The Right Opinion

Where Ron Paul Is Right

By Mona Charen · Dec. 2, 2011

Five years ago last month, Milton Friedman died at age 94. To the very end, the Nobel Prize winning economist was astute, tireless and wonderfully avuncular. Thanks to the Internet, his commentaries on subjects ranging from greed, to slavery, to the Great Depression myth and many other topics, can be enjoyed forever.

Of course, great thinkers have been recording their thoughts in books for millennia. And Friedman was no exception. But there’s no denying the immediacy and intimacy of video. Wouldn’t we have loved to click on Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton or Cicero and watch them talk about their ideas? If you do dip into the Friedman oeuvre, start with his exchange with Phil Donahue!

Nothing would be easier than to invoke the great Friedman as the sage of limited government. He was certainly that. If he were commenting on America’s current predicament, he would doubtless prescribe a radically smaller public sector.

But Friedman poses challenges to conservatives as well as liberals. He opposed, for example, the war on drugs. That’s right. Friedman was for legalization of all drugs, not just marijuana.

It’s a position embraced by only one candidate for president, Ron Paul. Congressman Paul holds some ludicrous views. He seems to believe, for example, that if we were just nicer to the Iranians, we wouldn’t need to fret about their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Still, Paul deserves full credit for endorsing drug legalization. Friedman would approve.

Governments in the United States, federal and state, spend an estimated $41.3 billion annually to prevent people from ingesting substances we deem harmful, though many unsafe ingestibles – you know the list – remain legal. Half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug offenses, along with 20 percent of state prisoners.

In 2009, there were 1.7 million drug arrests in the U.S. Half of those were for marijuana. As David Boaz and Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute noted, “Addicts commit crimes to pay for a habit that would be easily affordable if it were legal. Police sources have estimated that as much as half the property crime in some major cities is committed by drug users.”

Drug money, such as booze money during Prohibition, has corrupted countless police, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, border patrol agents, prosecutors and judges. Drug crime has blighted many neighborhoods. America’s appetite for drugs has encouraged lawlessness and violence in many neighboring countries, most recently in Mexico, where its drug violence is spilling north.

Because illegal drugs are unregulated, their purity is unknowable – accounting for thousands of overdose deaths and injuries. Since we maintain drug prohibition to protect people from their own foolish decisions, those overdose deaths must weigh in the balance, too.

Drug prohibition, Milton Friedman pointed out, keeps the price of drugs artificially inflated and amounts to a favor by the government to the drug lords. “The role of the government is to protect the drug cartels,” as he provocatively phrased it. Due to our interdiction efforts, Friedman explained, it’s enormously costly for a small competitor to attempt to import drugs. This ensures that only the big operators with large fleets of planes, heavy weapons, et cetera can compete.

Prohibition makes it unnecessarily cumbersome for cancer patients and others to receive painkillers and other drugs. A misplaced fear of addiction sometimes leads doctors and other health care providers to underprescribe pain medicine. Meanwhile, any high schooler can score whatever drugs he wants on the way to gym class.

Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron estimates that if drugs were legal and taxed, the U.S. and state treasuries would receive $46.7 billion in added revenue, while saving $41.3 billion in expenditures.

What is the downside to legalization? Friedman acknowledged the possibility that legalization might result in some increase in drug addiction. There was, after all, an uptick in alcoholism after Prohibition was repealed. But not all victims are created equal. The child, Friedman notes, who is killed in a drive-by shoot-out between drug gangs is a total victim. The adult who decides to take drugs is not.

Let’s stipulate that some unknown number of Americans will become addicts after legalization, who otherwise would not have. We must ask whether the terrible price we are now paying – in police costs, international drug control efforts, border security, foregone tax revenue, overdose deaths, corruption and violence – is worth it.

