In Which Milton Friedman Defends James Delingpole

 

Earlier this week, James Delingpole put up a post entitled, “Why Not?“, quoting Ron Paul’s question, “Why  is it that we can’t put into our body whatever we want?”  

James received a deluge of comments, many of them denouncing the libertarian position in terms that (frankly, and alas) sailed pretty close to the Ricochet CoC. Yet as unpopular as James’s question may have proven, I was reminded, no less a figure than Milton Friedman would have endorsed it, completely and heartily.

In a podcast they’ll be recording on Tuesday, James and Paul Rahe will be debating the war on drugs, providing us all with the intellectual equivalent of King Kong versus Godzilla.Milton.jpg

In the meantime, I thought I’d post an excerpt from an episode of Uncommon Knowledge, dating back to 2000, in which Milton Friedman and California Gov. Pete Wilson warm up for James and Paul.  (The excerpt favors Milton, but in the full exchange Pete Wilson gets in punches of his own.)

Milton Friedman: The dollars are the least of it. What the real costs is what is done to our judicial system, what is done to our civil rights, what is done to other countries. I want Pete Wilson to tell me how he can justify destroying Colombia because we cannot enforce our laws. If we can enforce our laws, our laws prohibit the consumption of illegal drugs. If we can enforce those, it would be no problem about Colombia. But, as it is, we have caused th–tens of thousands of deaths in Colombia and other Latin American countries. I think that prohibition of drugs is the most immoral program–immoral program that the United States has ever engaged in. It’s destroyed civil rights at home and it’s destroyed nations…

Peter Robinson: It’s destroyed civil rights at home because of large numbers of Blacks and Hispanics and…

[Talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: …what do you mean by that?

Milton Friedman: No, no. It’s destroyed civil rights at home for a very simple reason. If you take laws against murder or theft…

Peter Robinson: Right.

Milton Friedman: …there’s a victim who has an interest in reporting it. So if somebody is–has a burglary, he calls the cops and the cops come and investigate. Now in drug use, in the–when you try to prevent somebody from ingesting something he wants to ingest, you have a willing buyer and a willing seller. There’s a deal made.

Peter Robinson: No one has an interest in reporting it.

Milton Friedman: No one has an interest–and so the only way you can enforce it is through informers. That’s the way in which the Soviet Union tried to enforce similar la–laws, laws which tried to prevent people from saying things they shouldn’t say. Th–what’s the difference, Pete, between s–p–saying to somebody, the government may tell you what you can take in your mouth but the government may not tell you what you may say out of your mouth? 

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CaseyTaylor
    Peter Robinson

    James received a deluge of comments, many of them denouncing the libertarian position in terms that (frankly, and alas) sailed pretty close to the Ricochet CoC.

    This is exactly why my posting at Ricochet has slowed to a crawl, Peter.  Dealing over and over with irrational argument and personal insults starts to wear down even the most thick-skinned of people.

    • #1
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    @ultravires

    Peter, thank you for the great excerpt! It is always nice to go back and watch your interviews with Friedman; if only we had a modern Friedman making the case. I look forward to hearing the Rahe Delingpole debate.

    • #2
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    @JerrytheBastage

    I don’t quite disagree with either Delingpole or Friedman on what people do in private. And I hate the argument that what they do in those sessions costs the rest of us. Such an argument smacks of collectivism. As long as addicts take care of their responsibilities and are willing to forgo or pay directly for treatment of medical conditions that may have come from their “private” actions, I’m jiggy with it.

    On the other hand, they aren’t generally willing to do these things. So their children suffer, my children suffer through contact with their children, homes are repossessed, property values drop, medical bills rise without end.

    When I teach my own children not to stick needles in their arms, I want the backing of every resource. I want there to be a social taboo. I want it to be illegal. I want the church’s backing as well.

    Once the government has prohibited an act, to repeal that prohibition is quite painful for everyone involved. Taxing something gives explicit social acceptance of an act, dropping a prohibition gives implicit acceptance.

    • #3
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    @ultravires

    Friedman absolutely did make the moral argument, and those who say his arguments were strictly economic do not understand Friedman’s arguments: “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”

    • #4
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    @ultravires

    These arguments opposed to Friedman and Delingpole are all tenuous collectivist arguments that could be used to justify any/every regulation and exercise of government power: (1) My neighbor not mowing his lawn affects my home value, time for government to step in. (2) My healthy young neighbor foregoing purchasing health insurance increases my costs, time for government to step in. (3) My neighbor has bare land that he won’t share, we need government to usurp some of his land for a public park. (4) My neighbor wants to compete with me in my line of work, government needs to make licensing restrictions. To those who use “externalities” as a justification, where do you stop?

