Sunday, December 09, 2007

Your 'Liberal Media'...

The following is a letter I wrote to the Ottawa Citizen, which I do not expect to be published. I submit it here, for what it is worth:

I'd like to thank Margret Kopala*, CanWest columnist, for demonstrating, once again, the angry, moralizing, mean-spirited ignorance that passes for "conservatism" in this country today. Her latest diatribe against Insite was long on narrow minded ideology and emotional appeals to tragedy but short on actual facts and logical arguments.

Firstly Insite works at what it is supposed to do - reduce the harm to junkies but giving them a clean and safe place to inject. This prevents them from contracting major medical conditions like Hepatitis, HIV and other infections which they can then spread and burden our already over extended medical system with. Insite also gives them a place to have safe encounters with medical practitioners and addictions counselors, resources that are sorely lacking in the back alleys and flop houses of Vancouver's East end.

Kapala seems to be under the mistaken belief that Insite encourages drug use and abuse. What nonsense. IV drug users that use Insite are going to be shooting up anyway, either at Insite or the aforementioned alleys and flophouses. Kapala seems to think that they should not have safety or contact with addictions counselors, but must be punished and made to live miserably in order for them to be "encouraged" give up their ways. Funny, if that were true, considering the horrible conditions of life a junky currently lives and that Kapala herself described, it would have worked by now, wouldn't it?

She then goes on to praise the Conservative government's latest "War on Drugs" legislation and quotes some specious stats about marijuana usage among Canadian youth (the same demographic that scored 3,4,and 5 in the world, respectively, in Math Science and reading according to the latest OECD report). Again, "conservatism" has forgotten basic economics.

Demand drives supply, but supply rarely drives demand. When a supply of something is restricted but demand remains the same, the price goes up. Restricting supply never reduces demand. Conservatives seem to know this when talking about alcohol, cigarettes or any other commodity, but completely forget this when talking about "drugs" .

Based on these economic truisms, it is the act of prohibiting drugs that has created the very crime and socials issues Kapala and other conservatives say they want to battle. With a restricted supply and a high price, the profit incentive attracts those willing to supply and illegal commodity - street gangs, Hell's Angels, Montreal Mafia - while the smaller, more honest producers are driven from the market. Add to this the inability for business conflicts to be resolved in socially acceptable fashions such as using the police or the courts or even simple insurance, then violence and other less socially acceptable means are used.

The high price of illegal drugs that attracts the unscrupulous criminal element also means that users and addicts need more and more of their money to support their habit. they must turn to crime such as fraud, robbery, or degrading street prostitution and even drug dealing to support their habits.

That is the result of currently having drugs illegal. Getting tougher will only make it worse, not better and further drive the profits of the organized crime that runs the trade. Kopala and her ilk are the Hell's Angels best friends.

Imagine if a person with a drug habit could easily support that habit by working even a minimum wage job, because the price was so low? Imagine that the LA Crypts or the Hell's Angels aren't involved because there's no profit, because the price is so low? The addicts can merely seeks help, as an alcoholic would do today. Imagine all the money now spent to fight the "drug war" was spent to just treat addicts and do drug education to reduce demand?

If Kopala and the Harper government get their way, we will have more disease and addicts, more crime to support dug habits and more profits to the organized crime. Is that what we want? I know i don't.

I want drug abuse treated as a medical problem not a criminal one, so the police can concentrate on catching real criminals - like guys who run pig farms and murder people - rather than wasting time on hapless victims of addiction.

*Unfortunately, Kopala's screed from Saturday's Citizen is not online. Readers of the Ottawa dead tree edition will know of the half-page screed in the Editorial section I am referring to. I can only hope Dan Gardiner takes her to the woodshed next week.

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13 Comments:

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Good common sense, Mike.
And good to have you back.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Many so-cons want to punish addicts, not help them get better. Thanks for a thoughtful, compassionate, and well reasoned letter.

kgp

 
At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Tom North said...

Mike, I've read a bunch of your stuff and probably agree with 90% of what you wrote here.

Lay off the economics. You haven't grasped what supply and demand means in an economic sense.

 
At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Tom North said...

OK. I've re-read what you wrote. Maybe you get it a bit more than my first impression but....still a bit of a way to go.

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Ron, Kevin,

Thanks. I think I could have been a bit more eloquent had I not been so angry when I read her tripe. I think this could have been better, reading it now a few days later.

Tom,

I admit to not being an economist but I think I have a fairly good grasp of the economic arguement underlying what I wrote. As I said, I just don't think I explained it well enough. Perhaps I could do another post solely on the economic argument against prohibition.

Out of curiosity, what do you think I need to understand better?

 
At 1:22 PM, Blogger Ron said...

