?

        1. Mere illegality, with minimal enforcement, forces inefficient production and distribution processes and raises prices severalfold, while preventing marketing. That’s sufficient to greatly reduce the level of abuse. Not at all clear that adding more enforcement does much good.

          1. The primary source of the paradox is this: the rhetoric and persuasion used to portray the gravity of the drug threat isn’t politically compatible with a public strategy of minimalist enforcement to ward off that threat. So when considering the choice between legalization and prohibition, it would be absurd to imagine a prohibition with minimalist enforcement as the actual choice on the table. The serious debate is between prohibition as it largely is now and some sort of conservative, cautious legalization as no doubt it will have to be, given the political realities.

          2. Is there any useful comparison to be made here to the success (or not) of bans on cigarette advertising in reducing consumption?

      2. Mark: “But note that taxes and regulations are also laws, and therefore also need enforcement. Liquor control is among the most notoriously corrupt features of state and local government.”

        Yes, it’s a normal day in my town when some bar gets dynamited or some guys get machine-gunned by some guys in dark suits, white ties who are driving a Model T.

        Oh, wait – that was during the Prohibition.

  2. Heh, well, as Will Rogers observed, “Prohibition is better than no liquor at all”.

  3. Fearing that there’s fire outside the frying pan doesn’t prove that it’s better to stay in the frying pan.

    Perhaps you should send a small volunteer expedition (say, a state, or a small country) to determine if it’s actually fire or whether we’ve been irrationally dooming everyone to stir-fry.

  4. Appropriate book: ‘The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy’, by Albert O. Hirschman

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