Distorted Incentives: The Failure of the War on Drugs and a New Way Forward
What is preventing us from formulating the optimum drug policy?
While President Richard Nixon declared a "War on Drugs" in 1971, federal drug enforcement policy has remained relatively unchanged since the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. In other words, our drug policy is about to celebrate its 100 year anniversary.
In a provocative talk at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA, Nadelmann surveyed an array of alternative policy options, along a spectrum "from the most punitive to the most free market." So what do these options look like?
On one side you have what Nadelmann describes as "the Saudi Arabia/Singapore cut-off their heads, whip 'em, pull out their finger nails, drug test them with no cause, lock them up in prison camps" TK. On the other end -of the spectrum you have the free market policy with "almost no controls, almost no taxation...Milton Friedman's wet dream." Nadelmann points out that this was essentially the policy for cigarettes in the 1960s.
So the question is how do we move along this spectrum and find the optimal drug control policy?
According to Nadelmann, the optimal drug control policy seeks to do two things: reduce the harms associated with drug use (addiction, crime, etc). It also tries to reduce the negative consequences of government action in this area. To put this one neat sentence, as Nadelmann does in his talk, an optimal policy would be
To reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with protecting public safety and health.
So what is preventing us from reaching consensus on this issue and formulating the optimum policy?
Over the course of history our policy has never been guided by a rational analysis.
Nadelmann asks: "Does anyone here actually think that some early version of the Institute of Medicine evaluated the relative risks of drugs 100 years ago" and then decided which ones should be legal and which ones should be illegal?
As Nadelmann points out, our laws have nothing to do with actual risk, and everything to do with who uses which drugs, and who we perceive to use which drugs.
For instance, who were the principal opiate users in the U.S. in the 1870s?
"Middle aged white women by the millions took opium," Nadelmann points out. These women had nothing else available to deal with aches and pains. So why didn't people think to make a law to outlaw opium? "Nobody wanted to put grandma or auntie behind bars," Nadelmann says.
However, when Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. and brought their tradition of smoking opium with them, that's when we see the first prohibition laws pop up in Nevada and California.
These laws, like anti-cocaine and -marijuana laws, Nadelmann argues, were simply based on fear, not fact-based analysis.
Watch the video here:
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
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- Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
- There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
- "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.