Both liberals and conservatives share the belief that society needs a safety net that only a mighty, centralized state can provide. The only real difference is that liberals prefer a social safety net to provide free education, medical care, housing, food, and, increasingly, disposable income and leisure activities. Conservatives want a moral safety net, a government authority responsible for enforcing what they see as good behavior and condemning what they see as bad behavior.
What both sides fail to grasp is that you can’t get one without the other. The government that feeds you can easily retain the prerogative to tell you what to eat. As Ron Paul has consistently pointed out, there is only one kind of freedom, and that’s individual liberty.
Why do so many people miss this obvious truth?
Frederic Bastiat provided a great answer in his definition of what makes an economist good or bad:
There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.
This is the basic reason conservatives and liberals find themselves defending paradoxical and even hypocritical conclusions; they see some perceived good, or they desire to prevent some perceived evil, and they are blinded to what remains unseen.
Those of the Left, in their pursuit of economic equality, fail to see the unseen consequences of egalitarianism — the destruction of personal liberty, stifling of productivity, and general impoverishment that everywhere are the fruits of their policies. Conservatives, meanwhile, in the pursuit of their twin golden calves — security and morality — are blind to the atrocities committed, at home and abroad, in pursuit of these lofty ideals.
There is, perhaps, reason to be hopeful. War-weariness, the blistering stupidity of the bureaucracies that run the government, from the EPA to the TSA and NLRB, the militarization of police departments, and the passage of the recent abomination known as the NDAA seem to be awakening many conservatives, at least, to the unseens that surround their seen goals.
The War On Drugs
But one battle that still galvanizes the conservatives’ will and numbs their capacity for reason is the war on drugs. This is the surest principle upon which conservatives seem willing to unite, and the source of most of their antilibertarian straw men. “You libertarians just want children hooked on crack,” they claim. Smug in their conviction that the drug war is a noble and righteous struggle, conservatives are blinded to its numerous and tragic consequences.
Previously, I’ve written on this subject and focused on the costs — both in lives destroyed and in dollars. For me, the costs of America’s wars, in lives and treasure, were the deciding factor in my conversion away from conservatism. For many conservatives, however, this seems to be immaterial. To them these are, not deaths, but merely statistics; and this is, of course, the fundamental delusion necessary to accept and wholeheartedly support each and every war that comes along.
Marijuana, Marinol, And The Unseen Cost
There is, however, another significant consequence of drug prohibition. It is a classic example of Bastiat’s “that which is not seen.” The clinical and therapeutic promise of cannabis is staggering. Studies have linked cannabis to the destruction and inhibition of brain and breast tumors, the prevention of Alzheimer’s, treatment of glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, and even some forms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Marinol, a synthetic cannabinoid, is now widely used as an appetite stimulant and antiemetic in cancer patients. But the use of synthetic cannabinoids has two drawbacks. First, in attempting to isolate and fabricate the “effective ingredients,” you destroy whatever synergistic effects existed between the various compounds found in marijuana.
Second, the prescription of synthetic Marinol, produced by UniMed Pharmaceuticals, grants corporate control over something that should be easily, cheaply available to anyone with need. How much research is left undone — how many benefits remain undiscovered because of the pot prohibition — is anyone’s guess.
The war on drugs is just another attempt by the state to stifle innovation, limit creativity, and exert its control over every detail of our lives. Many well-meaning people endorse it and genuinely feel that they are doing the right thing. But the problem with wars is that they all end the same way: the result is not peace and prosperity, but widespread suffering and misery.