Miles Kimball, for the uninitiated a sensible centrist commentator on economic policy is also an admirer of John Stuart Mill and has supported the case for decriminalising drugs. At the same time, since he thinks drugs – certainly recreational drugs or the new ones – are bad news or likely to have substantial social downsides – he wants to hem in the damage they can do with all sorts of legal restrictions.
[We should] do whatever we can to drive down the usage of dangerous drugs consistent with taking the drug trade out of the hands of criminals:
- Taxes on dangerous drugs as high as possible without encouraging large-scale smuggling;
- Age limits on drug purchases as strict as consistent with keeping the drug trade out of the hands of illegal gangs;
- Free drug treatment, financed by those taxes;
- Evidence-based public education campaigns against drug use, financed by those taxes;
- Demonization in the media and in polite company of those who (now legally) sell dangerous drugs;
- Mandatory, gruesome warnings like those we have for cigarettes;
- Widespread mandatory drug testing and penalties for use of dangerous drugs—but not for drug possession;
- Strict penalties for driving under the influence of drugs.
I don’t know enough to have a primary view about whether or not drugs should be legalised – or if I do it’s a pretty tentative one that they should be – but if we were to do so, while I’m OK with Kimball’s list I think it doesn’t go far enough. He presumably agrees with plain paper packaging though he’d extend it to nasty pictures and warnings which is all good. But I’d do more. As I wrote on his blog post (I’ve slightly edited what I wrote there):
I’d introduce some regime for trying to remove to the extent practicable the ability to profit from the trade. So drugs would have to be marketed and distributed (and perhaps produced, though one might want to ring fence production as it’s more efficient to allow the most efficiently production and then impose taxes on it) in a not for profit way. I realise that this is easy to say and difficult to do. To market drugs not for profit, one would need to set out a regime to prevent profits being creamed off disguised as non profit – for instance not for profits paying their workers above market wages. If this introduced some economic inefficiencies – though one might argue that if we conceptualise economic efficiency as the generation of utility from given economic resources then greater economic inefficiency in the delivery of a social ‘bad’ increases economic efficiency.
Put in another way, if well functioning markets often provide a very efficient means of making, marketing and distributing economic ‘goods’ then one might want to degrade that market’s efficiency when it’s producing economic ‘bads’. But in fact the main objectives here in my mind are social ones – I want to maintain the social stigma for being part of the drug economy. And I also want to maximise the extent to which the consumption of drugs is the product of a deliberate decision to do so, rather than as it often is, the product of boredom and taking the line of least resistance. Also one might argue that distributing drug taking should occur in the way we distribute opportunities to participate in choirs. One wants them to be done by and for people who have made a positive decision that they want to do this rather than people who spend their days trying to optimise strategies for manipulating people to maximise their consumption.
One might put such an idea down to institutional innovation. Often we debate the merits or otherwise of centralised or decentralised solutions to problems as if the former were government solutions and the latter involved free markets. But just as Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews recently endorsed the idea of public service mutuals, so one might argue that one wants markets out of the (recreational) drug trade – or out of important bits of them which do harm – without giving away the principle of decentralised decision making.
Anyway, O Troppodillians, what thinkest thou?