30 April 2013

Welfare and the war on drugs: which is worse?

Most of the world ignores Ann Coulter these days, apart from the Republicans who idolize her and the Democratic propagandists who need someone for people to hate and fear every night. Why libertarians would invite her to any of their conferences eludes me, and the fact that she offended them at one such conference recently doesn't surprise. As Shikha Dalmia relates in the latest Reason, Coulter told attendees at the International Students for Liberty conference that they were "pussies" for supporting the legalization of marijuana. Coulter sees this as libertarians' attempt to "suck up to your little liberal friends," and rejects outright the libertarian argument that what you choose to put in your body is no one else's business. As far as Coulter is concerned, it is her business so long as there's a welfare state, since that means (to her) that she's forced, as a taxpayer, to subsidize the health care of drug users. She won't consider any drug legalization until we get rid of the welfare state.

It so happens that Shikha Dalmia wants to legalize pot and abolish the welfare state. Yet she has a problem with Coulter's position, and not just because she insulted libertarians. Her problem is twofold. First, she doesn't believe that abolishing the welfare state should be a precondition for legalizing pot or any other drug. If anything, to bring up the second problem, the drug war should end first.

One doesn't have to choose between the drug war and the welfare state. But if one must, the drug war is worse. The welfare state confiscates one's individual wealth to give to another. That's unfair. But putting people behind bars for smoking a joint that is less harmful than the alcohol and tobacco that Coulter pumps into her body is a travesty.

For one libertarian, then, there's a worse sin than "punishing success." That may be because prohibitions on drug use punish not only the successful; the libertarian ideal of freedom does, after all, mean more than the right to make money. Make no mistake, however; Dalmia despises the welfare state. She believes that "a government that habitually takes from one to give to another hurts both," an assertion that's debatable at one end of the equation and simply subjective at the other. The welfare state has "soul-killing consequences [as opposed to body-killing consequences] for its beneficiaries," she claims. Her beef with Republicans is that, rather than fight hard to end the welfare state, they exploit it to advance their own repressive moral agenda. That is, they use the "that's my tax money!" argument to curtail individual liberty in a variety of ways. For example, as Dalmia notes, "conservatives" who oppose immigration reform try to inflame public opinion against it by accusing immigrants of living off welfare. They wouldn't be able to make that argument in the absence of a welfare state, she implies, and would be exposed, one can infer, as simply hating Latinos and other immigrants. In sum, the welfare state "gives them an excuse to regulate individual choices" and serves as "their trump card for stopping liberty-oriented reforms they dislike." It may be naive of Dalmia, however, to imagine that conservatives would have no argument against further liberalization of society in the absence of a welfare state, though it's probably correct that they'd be left without arguments she could take seriously. Dalmia's main focus as a writer is on immigration issues, so on that point there may be no reconciliation possible between her libertarianism and Republican intolerance. But as far as the drug war and the welfare state are concerned her differences with Coulter are little more than matters of nuance, since both seem to dream of a world where no one has to give a damn if other people die.


Anonymous said...

The paradox is, in order to end the welfare state, they have to end corporatism and embrace a more state-centric capitalism.

You can't remove the welfare system without ensuring jobs that pay salaries high enough to cover the current cost of living. That's a no brainer. You'd just be trading one welfare state for a prison-oriented welfare state otherwise.

Anonymous said...

If you stop to think about it, those two wars are really just a part of the ongoing class war. Another way for those at the top to maintain some semblance of control over those they stand upon.

Toni said...

This is cool!