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State Governments Are Becoming the Biggest Drug Lords of All

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The so-called war on drugs—actually a war on certain people associated in various ways with certain drugs — has served since the Nixon administration as a major profit center for governments at every level. Owing to the ostensible efforts to suppress the possession, use, and commerce in these drugs, governments have been able to justify great increases in their staffs, budgets, and power. Of all the interest groups that have devoted themselves to propping up this social, economic, and political catastrophe, the government itself stands prominently above the others, especially the police, the prosecutors, the prison guards, and the unions that represent the police and the prison personnel. 

Despite substantial efforts by various private groups opposed to the war on drugs and despite the growing public disapproval of the war on drugs, especially the marijuana laws, the government groups have remained steadfast in their opposition to any slackening of the established actions to cut off drug supplies and punish everyone engaged in the industry, whether as producer, consumer, or middleman. 

At present, President Trump, his attorney general, and his secretary of homeland security are all voicing support for not only retaining, but ramping up the national government’s war on drugs, including its enforcement of the federal marijuana laws.

In recent decades, however, a growing number of states have liberalized their drug laws, especially those related to marijuana.

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A Sandy Beach and Constitutional Political Economy

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I normally walk my dogs twice each day along the beach, which gives me an opportunity to ponder, among other things, issues in constitutional political economy. My late friend James Buchanan, one of the deepest thinkers in political economy during the past century, led the development of this field of study in his time. Jim maintained that both for understanding how the political world works and for constructing better institutions to foster freedom and prosperity, one ought to distinguish between the establishment and maintenance of the constitution, on the one hand, and normal politics, on the other. The idea is that the constitution has more durability and sets more binding constraints, whereas normal political action takes place within these bounds, dealing with less fundamental matters and doing so in a more volatile way.
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Against the Feel-Good Study of History and Literature

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The educational establishment seems to be expending a great deal of effort these days to excise “offensive” material from the curricula of history and literature. For example, Mark Twain’s great anti-racist novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been removed from the study materials in many schools because of its use of the word “nigger” in the dialogue—as if any accurate representation of the time and place Twain portrays in this book could have been written without this key word. 

Recently this censorial campaign has reached such heights of stupidity that new editions of Twain’s books The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are being published with the word “nigger” replaced by the word “slave.” With friends like this misguided editor, anti-racists need no enemies. One is not likely to produce an intelligent end by the use of foolish means.

More generally, the wrongheaded effort to produce feel-good instruction in history and literature undermines the entire purpose of studying these subjects as part of a liberal education; it aims to make the students feel comfortable and unchallenged rather than to help them acquire knowledge and understanding of the human past and human nature with all its potential for both good and evil.
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Can the State Enforce Virtuous Behavior?

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For thousands of years, states (or equivalent ruling organizations and elites) certainly have acted as if they could enforce virtuous behavior—always of course according to the particular conception of virtue they happened to cherish. And many continue to do so today. Thus, most US states still prohibit possession of, use of, and commerce in a long list of narcotics and other substances deemed bad for people.

Governments have often forbidden free markets in sexual services, gambling, and even doing business on Sunday. They have made various sorts of speech unlawful, along with all sorts of communication in schools and in the labor market. They have outlawed many kinds of interactions, from marriage on down a long list, between adults and persons under a stipulated age of legal consent, sometimes as old of 21 years. So, governments clearly purport to enforce virtuous behavior—or, at least, the avoidance of vicious behavior—among those subject to their rule.

But do they succeed? They obviously do not succeed fully, and in many cases they fall so far short of success that their “virtue laws” are a laughing stock notwithstanding severe penalties provided for convicted violators. Although prostitution has been outlawed far and wide, for example, it has been practiced just as pervasively.
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Total National Security Spending Is Much Greater than the Pentagon’s Base Budget

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In a recent publication of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, “Defense Spending Extends Beyond the Pentagon’s Budget,” Veronique de Rugy presents a valuable compilation of data for fiscal year 2013, showing how much of the government’s national security spending appears not in the base budget of the Department of Defense, but elsewhere in the government’s budget. This point is important because in debates about Pentagon funding, those who favor giving the Pentagon more money generally rest their arguments on references to the amount appropriated for the Pentagon’s base budget alone, ignoring the substantial amounts that appear under other rubrics in the government’s overall budget.

De Rugy shows that for fiscal year 2013, the Pentagon’s base budget alone amounted to only 68 percent of the grand total for all national security spending. In her accounting, the grand total also includes amounts spent primarily by the departments of Defense (for war, budgeted separately from the base budget), Energy (for nuclear weapons programs), State, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury (for a portion of the military retirement budget). By excluding these huge amounts of funding ($358 billion), the drain on the nation’s financial resources is greatly understated and hence the debate badly distorted.
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The US Government Makes a Mockery of the Principal-Agent Relationship

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The philosophical and legal foundation of the US government (and some other governments) is that government officials are the agents of the citizens—in the familiar phrase, those who govern have the “consent of the governed.” An agent, of course, is someone I authorize to act on my behalf. For a host of reasons, this doctrine has always been more or less absurd, but its absurdity has been placed in stark relief recently by the government’s mass spying, which violates the Constitution, various statutes, and many official declarations and promises.

Imagine that I have an agent—for example, I currently have a building contractor in Mexico to whom I have given a legal power of attorney to act in specified ways for a specified duration in carrying out various transactions related to the construction of my house there. Now suppose that my agent refuses to give me full information on his activities performed on my behalf and—outrageous as it might seem—undertakes to spy on me.

Then, when I challenge his defective agency and his unauthorized actions in court, he has the impudence to defend himself on the grounds that I lack standing to sue him and that the secrets he keeps from me are legally unblemished because they are “state secrets.” Obviously no one would tolerate such an agent; nor would any court uphold such blatant highhandedness.
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