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @EdG
    ultra vires: Friedman absolutely did make the moral argument, and those who say his arguments were strictly economic do not understand Friedman’s arguments: “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” 

    Ok, maybe “economic” is a poor choice of words. But it remains that Friedman is denying that indirect, hard to quantify effects could be actionable – that communities  don’t have an interest unless the consequences are quantifiably linked to harm amongst individuals. I disagree; the community as an extension of the individuals living within it has interests too. The difference between this and the Soviets is scale, formal acknowledgement of limits, and the ability to persuade fellow citizens and democratically change the law. 

    • #6
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    @ultravires

    The difference is scale? By that do you mean the Soviets limited socialism to the Soviet Union, and we have expanded our drug war around the world? Or do you mean the Soviet Union had their tyranny imposed by party leders while we have it imposed by democracy? Either way, your problem is a failure to respect individual liberty in favor of limitless government.

    • #7
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    @AndreaRyan
    Stuart Creque: For me, the counter-argument is the same.  The willing buyer in Friedman’s formulation imposes costs on the rest of us: unless and until those costs can be turned back on the willing buyer, he ought not to do things that harm the rest of us. · 1 hour ago

    That is exactly right.  If the consequences of drug use remained completely with the user then I agree with Milton Friedman’s position.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Jerry Broaddus: I don’t quite disagree with either Delingpole or Friedman on what people do in private. And I hate the argument that what they do in those sessions costs the rest of us. Such an argument smacks of collectivism. As long as addicts take care of their responsibilities and are willing to forgo or pay directly for treatment of medical conditions that may have come from their “private” actions, I’m jiggy with it.

    On the other hand, they aren’t generally willing to do these things.

    Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? They aren’t generally willing to do these things. Or they’re at least predictably a ton less likely to do these things.

    I know several fairly hardcore libertarians that nonetheless harbor serious misgivings about the legalization of all drugs, particularly in conjunction with the welfare state.

    Uncle Miltie said something about how you can’t have open borders and a welfare state at the same time. How can you have unrestricted drug use and a welfare state at the same time?

    Yes, the question smacks of collectivism, but as long as there’s a large welfare state, we have that problem.

    • #9
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    @ultravires

    Andrea with your externalities argument in mind, what action of yours does not have some indirect effect on third parties?

    • #10
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    @PaulARahe

    There is one potential problem with the Delingpole-Rahe debate, and that is Rahe. He does not know what he thinks about the question of marijuana and is willing to entertain arguments on both sides — which is to say, he is a squish, and that is really boring. On the question of meth, cocaine, and heroin, he is considerably firmer. But he is not willing to deny that the enforcement of laws prohibiting these is free from undesirable consequences. He will, however, fortify himself for the struggle with a Scotch.

    • #11
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    @AndreaRyan
    ultra vires: Andrea with your externalities argument in mind, what action of yours does not have some indirect effect on third parties? · 6 minutes ago

    Seriously?  You want to compare some behavior of mine with a drug user’s?  I’m not even participating in that ridiculous exercise. 

    • #12
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    @PeterRobinson
    Paul A. Rahe: There is one potential problem with the Delingpole-Rahe debate, and that is Rahe. He does not know what he thinks about the question of marijuana and is willing to entertain arguments on both sides — which is to say, he is a squish, and that is really boring. On the question of meth, cocaine, and heroin, he is considerably firmer. But he is not willing to deny that the enforcement of laws prohibiting these is free from undesirable consequences. He will, however, fortify himself for the struggle with a Scotch. · 2 minutes ago

    Scotch.  Hm.  Is that unregulated in Michigan?

    Add me to the long, long list of those looking forward to your exchange with James.

    • #13
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    @dogsbody

    Peter Robinson: No one has an interest in reporting it.

    Milton Friedman: No one has an interest–and so the only way you can enforce it is through informers.

    There’s a problem with this:  it just isn’t true.  We can and do test for unsafe drug use, particularly for people operating vehicles.  You don’t need a network of informers.  This is just flat out false.

    I’ll repeat what I said in response to James Delingpole’s post:  if you’re piloting an airplane, you’d better not “put into your body whatever you want.”  Even if you don’t kill anyone else, it would be a loss of a good aircraft.

    • #14
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    @Midge

    It wasn’t perfect, but what if we simply returned to the pre-War-on-Drugs system, where pretty much any substance was legal under a physician’s prescription?

    True, there was a certain amount of fraud — physicians who became “writing fools”, dispensing prescriptions to anyone who asked, no questions asked. But if you were a person capable of using drugs in an orderly fashion, all you’d have to do was check in with a physician once in a while to make sure that this was still the case.

