This perennial burner came up yet again in Mr. Bildo’s thread about a marijuana initiative in Washington. The question seems to be often raised on Ricochet yet rarely answered: can we legalize risky recreational activities (such as gambling, marijuana, motorcycle riding without helmets, etc.) when we have the safety nets of welfare and Medicaid, or will the moral hazard bankrupt the state? So let’s have at it.
Here is my take. Most people know how to act responsibly, and those who don’t are already engaging in self-destructive behavior, legal or not. My sense is that if someone is responsible enough to refrain from a desirable activity because it is currently illegal, they are probably responsible enough to retain control over themselves when that activity is allowed. Are there really that many people teetering on the border between self-responsibility and loss of control?
The idea that the moral hazard of welfare is equivalent to that of a bank bailout is also questionable. Does any motorcyclist think to themselves, “I don’t need a helmet; if I become a paraplegic, Medicaid will look after me!”? Of course not. No one plans to become addicted to gambling or dependent on pot, and thus no one partaking in these activities would consider welfare a contingency plan if things go south. And knowing that no one will help you if you become addicted is not a deterrent if you don’t believe it can happen to you.
I think we have only a poor understanding of what causes people to become charges of the state. Is marijuana abuse, or gambling addiction, a cause or a symptom of one’s inability to assume personal responsibility? I believed it is a symptom – as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of those who have ever gambled or smoked pot have no lasting problems. The inability to care for oneself is likely ingrained at a very early age.
In fact, the most pernicious cause of dependency, next to a poor economy and horrible educational system, is probably the welfare state itself. Welfare destroys strong families, employment, and self-reliance – all of which are much stronger determinants of one’s fate than whether some soft vices are legally available. In that sense, removing people from welfare roles is much more important than any expansion of individual freedoms into recreational areas – but I don’t think the two have much, if anything, to do with each other.
Enough rambling from me. Anyone else have an opinion?