I like this post but I think it would be substantiated if it dealt head on with the issue of addiction. I’m not a neurologist, but I’ve seen brain scans showing neural architecture of those who are addicted and those who aren’t, and it seems many of these “victimizers” are on substances that mean they can’t really reason like a “normal” person.

I’m not saying this means we can’t embrace your plans, but that this is going to be a “go-to” argument against you.

Expand full comment

Of course, many people are going to argue these individuals are addicted. I would question this idea of addiction strongly. Are these people really physically compelled to steal bikes, and, in so doing, plan the theft, hide the bikes, avoid the victims, etc., by the drug, in order to acquire it, I doubt it. Only consider all the addicts who do not do this to see these thieves have free will. Hence, I would argue for the rigorous treatment you propose. Sometimes tough love is best.

Expand full comment

Yes, this. Thank you for articulating a view I've come to over the last year.

Many of the arguments against are that abusers and addicts don't have rational faculties and aren't effected by incentives. I don't buy this, because all incentives work on the margin but they still work. Punishing bad behavior as soon as it shows up is probably a better tool to re-shape those brains than anything we do today.

Expand full comment

I disagree completely but also agree.

Firstly I agree we should legalise addictive substances and prosecute people for petty crimes (I think the lack of prosecution is more due to resourcing than sympathy). I also think we should regulate these industries very carefully to ensure they don't take advantage of addicts while still being able to cater from recreational users. And I think we should provide support to addicts.

I think your view of homeless addicts as not being victims but instead being 'victimizers' is wrong. In my opinion they're both. (Like how child abusers were usually abused as a child.)

I think people end up in this position due to a mixture of mistakes on their part, various societal reasons (such as not having access to education/jobs/affordable housing) and due to not having a fallback net. I think in particular it's quite easy to forget how important having someone to fall back on is. Despite being university educated and highly qualified, I failed in my first attempts at a career, and had to move back in with my parents for a few months while I got back on my feet - if I had no family I could easily have ended up on the street.

I think that once someone is homeless, it's very hard to get back on your feet. People in desperate situations often turn to drugs and alcohol, which obviously makes things much worse. Turning to crime is natural for people who have nothing to lose and very limited options available to them. Also I think that starvation and lack of shelter, and obviously the effects of addictive substances make it difficult to make good long term decisions and lead to mental illnesses that just make everything worse.

Expand full comment

Interesting. I tend towards prohibitionism personally, as I haven't been a libertarian for well over 20 years, but this approach that still works to prevent abuse makes some sense. I think it still ignores addiction will go up if legalization happens, but one could argue that those people would be addicted to alcohol or porn or something else.

Not sure that we can really enforce the needed laws if we do follow the legalize use, criminalize abuse thing, though.

Expand full comment

"For a utilitarian, the obvious solution is to (a) legalize production, (b) legalize use, and (c) harshly punish abuse. You can manufacture and sell opioids. You can buy and use them. But you can’t live on the streets begging, much less create a tent city of bicycle theft in the town square. If you try, you go to jail."

Huh? Imprisoning people is expensive (guards, facilities, food) and highly unpleasant for the imprisoned - hardly a *utilitarian's* first choice. A utilitarian would look very favorably at solutions that help abusers live more virtuous lives *without* imprisoning them. Why does your post not even *consider* the progressive strategy on this problem?

Of course, there are punishments that are cheaper to administer than long imprisonment. But if you're advocating for caning, cutting off hands, or executing bicycle thieves, be forthright about it.

Expand full comment

"Yet the bipartisan position is that archetypal abusers are victims who deserve general sympathy and taxpayer assistance."

You omitted the support for this statement.

Expand full comment

I agree with your sentiment, but not your prescription.

1) The more criminals there are, the harder enforcement gets. Addiction makes more criminals.

We all just lived through the Summer of Floyd. Propertyless addicts have nothing to lose, and only physical force can deter them. Law enforcement is given little incentive to take action and big disincentives anytime things don't go to script. The more of these interactions the more likely for inciting incidents.

2) I don't really think there are a ton of upsides to "moderate" vice. It might not be *worth* stopping because enforcement costs are too high, but it's not some positive good either. In fact it's probably a negative overall.

The answer most societies have come up to moderate vice is a mix of regulation, tax, and shaming. Moderate vice receives moderate societal sticks.

Finally, even people that don't commit crimes, when they self destruct, become wards of the state. They end up on Medicaid. They pay less tax. Moderate versions of this have a moderate impact on the state. The same happens to their family.

3) There are lots of examples of effective prohibition regimes. We don't see Singapore or most of Asia falling apart.