    I doubt such a system would be compatible with bureaucratized medicine, though. Or a hyper-litigious society :-(

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CaseyTaylor
    Andrea Ryan

    ultra vires: Andrea with your externalities argument in mind, what action of yours does not have some indirect effect on third parties? · 6 minutes ago

    Seriously?  You want to compare some behavior of mine with a drug user’s?  I’m not even participating in that ridiculous exercise.  · 1 minute ago

    Don’t give up yet!  If you hang in there for a second, he actually has a pretty good point.  The drug trade has some fairly obvious negative consequences, but many, many other trades do, as well.  Do you wear makeup?  Do you drink coffee or eat chocolate?  Do you drive a car?  Do you use rechargeable batteries?  Each one of those activities involves severe harm to human beings somewhere in the manufacturing and distribution process.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CaseyTaylor
    dogsbody

    Peter Robinson: No one has an interest in reporting it.

    Milton Friedman: No one has an interest–and so the only way you can enforce it is through informers.

    There’s a problem with this:  it justisn’t true.  We can and do test for unsafe drug use, particularly for people operating vehicles.  You don’t need a network of informers.  This is just flat out false.

    I’ll repeat what I said in response to James Delingpole’s post:  if you’re piloting an airplane, you’d better not “put into your body whatever you want.”  Even if you don’t kill anyone else, it would be a loss of a good aircraft. · 9 minutes ago

    The problem here is that you can’t administer a urinalysis to every citizen, nor can you require that every private business, educational institution, etc., do the same.  I think that’s the point that Mr. Friedman was arguing.

    Regarding the operation of vehicles, it’s already illegal to be intoxicated.  What would decriminalization or legalization of, take marijuana for instance, change about that?

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Casey Taylor

    Andrea Ryan

    ultra vires: Andrea with your externalities argument in mind, what action of yours does not have some indirect effect on third parties? · 6 minutes ago

    Seriously?  You want to compare some behavior of mine with a drug user’s?  I’m not even participating in that ridiculous exercise.  · 1 minute ago

    Don’t give up yet!  If you hand in there for a second, he actually has a pretty good point.  The drug trade has some fairly obvious negative consequences, but many, many other trades do, as well.  Do you wear makeup?  Do you drink coffee or eat chocolate?…

    Umm… Casey. Coffee and chocolate are drugs. At least in my book. (For the record, I love them both.)

    • #18
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    @CaseyTaylor
    anonymous

    Casey Taylor

    This is exactly why my posting at Ricochet has slowed to a crawl, Peter.  Dealing over and over with irrational argument and personal insults starts to wear down even the most thick-skinned of people.

    As a wise person said to me three decades ago, speaking of mainframe system programmers, “It isn’t that they’re thick-skinned; it’s that their scales don’t peel easily.”

    Being a libertarian, even around here, often requires reinforced carbon-carbon scales.  Works for me, but those of us inclined to agree with the estimable Delingpole may find ourselves on the outs here.

    No truer words have been said.  It’s good to find a kindred spirit, here!

    • #19
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    @ultravires

    Friedman identified the externalities as “neighborhood effects” in Capitalism and Freedom” on pgs. 30-32: “strictly voluntary exchange is impossible … when actions of individuals have effects on other individuals for which it is not feasible to charge or recompense them … In many instances, however, this rationalization is special pleading rather than a legitimate application … They can be a reason for limiting the activities of government as well as for expanding them. Neighborhood effects impede voluntary exchange because it is difficult to identify third parties and to measure their magnitude; but this difficulty is present in governmental activity as well… When government engages in activities to overcome neighborhood effects, it will in part introduce an additional set of neighborhood effects by failing to charge or to compensate individuals properly… (T)he use of government to overcome neighborhood effects itself has an extremely important neighborhood effect which is unrelated to the particular occasion for government action. Every act of government intervention limits the area of individual freedom directly and threatens the preservation of freedom indirectly… We shall always want go enter on the liability side of any proposed government intervention, its neighborhood effect in threatening freedom, and give this considerable weight.”

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CaseyTaylor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Umm… Casey. Coffee and chocolate aredrugs. At least in my book. (For the record, I love them both.) · 2 minutes ago

    When you say drugs, I think you mean necessities.  And please, call me Roget.

    • #21
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    @Aodhan

    So, why not prohibit the harm the drugs causes directly?