My guess is that Tom is remarking on this: "but supply rarely drives demand" which depends on what you refer to by "supply", as in "commodity supply", say, or (another meaning) "supply-sider supply".

 
At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Tom North said...

You said: “Demand drives supply, but supply rarely drives demand. When a supply of something is restricted but demand remains the same, the price goes up. Restricting supply never reduces demand. Conservatives seem to know this when talking about alcohol, cigarettes or any other commodity, but completely forget this when talking about "drugs".”

OK. I’m 30 years out of date on this stuff, and maybe it’s just nitpicking, but….

For a number of reasons your opening sentence “Demand drives supply…etc” is incorrectly stated. I’ll leave it at that for the moment, however, as I was most concerned with the next 2 sentences, which contradict each other. Your second sentence, “When a supply of something is restricted but demand remains the same, the price goes up”, is correct, although I wouldn’t have said it quite that way. Your next sentence is problematic as a reduction in supply, whether natural, legislated, or otherwise will generally tend to result in an increase in price – as you yourself acknowledged – but that same rise in price will result in a reduction in quantity demanded – by definition. All other things being equal, a reduction in quantity supplied will result in a reduction in quantity demanded, as long as prices are free to move.

The problem arises with the elasticity of demand for the good in question. I would guess that the demand for drugs among the population as a whole would be fairly elastic, the “weekend dabbler” can always buy a case of beer instead. For the subset of the population who are addicted, however, I would guess that demand would be very inelastic – resulting in the consequences, such as crime, that you discuss.

You appear to be using “demand” in perhaps a more sociological sense than an economic one.

 
At 6:50 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Thanks Tom, you are correct, though I think the point that forcible prohibition cannot solve a medical problem and indeed, creates many of the problems it is alleged that need to be solved via prohibition.

I was looking at demand more from a Misean and Rothbardian subjective view - from the Austrian school.

I think I'll need to do another post on this to clarify this part of the argument.

Thanks for the feedback.

 
At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Tom North said...

No problem. As I stated earlier, I agree with 90% of what you said, and definitely agree with your comment on forced prohibition. In fact it likely causes more problems than those it sets out to solve.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger Charles Anthony said...

I believe that the preceding economic analysis is more complicated than necessary.

To Tom North,
Never forget the "All other things being equal," caveat associated with your analysis -- it can demolish the application of neo-classical theory -- if not dismiss it entirely. In a practical sense, all changes in supply affect demand and all changes in demand affect supply. The only thing that is observable is a transaction.

To Mike,
The Rothbardians would object to neo-classical supply and demand analysis specifically because the "ceteris paribus" can never be observed to hold. You alluded to this when discussing the high profitability of markets that are deemed "criminal" in the eyes of law enforcement. What you are describing is precisely proof that the curves are dynamic. In my opinion, that is the best argument against "criminalizing" drugs and it does not need any reference to supply or demand curves. Stick to it.



-----


Insight should not exist because it is funded by tax-payer's dollars and organized by the state. [I also believe that drug use should be completely free but I would hope that was a given assumption around these parts.] Since Insight already exists, it should be sold to the highest bidder and operated as a private clinic. Period.

 
At 2:37 AM, Anonymous Tom North said...

2nd try, don't know where the first one went......

Charles Anthony:

Perhaps you should re-read Rothbard's Man, Economy & State with particular attention to chapters 2, 3 & 4. The rather copious use of supply and demand analysis, along with accompanying graphical illustrations would seem to throw a 'curve" into your comments.

You are correct, however, in stating that "the only thing that is observable is a transaction." This is why one must ensure that one has a firm grasp of theory, as it is theory which provides the background which allows us to truly understand the observable.

I agree that ceteris paribus is meaningless in the real world of the marketplace. It is, however, a more than useful tool when discussing the underpinnings of both neo-Classical and Austrian price theory.

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger Charles Anthony said...

Tom,
I believe you are mixing apples and oranges. In fact, your suggested reading supports my contention. For the sake of brevity, I am not going to quote anything except the titles:
"CHAPTER 2—DIRECT EXCHANGE
1. Types of Interpersonal Action: Violence
2. Types of Interpersonal Action: Voluntary Exchange and the Contractual Society
"
Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market

The titles say enough and the economic analysis starts only within the context of free markets. That excludes the market of "criminalized" drugs.

From an Austrian perspective, Mike's argument does not need graphs nor curves -- it only needs to describe observable transactions on the street. That is why I said that the preceding economic analysis was unnecessarily complicated. However, he points out an important conservative double standard between the illicit drugs and the alcohol markets. Internally, their logic does not hold.

 
At 4:47 AM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

Merry Christmas Mike to you and yours.

 

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