02 November 2010

the war on drugs

Not warring on the most dangerous animal of all, man!... err boozed man! Hiccup.

Some of these factors seem more relevant than others, and giving some credit to alcohol for being a legal substance when others are not gives it a lot of (subjective) externality effects that aren't quite as existent in the case of say, heroin or meth, which deservedly score highly on some of these themselves, but not as high as booze. And some of the scoring in these models still seems about as arbitrary as that applied by governments (though I suppose we can give credit for there being an actual model with an outputted score rather than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down method).

Nevertheless, alcohol addiction and its chemical composition and effects are not exactly middling problems. And its ready availability in most communities does pose some very high externality costs that aren't being captured or dealt with in very effective ways. In addition, as noted in the link, some of the externality costs like violence or crime are not accounted for as causes of the drug itself relative to costs of their prohibition. Even focusing on what scores would seem based in more empirically valid measures (addiction rates, drug related or drug caused mortality, etc), alcohol comes out far in advance of some of these other drugs and competes with some of the worst (heroin or meth even). So it's still quite possible when you account for things like this that alcohol (and tobacco for that matter), despite their legal use in most developed societies, are certainly more dangerous and have far higher personal and social costs than most of the substances that governments have outlawed even on a per use/per capita consumption basis.

One shouldn't be surprised that alcohol producers have banded together to keep it that way by opposing Prop 19 in California. Because it seems to me that revenues from one particular substance being legal is a perfect sort of captured regulatory state. It's exactly why you get casinos pushing back against internet gambling. It has nothing to do with paternalism and more to do with rent seeking behaviors at a certain point in the system.
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