    Stuart Creque: For me, the counter-argument is the same.  The willing buyer in Friedman’s formulation imposes costs on the rest of us: unless and until those costs can be turned back on the willing buyer, he ought not to do things that harm the rest of us. · 2 hours ago

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Member
    @EdG
    ultra vires: The difference is scale? By that do you mean the Soviets limited socialism to the Soviet Union, and we have expanded our drug war around the world? Or do you mean the Soviet Union had their tyranny imposed by party leders while we have it imposed by democracy? Either way, your problem is a failure to respect individual liberty in favor of limitless government. · 25 minutes ago

    Respect for individual liberty doesn’t mean unrestricted individual liberty. One problem with totalitarian societies is that there is no tolerance for local diversity or care for local interests (scale). Another is that the means of persuasion and direction of legitimate public authority is severed from the source of its legitimacy – the individual. The checks on public authority are federalism and subsidiarity, with increasingly well-defined limits imposed as the governing unit in question is removed from the source of authority. No one claims that such a system is perfect or free of abuse, but the alternatives of pure statism and pure individualism seem even less desirable to me.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Casey Taylor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Umm… Casey. Coffee and chocolate are drugs. At least in my book. (For the record, I love them both.) · 2 minutes ago

    When you say drugs, I think you mean necessities. And please, call me Roget.

    Isn’t that what addicts always say, Roget?

    • #24
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    @LeslieWatkins

    Devil’s definitely in the details with this one!

    Casey Taylor

    Andrea Ryan

    ultra vires: Andrea with your externalities argument in mind, what action of yours does not have some indirect effect on third parties? · 6 minutes ago

    Seriously?  You want to compare some behavior of mine with a drug user’s?  I’m not even participating in that ridiculous exercise.  · 1 minute ago

    Don’t give up yet!  If you hand in there for a second, he actually has a pretty good point.  The drug trade has some fairly obvious negative consequences, but many, many other trades do, as well.  Do you wear makeup?  Do you drink coffee or eat chocolate?  Do you drive a car?  Do you use rechargeable batteries?  Each one of those activities involves severe harm to human beings somewhere in the manufacturing and distribution process. · 18 minutes ago

    • #25
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    @dogsbody
    Casey Taylor

    The problem here is that you can’t administer a urinalysis to every citizen, nor can you require that every private business, educational institution, etc., do the same.  I think that’s the point that Mr. Friedman was arguing.

    Your interpretation is more charitable than mine–I just thought he was engaging in sloppy reasoning for the sake of making a rhetorical point.

    We could require everyone to be tested, but this would be a level of government oversight and intrusion that I hope none of us would welcome.  I’m not in favor of the War on Drugs–just to choose one example, I believe the heavily armed “no-knock” raids on American homes are absolutely unacceptable.  But I don’t think the only alternative is just to legalize them.  There should be another way;  but as Leslie says above, the devil is in the details.

    • #26
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    @jetstream

    Dogs, amphetamines were used by military pilots in WWII, Vietnam and I believe Desert Storm.  Provigil, an alertness drug with minimal side affects, has been claimed to be widely used by the military – I was told, it was used by pilots during the first mission against Libya in the 1980’s.  Maybe Casey Taylor can  speak to it’s current use.

    • #27
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    @ultravires

    Ed, I appreciate your defense of our Republican form of government and I think many times it has worked. But, the problems with the drug war outlined in Peter’s post still stand, countless American and foreign lives have been destroyed not because of drugs – which they may be perfectly capable of doing – but because of the government’s attempt to abolish drug use. Perhaps this is a case that should fall under the “well defined limits” of what the federal government is prohibited from regulating.

    • #28
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    @JamesDelingpole

    @caseytaylor anonymous @ultravires

    Thanks chaps. You have restored my faith in, well, in at least one part of America…

    • #29
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    @Aodhan

    As the government is composed only of enlightened angelic leaders, they can be safely pursue the glorious cause of reducing negative externalities, informed by the voting preferences of some majority of the equally enlightened and angelic citizenry.

    Meanwhile, those citizens engaging in behaviors only probabilistically related to, and not sufficient to produce the negative externalities, can have their freedom to do so summarily sacrificed on the altar of presumed collective good.

    After all, there is no way that the authority to subvert the freedom to ingest X that could ever be abused; or that the measures adopted could ever be counterproductive; or that unforeseen complications might results in more harm than good being done.

    As long as it’s people like us calling the shots for people like them, it’ll all be fine.

    Nor can we merely rely on laws that ban the social harm that disinhibiting drugs are probabilisitically related to (e.g., disorder,  assault). We need special new laws.

    These laws will pre-emptively prevent people from voluntarily choosing to use disinhibiting drugs, lest they ever get out of hand.

    Irony aside: once the principle of personal freedom is ceded, the engrenage begins. Today crack, tomorrow Sudafed.

    • #30

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