In fact I can't think of any societies today that are "soft on drugs, hard on crime". There are "soft on both" and "hard on both" but not the combination you are proposing. Even Bukele hasn't repealed drug laws, if anything that are being prosecuted harder. There is something about this equilibrium.

4) There are tons of restrictions and taxes on alcohol in the west and they haven't created a black market, people just accept them and the cost and inconvenience reduces drinking especially problem drinking.

I used to live in a state that didn't sell alcohol at the super market or 7/11, now I do. I didn't notice any alcohol cartels in my old state, people just sometimes didn't drink because it was less convenient to purchase.

5) Anyway, some drugs are always going to be illegal to some extent. If it was anything goes someone would eventually have drug companies putting the most addictive shit they could invent into candies in the super market checkout line.

Expand full comment

You seem to be reasoning as though abusers were rationally making bad decisions, so that if we changed the foreseeable consequences of those decisions, they might rationally choose to do something different. It seems to me that the problem is rather that the consequences are hitting a different person than the one making the decision, ie, the future self of that person rather than the present self. While many people think of “sin taxes” as a revenue scheme, I think it’s better to use them as a way to align the preferences of the person who is making the decision (ie the present self) with the person who feels the effects of the decision (ie, the future self). Making things even harder on the future self isn’t going to do that - you need to find some way to make the present self pay the price.

Expand full comment

Ordinary businesses use advertising and other means to promote sales of their products. I might prefer that this didn’t happen in the case of legalized drugs, gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. Is there a libertarian improvement on the status quo answer of having the government strictly regulate or ban promotion of such products?

Expand full comment

When I was much younger I might have agreed with you. I still have some sympathies in that direction but I'd argue the position is deeply flawed.

Some of the best anecdotal evidence suggests very adverse consequences are likely to result from your approach. it seems clear that an increased availability of opioid prescriptions (not even unlimited access) contributed significantly to pain and suffering from increased addiction. It was and is a seemingly unavoidable consequence of increased access. This has been a massive harm to many individuals and families. While it's far from the only contributor to addiction and the consequences of addiction, the current problems of which you speak (homeless camps, theft, etc.) also in part result from that increase in availability of opioids. I don't see how that wouldn't get much worse if there were no restrictions on opioids, despite your increased focus on the abusers.

Expand full comment

The logic for general prohibition is as follows:

(1) It is unknowable in advance who will become a drug addict, and who merely a user.

(2) Drug addicts are generally highly impervious to normal incentives, and even somewhat impervious to extreme incentives.

(3) People who are not yet drug addicts, however, react to incentives more or less like anyone else. If they are worried that a single act of drug use could ruin heir entire life, they are less likely to do it. Similarly, they are unlikely to go significantly out of their way to find drugs if supply has been successfully interdicted.

(4) No-one really needs drugs. Imagine meth had never been invented. Who would seriously argue that the world would be in any sense a worse place?

So, while libertarians will disagree, the rational utilitarian policy is to have massive first-time penalties for drug use or possession.

Expand full comment

This is pretty much hwhat I was thinking. I describe myself as "libertarian~ish" cause I would say that libertarian prolly accurately describes most of my views, but the problem with the liberty movement is the lack of "True Scotsmen!" and hwhen I get tarred with that brush, I am much more willing to say: "Fine! Then, I guess I'm not _really_ a libertarian!" than try to defend my libertarian credentials.

Anyway, I live in Ottawa, Canada. Near a "Safe Injection Site". I'm not gonna tell y'all more than that.

Stalkers! 😛 Despite the hope of "internalizing" the problem, the problems spew out: Junkies sitting on and blocking the sidewalk, lots of litter, frequent shoplifting, junkies going in the middle of the road and dancing their little junky-dance, public urination and defecation, people still shooting up and OD'ing outside, discarded needles, etc. The other day, there was a lady in line, ahead of me at the convenience store. Clearly stoned out of her mind! She actually did have money and paid for her stuff. But then, stood at the cash doing her little junky dance, talking to imaginary friends, etc. as the clerk begged her to leave. I'm not sure why all these externalities are not more contained. I suspect cause they don't let them wait inside. Especially during CoVid. I swear: this experiencing is turning me from a YIMBY to a NIMBY! haha.

I think there are plenty of things the cops could nab them for, but don't. As the only thing Canadian cops are good at is shutting down protests that our Dear Leader doesn't like. I'm not sure what is the answer. But I lived for a year in the Philippines. I noticed that drug addiction does not seem to be nearly as bad there. For some reason... 😛

I'm not sure, exactly, what is the solution... I thought of a few ideas:

1. War on Drugs: It worked for Singapore and the Philippines... But my major issue with this: I don't think people should go to jail for TRYING drugs. It is reflective of Openness to Experience. That is a good thing! I noticed that Singapore, a few years ago, tried to encourage extreme sports like Base Jumping. I think they realized: Adventurous/Curious people are more creative and people hwho are willing to take risks, get higher rewards. These types of people are good for the economy! Now, I know that first time drug-users are RARELY caught, let alone charged, convicted, jailed, etc. BUT, still, the law allows for this. Imagine, you smoke weed ONE TIME and you're like "Well, that was interesting. But, not my cup of tea. I'm not gonna do it again." How much did that one time really ruin your life? Not much. Now, imagine, you happen to get caught by a SUPER NARC cop, then you get a SUPER NARC prosecutor and a SUPER NARC judge. In Texas, for example, it's a class B misdemeanor. You can get up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. You can apply to have it expunged from your record after a year. But that might still affect your career opportunities for the rest of your life! Even if they cannot see it on your record, you would have prolly lost your job at the time and have a big "resume gap" to explain. It might also affect immigration. Many countries ask whether you have EVER been convicted of a crime. Not whether you currently have a record. If you tell the truth, you're prolly not getting in. If you are caught lying, you are almost certainly not getting in. Now, tell me? hWhich did more damage to your life? That one joint? Or that conviction?

2. Declare war on the externalities! But, don't we all publicly urinate, jay-walk, act weird or litter once or twice? Seems a little harsh.

3. Two-strike system: You can do drugs or litter once with little to no penalty. The only thing is that you would get some sort of a police record so they know your second time isn't your first time. This would also have to be VERY CAREFULLY GUARDED from the public, employers and other countries. That's hwhat I'm afraid of. It's one thing to say: No penalty if you smoke weed once. But there still is a penalty if it gets leaked and it could affect your career, marriage, ability to travel, labour mobility or lead to blackmail, etc. The other problem I see with this: We wanna encourage a safe supply. But addicts are dealers' bread-and-butter. I would think you would get still get criminal gangs killing kids in South America and lacing cocaine with fentanyl selling to addicts in America. But there would be simply no interest in a safe, ethical market for American hobbyists. But, then again, there are industries that survive with very few repeat customers: like skydiving!

Speaking of "addicts", I've got some thoughts on that, too. But I think they would be more appropriate for another post.

Expand full comment

Apologies in advance to any addicts. I used to smoke. I used to smoke when I was a teenager and poor. It was very addicting, and while I was not driven to any serious crime, I did go to great lengths to secure my next pack, such as "borrowing" money from my parents when they weren't looking, and hiding my bad habit even when it was legal.

As deadly and gross and harmful as smoking is, we should be free to do it, but addiction changes people and vastly increases the likelihood of poor choices. And addiction affects people differently, some worse than others--some will end up as homeless thieves, while others sit next to you in church. In my view, addiction's negative effects are a sort of externality which occasionally needs a little collective response.

Expand full comment

Let me open with: I am a lifelong teetotaler kook. That said, the epidemiological evidence asserts that drinkers live longer, healthier, happier lives than non-drinkers, and I believe it. That said, there is a small percentage of the population who really shouldn't drink; maybe a majority of the US's 2 million prison population. We gave Prohibition a fair try and it turned out to be a *terrible* idea. The thought of punishing criminals for violent and property crimes seems like a reasonable approach to the problem to me.

Expand full comment

1. I don't believe meth or fentanyl can be used casually. I am in Oregon and see the effects of partial legalization daily. (In practice, in Oregon, it is almost full legalization.)

2. Would legalizing drugs mean lifting age limits? Alcohol is illegal under the age of 21, but most addicts begin using long before that age.

3. Can we afford the increases in police and prisons that taking a hard stance on minor crimes would require?

4. What would be a punishment (commensurate with the crime) that would actually prevent people from committing thefts/vandalism in the first place? Addicts don't seem to give it a lot of thought before defecating in your bushes or stealing packages off your porch.

5. If this were enacted, wouldn't all or prisons turn into rapid detox stations? How is this different from arresting people for drug use?

6. The increase in cigarette prices has been a deterrent to smoking. How would lower drug prices be a deterrent to excessive drug use?

I am appreciative of your arguments, and pleased that varied opinions seem to be welcome here. I do feel like a victim of addicts (my local park is now a tent city.) I have lost most of the sympathy I used to have for these abusers.

Expand full comment