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42 Comments

Bill said:

Well thought out and researched piece that's tainted by opinionated summary of Paul's foreign policy.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:12 AM

Jordan Viray said:

"Congressman Paul holds some ludicrous views. He seems to believe, for example, that if we were just nicer to the Iranians, we wouldn't need to fret about their acquisition of nuclear weapons. "Is this really so ludicrous? The Soviets murdered tens of millions of their own people and oppressed dozens of countries in Eastern Europe under a totalitarian regime.The Soviets have threatened to "bury us", they tried to station nuclear missiles in Cuba, their spies were stealing US military secrets e.g. the atomic bomb etc.Iran is not even one-hundredth the threat that the USSR was, and yet, as Dr. Paul pointed out, we engaged in diplomacy with a totalitarian socialist monster for decades.Yet we have zero tolerance for a nation that the US Government had played a decisive role in destabilizing in 1953?The US did nothing while Islamic Pakistan, Communist China, the USSR and lone-wolf Israel acquired their hundreds of nukes but we have to resort to assassinations and war to prevent Iran from possibly getting even one?I think that if you can apply the same open mindedness to the reasonableness of Dr. Paul's position regarding drugs to his stance or Iran, you might find that he isn't ludicrous at all.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:35 AM

Travis said:

Any half educated person knows that prohibition does not reduce the rate of use. In fact in Portugal where drugs are legal, there is less use then when prohibition laws were in place, including youth....Are you really unaware of the dangers of not having "quality control" on drugs? The poisons that they used to cut alcohol with in prohibition killed and injured thousands of Americans that otherwise would've lived. Further the indication that beings ought to be prohibited from substances they choose to consume ought to be foreign to an AMerican ....Accurate history shows that the founders were quite fond of hemp and smoking it....Our countrymen are so uneducated and misguided...The 10th amendment protects the right of an individual to determine what ever they wish to consume...You should do more research before you make wild stipulations that are factually untrue and logically unreasonable...Illicitness sells...always has always will its psychology 101 -common sense.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:42 AM

Ken said:

Why is Ron Paul's view "ludicrous" when dealing with Iran? Isn't China technically our enemy? (they are communist for crying out loud!!!) How do we treat them? Was Russia our enemy and did not they threaten to blow us off the map? Did we go and attack them and meddle in their affairs? Have you not read anything about what the CIA calls "blowback" which shows that the Muslim world attacks us because we are over their being involved in their business??? His views are far from "ludicrous" my friend. They are based upon history, principles upon which our country was founded (Jefferson, Washington, and Madison were strongly non-interventionist!), and also upon sound information of why we were attacked and why we are threatened by the Muslim world!!! What would we do if someone came over here and propped up a horrible dictator and was bombing us and killing innocent civilians?

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:46 AM

Lene said:

What is wrong with Ron Paul's Non-Interventionalist views? Do you not believe in the founding fathers principles of avoiding alliances with other nations while maintaining diplomacy and free trade and avoid all wars not related to direct self-defense? Do you believe America should be a sovereign nation or dictated by UN and America should be a global socialist and our military should be dictated by NATO? The best you can come up with is legalizing drugs?! Is that what you call Essential Liberty? Do you people even believe in our Constitution and our Declaration Of Independence or are those brilliant and insightful documents that are the very foundation that made our country great too old for you? This article is what sounds ludicrous not Ron Paul's foreign policy. I whole heartedly agree with ron Paul that it is our meddling that gets us in trouble.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:52 AM

Lene said:

That's very Libertarian of you to censor comments..lol So much for free speech!

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:53 AM

ben2021 said:

kickass yea guys, kickass

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:57 AM

darren said:

" He seems to believe, for example, that if we were just nicer to the Iranians, we wouldn't need to fret about their acquisition of nuclear weapons."Actually no. He seems to believe that spending billions of dollars on another war isn't going to help our country or make us any safer. Also anyone who thinks Iran would actually attack the U.S. is crazy. The only country they are going to attack is Isreal. Isreal has 300 nukes that we know of. They can fend for themselves. We should think about not getting into a war for once.The U.S. is like that kid in school that would always jump into the fights at the schoolyard because he thought he was the boss and had something to gain from it, but in reality it made all the other kids hate it.What I'm saying is, when we get involved in world affairs that are not our business, it makes us look stupid in the eyes of other countries. We should lead by setting a good example.Oh and by the way...Iran doesn't even have enough gasoline for themselves. Do you really think they can 'take over the world'?

