Virginia Postrel has some thoughts about the ethical and regulatory issues connected with new memory-enhancing drugs, and, by extension, with other drugs that might improve on normal performance rather than treating deficiency. I think the problem is somewhat more complicated than her argument makes it out to be. The potential problem isn’t just inequality, but the potential competitive pressure to use such drugs, which are certain to have unwanted side-effects. It’s quite possible that all athletes are made better off by a well-enforced ban on using anabolic steroids; by the same token, all junior professors and law-firm associates might be made better off by a well-enforced ban on a cognitive enhancer that (just to make up an example) had a 20% chance of producing early Alzheimer’s. You can believe in drugs capable of altering cognitive function that don’t have big, hairy side-effects if used on a daily basis for years, but you can believe in the Tooth Fairy, too. TANSTAAFL.

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: