I see the hacks at the Economist have realised that any more doommongering stories about the state of the global economy will start to cause a decline in their readership as business folk leap to their deaths from office windows, and so have this week instead run a leader calling for the legalisation of all drugs.
I’m basically convinced by the argument that decriminalisation would remove the criminal element, which is the worst aspect of our drugs problem. I generally take the classical liberal line that grown-ups should be allowed to do what they want to themselves, as long as it doesn’t harm others. Of course, consuming drugs does harm others, whether or not it harms you, because of the method by which it travels from a field in Colombia or Afghanistan to your nose / arm.
However, I’m not convinced that prohibition has failed, because we only halfheartedly enforce it. It’s not exactly difficult to buy coke or crack in central London of an evening, and if the police catch you you’re unlikely to get more than a ticking-off (a clip round the ear, of course, is not allowed these days, although for some reason seven bullets to the head is). I suspect that if we followed the line of countries that punish drugs users we would find we had less of a drugs problem. My first memory of my first visit to Singapore was of a warning in bold red letters on the boarding card on the plane: ‘MANDATORY DEATH SENTENCE FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW’. (I’m going there again in a couple of weeks, so had better remember not to traffic any drugs.) As usual under New Labour, we have the worst of both worlds: drugs are illegal, leaving the market open to gangsters, but their use isn’t punished, so demand remains high.
Perhaps we could have the least bad of both worlds? I suggest legalising everything and introducing regulation and light taxation, allowing the state a monopoly over drug supply and focusing on harm reduction, but at the same time bringing in severe punishments (mandatory life sentences?) for freelance dealers and anyone who sells to children.
About this “quantitative easing”. Why are savers being punished so much (by printing money and raising inflation well above interest rates, so devaluing their savings) when they are the only section of society not at fault in all of this? There is a widespread misconception that saving is bad for the economy because it is an alternative to spending: actually, if money isn’t spent it’s invested (assuming, perhaps rashly these days, it’s in a bank). Higher interest rates would mean more incentive for saving, less incentive to lend and borrow recklessly, more investment in viable businesses, and would allow house prices to return to a sensible level – surely more sensible than trying to reinflate the boom in asset prices and consumer crap. It’s probably not very often I agree with the Tennessee Republican Party (and I doubt they share my views on drugs), but -