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:23 AM

Howard Last in Wyoming said:

I can't find any authorization in the Constitution for the FDA or the DEA. Several states have passed propositions legalizing drugs. The Tenth Amendment gives the states this power. What allows the federal government to override the states? To continue this unconstitutional action other rights of our fellow citizens are voided. I wonder what Benjamin Franklin would say?

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:23 AM

Gleeb1776 said:

Does not the author believe that all are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? How is it that he fails to grasp that criminalization of personal ingestion or mere possession of any substance -- absent some additional conduct causing intentional or criminally reckless harm or endangerment to others -- is fundamentally offensive to those great principles of freedom, and should not be tolerated by a free people? There should be no need to balance an imagined increase of addiction with the terrible price of enforcement, to reject the imposition of criminal penalties on victimless conduct.Even those who distribute dangerous substances and things, including addictive substances, need not be subject to criminal sanctions except in cases of intentional harm to others. It should be sufficient to allow addicts led into harmful addictions or those caused harm thereby to recover civil damages from distributors who have contributed to causing their harms. Drug addiction is a terrible disease, but criminalization is unnecessary and causes intolerable harms and injustices. Freedom with civil liability should reign.It should not go unrecognized that natural marijuana is about as harmful as coffee, and much less addictive. Imposition of criminality on use or possession of that nearly harmless substance (and one having recognized medicinal and other beneficial uses besides) should be seen for what it is: mere oppression of the innocent by a police state apparatus that is at best ignorant and at worst greedy for power and for the property seized through enforcement of unjust laws. Let us end this travesty, at least.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:29 AM

Gleeb1776 said:

Does not the author believe that all are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? How is it that he fails to grasp that criminalization of personal ingestion or mere possession of any substance -- absent some additional conduct causing intentional or criminally reckless harm or endangerment to others -- is fundamentally offensive to those great principles of freedom, and should not be tolerated by a free people? There should be no need to balance an imagined increase of addiction with the terrible price of enforcement, to reject the imposition of criminal penalties on victimless conduct.Even those who distribute dangerous substances and things, including addictive substances, need not be subject to criminal sanctions except in cases of intentional harm to others. It should be sufficient to allow addicts led into harmful addictions or those caused harm thereby to recover civil damages from distributors who have contributed to causing their harms. Drug addiction is a terrible disease, but criminalization is unnecessary and causes intolerable harms and injustices. Freedom with civil liability should reign.It should not go unrecognized that natural marijuana is about as harmful as coffee, and much less addictive. Imposition of criminality on use or possession of that nearly harmless substance (and one having recognized medicinal and other beneficial uses besides) should be seen for what it is: mere oppression of the innocent by a police state apparatus that is at best ignorant and at worst greedy for power and for the property seized through enforcement of unjust laws. Let us end this travesty, at least.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:31 AM

Bradley said:

How can this website call itself "The PATRIOT POST" and not be 100% behin Ron Paul for President??? I wonder who really pays your bills? You'll get no donation from me! however, I may donate to Dr. Paul's campaign on your behalf.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:36 AM

vizjion said:

It's a mischaracterization to say that Ron thinks we should be "nicer" to the Iranians. It's called minding our own business as opposed to intervening in the affairs of others...aka...non-interventionism.We are currently using our military presence around the globe to prop up our consumer based lifestyles in the west through intervention in energy rich regions. It's immoral...and we should stop...end of story. You were smart enough to get the drug war ...try thinking a little harder on non-intervention overseas as well. The only thing that's "ludicrous" is the idea that we have any moral ground to destroy millions of lives in order to prop up our leechlike consumer based reality.

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:38 AM

Gilbert said:

Ron Paul is not only right about this issue, but he is even more right about foreign policy and the military industrial complex. First read the books Ron Paul recommended Guiliani due to his bush-era war propoganda, then apologize to Ron Paul, then jump off a bridge you friggin idiot. Google "CIA Operation Ajax" and get a clue Mona!

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:53 AM

henry bemis said:

I'm not sure why you felt the need to ridicule Ron Paul's foreign policy in one off-topic sentence in this article. How about YOU be afraid of Iran, YOU fund the countless wars, YOU go get the WMDs from Iraq.The US can send a bomb anywhere in the world in under an hour, yet we're still so afraid of whomever we're told to be next...

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 1:56 AM