Laws Cannot Solve Complex Social Problems

Yesterday the BBC headline reported on a Home Office study, which concluded that “there is “no obvious” link between tough laws and levels of illegal drug use”, as if it had just been discovered that the Earth was round.

The War on Drugs was only ever a war on all people who use drugs. In reality, that’s all it could be. All it achieved was to make drug selling highly profitable and drug buying highly dangerous; harm those it intended to help and imprison many innocent people whose only ‘crime’ was to smoke the wrong kind of plant. These consequences were predictable, which is why this report is not some intellectual revelation but a mere confirmation of long-established economic wisdom.

Economists of the Austrian school have been arguing the folly of using government force (i.e. the law) to attempt to solve social problems for several decades, since the time of alcohol prohibition in America (which was also a disaster).

These truths have been ignored over time by politicians who always need votes and intellectuals who favour government action because admitting that the only tool at their disposal (i.e. the force of the law) could not solve social problems would have been to admit to their own redundancy.

Trying to help drug addicts by ridding society of drugs by government force doesn’t work because it’s not possible to rid society of anything that enough people want. But politicians are very good at convincing voters (and themselves?) that they can achieve impossible goals like this.

In their minds society is this predictable, evenly rotating thing that they can manipulate to produce any desired output. It’s complete fantasy, but it wins votes because politicians themselves seem so convinced of their own abilities. It’s called hubris. And it’s the defining characteristic of those who become politicians and policy makers. In their eyes you and I are not individuals whose freedoms and goals should be respected, but manipulable elements of their grand plans to make a better world by forcing everyone into the desired patterns of behaviour with laws to restrict certain freedoms.

We must categorically reject the notion that anyone, however intellectual, highly educated or convinced of their own abilities they are, can improve our lives through government action to forcefully restrict our freedom to act. It is the grandest and most dangerous of all delusions.

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