Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Brush off your philosphy hat and ponder this

The Pathetic Argument for Prohibiting Drunk Driving
by Mark R. Crovelliby Mark R. CrovelliRecently by Mark R. Crovelli: What This Country Needs Is a 'Cash for Clunkers' Program for the Housing Sector

For people who have grown accustomed to having the government monitor, regulate and enforce every facet of their miserable lives, it can be very difficult for them to conceive of the idea of legalizing drunk driving without at the same time picturing in their heads mangled cars, dead babies, and carnage generally. They have been told year after year by the government that created and enforces these laws, that drunk driving is one of the very worst crimes a man can commit, and that, were it not for the government’s ruthless pursuit of these dangerous criminals, there would indeed be unchecked slaughter in the streets.
Any arguments to the contrary, claiming that we could reduce both the incidence and danger of drunk driving by legalizing it, appear completely absurd to these people. They dismiss these arguments out of hand because they have adopted the government’s ridiculous conception of the drunk-driving issue, which looks something like this:
A) Drunk drivers are dangerous, and can kill other drivers
B) The government has outlawed drunk driving, and punishes drunk driving ruthlessly
Ergo, C) The government’s prohibition and punishments do actually reduce the incidence and danger of drunk driving
It does not take a professor of logic, however, to see that this type of argument is fallacious. The conclusion simply does not follow from the premises. We are not entitled to conclude that the government is successfully reducing either the incidence or the danger of drunk driving, just because they have prohibited it and are mercilessly punishing violators. It could be the case that the government’s prohibitions and punishments themselves are actually exacerbating the problem rather than ameliorating it.
The preceding point is exceedingly important, and is worth emphasizing with an analogous example from the so-called "War on Drugs." The federal government takes an analogous position with regard to drug trafficking and consumption, after all. The claim has always been that all the prohibitions and brutal punishments do reduce drug production and consumption (otherwise, what would be the point of the "war"?). Spokesmen for the drug warriors periodically appear in the news claiming that they have just busted a behemoth cocaine or marijuana smuggling ring, and that the bust will be a major blow to drug pushers and consumers. We all know what happens in the real world of drug production once the government cracks down on drugs in some way, however: the market participants adjust to the increased pressure by shifting their base of operation (e.g., from peaceful Caribbean beaches to the blood-drenched calles of Mexico), switching to more concentrated and dangerous drugs to produce and sell to avoid getting caught (e.g., switching from marijuana to cocaine and heroin), and the more vicious risk-takers among the drug producers take market share away from those who fear prison and God if they, say, cut off a police chief’s head.
Needless to say, the mere fact that the government has prohibited certain drugs, and has gone so far as to wage "war" against them, is insufficient to establish that the government is truly reducing drug consumption or production. If anything, the government’s prohibition of and "war" on drugs has itself caused drugs to become more potent, has created a drug gulag system in the United States (that is, ironically, itself rife with drugs) and a mafia state in Mexico – and yet has not reduced anyone’s ability to purchase coke, pot and meth in the slightest degree.
With regard to the drug "war," and all of its obvious failures and disasters, no one with half a brain would think of making an argument claiming that the government is actually reducing drug consumption, just because they have made them illegal and ruthlessly punish offenders. No one would offer an argument, like the one above, claiming:
A) Drug addicts are dangerous, and can kill or hurt themselves and others
B) The government has outlawed consuming or selling drugs, and punishes consumers and sellers ruthlessly
Ergo, C) The government’s prohibition and punishments do actually reduce the incidence and danger of drugs
No one would make such an argument because the conclusion obviously does not follow from the premises. Some sort of further argument or evidence is necessary to establish that the prohibition is working, or else the argument is question-begging. And, once one takes even the slightest peek at the evidence (i.e., the destruction, death and incarceration that the Drug War has delivered to this continent, and the ease with which anyone can buy virtually any drug in any city, school, or prison on this continent), the argument falls apart immediately.
The same ought to be true for what might be aptly called the "War on Drunk Driving." One ought not to simply assume that the government’s prohibitions and medieval punishments actually work to reduce drunk driving – unless there exist good arguments to that effect.
When one looks at the arguments about the efficacy of the government’s war on drunk driving, however, they all point to the opposite conclusion; namely, that the government’s prohibition and punishments are actually making things worse, rather than better. For example, the government’s prohibitions have created incentives for drunk drivers to drive much more dangerously than they otherwise would. They have resulted in a massive loss of income and freedom for hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Americans who have been arrested, fined and imprisoned for drunk driving without ever hurting anyone. They have created an interlocking structure of incentives that actually encourage drunk driving. They have created a blatantly hypocritical standard for driving on the nation’s roads – with some dangerous drivers let off with a wag of the finger, while others are arrested, fined and incarcerated for doing exactly the same thing; namely, putting other people’s lives at risk. And they have created a police state on the nation’s roads and highways; with Israeli-like random checkpoints, a massive propaganda campaign to intimidate drivers, and mandatory removal of blood from people’s bodies.
The challenge, then, for people who believe in prohibiting drunk driving is to show that these laws do actually reduce drunk driving. Like proponents of drug prohibition, they must be able to show that all of the obvious suffering these laws inflict, billions of lost dollars spent in waging the "war," loss of individual liberties, and counterproductive incentives the laws create have actually reduced drunk driving.
For decades we have been waiting for the drug prohibitionists to give us some similar proof that their favored war has given us some tangible benefits besides millions of men in prison, ever-more potent and dangerous drugs, and a police state run amok. They have failed miserably. So, too, will the proponents of drunk-driving prohibition when we look back on decades of fighting a "war" against our own people, when they have never even hurt any other people.
September 2, 2009
Mark R. Crovelli [send him mail] writes from Denver, Colorado.

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