The Truth Behind Government Abolition and its Effect on Consumption

According to Wisconsin state law, it is legal to purchase and sell fireworks but illegal to possess use them without a permit; local regions often impose more harsh regulations.

Of course, these laws were more universally disregarded by the residents of Wisconsin on the fourth of July than Apple’s “terms and conditions,” they likely didn’t prevent a single firework from going off.

There are many different routes to justify an argument. For instance, when coming to conclude that marijuana should be legalized, the fact that it is an excellent fiscal move (by cutting spending and then placing a tax to exploit the inelasticity of the demand of cannabis) is one route, while another route would be to argue that we could better prevent substance abuse by legalizing it.

There is a single argument one that is often overlooked but is innately libertarian (and can be applied to a dozen issues) that ultimately destroys the notion that a ban on items is a good idea. It’s not.

Pro-life conservatives and anti-gun leftists share one thing in common: the compulsive need to ban something they dislike because they believe it will decrease the frequency of the undesired act or purchase of undesired item. The same, flawed argument has been used on drugs, alcohol, firearms, prostitution and many other things.

Let’s get to the numbers and see if the notion that “prohibition doesn’t decrease usage” has statistical merit.

Abortion

There’s actually very little data to support the claim that Roe v. Wade lead to an increase in the likelihood of abortions. Keep in mind, my exact wording was “likelihood,” because in order to have an abortion, one must be pregnant, so it is statistically illegitimate and misleading to just compare raw numbers seeing that the overall population and more importantly, the number of live births, are by no means consistent.

Further, it is important to factor in the number of legal and illegal abortions, especially considering the vast majority of pre-1973 abortions were done illegally.

Physician Mary Calderone’s 1960 publication estimated the number of illegal abortions to be between 200,000 to 1,200,000. Unfortunately, this is the most reliable information I could find, despite the enormous range.

For our sake, we’ll split it in the middle and assume the number to be 700,000 in 1960. However, there were also legal abortions being done as many states supported legal abortions, despite the few legal providers and often the few circumstances in which it was legal.

The CDC did not start reporting the number of legal abortions until a decade later, but we will use 1972 as the base year before Roe v. Wade.

According to the CDC, roughly 587,000 legal abortions were reported that year. We’re going to assume that the 1960 estimate is fairly accurate to what the number of illegal abortions were in 1972, although it was likely higher than that due to increasing population and more airtime in the political conversation regarding abortion, but this will give us a raw number of 1,287,000 abortions in 1972.

If a woman were to get pregnant, there are three outcomes: miscarriage, abortion or live birth. Because it is unclear what the intentions are of a woman that has a miscarriage, we will disregard these and only estimate the percentage of non-miscarriage pregnancies that led to an abortion by dividing the number of abortions by the combined number of live births and abortions and multiplying by 100. In 1972, that percentage would’ve been just above 28.3%.

I was unable to find a reliable statistic for the number of “back alley” abortions after Roe v. Wade, but it was likely far lower than it was before Roe v. Wade for very understandable reasons.

If we were to compare that number to 1990, the record year for the number of legal abortions in the US, the percent of pregnancies that lead to an abortion would be just shy of 25.5%. In 2009, that number would be 16%. Thus, there’s not nearly enough evidence to support the claim that legalizing abortions caused a spike in abortions when you count in for illegal abortions or changes in live births.

Cannabis

Has the drug war cut down the usage of cannabis and do countries in which Marijuana is criminalized have a lower consumption rate of the drug? The short answer to both is no.

Let’s take the example of South America, seeing that there is a diversity of government policies there.

We’ll separate the continent into two categories based on federal laws: legal and decriminalized or illegal.

Without weighing for population we can average the percentage of the population that took a hit in the past year in the countries banning marijuana: Chile (11.3%), Bolivia (1.27%), Paraguay (1.6%), Ecuador (0.67%), Guyana (4.04%) and Suriname (4.25%) for an average of 3.86%. Meanwhile, the legal and decriminalized countries of Brazil (2.6%), Argentina (3.2%), Uruguay (9.3%), Peru (1%), Colombia (3.27%) and Venezuela (1.56%) average to 3.49%.

Of course, these numbers would be far different if measured against population considering half of South America’s population lives in Brazil, which would lower the average for legalized countries because it would simply overpower little Uruguay; while Chile has the highest population among countries that ban cannabis and also the highest consumption rate in the continent.

Next, let’s look at trends in specific countries on whether legalization or abolition has an effect on consumption.

In 1969, before the drug war began under Nixon, only 4% of US adults admitted to smoking marijuana according to Gallup. By 2015, that number had grown to 44%, an eleven-fold increase, despite the fact that the question in 1969 was asking if Americans consumed a legal drug, whereas now they answered whether they consumed an illegal one that could land you over a decade in prison.

Portugal, a nation that legalized every drug from marijuana to heroin, has seen their drug-induced deaths per year decline by 80% from 2001 to 2012.

Guns

The act of owning a gun isn’t what bothers most leftists, it is the act of killing someone with it. Thus, the argument here must both be focused on whether gun control prevents gun ownership and if gun ownership leads to more deaths. Notice the fact that I said deaths rather than gun-related murders. The method of killing someone is irrelevant in this context because no sane person would want to only limit murders committed with a knife or gun but not want to decrease murders in general. Thus, if a gun control measure decreases gun murders by 100 but overall murders stay the same because those 100 murders were committed with knives, the legislation is unsuccessful.

First, it is important to decide whether increased gun ownership is correlated with a higher murder rate.

In 1992, the number of firearms in the United States was 192 million. By 2000, it was up to 259 million and hit 294 million by 2007.

By 2013, there were 357 million, only three years after, the number of firearms surpassed the number of people in the United States for the first time in US history.

Of course, we must factor in population changes that spiraled upwards from 256.51 million to 317.47 million inhabitants in 2013, which means there was a 50.2% increase in the firearms per capita in the US.

During roughly that same time in the years 1993-2011, the murder rate in the US plummeted by 51.5% according to the same congressional report that kept track of guns in the United States.

Not only that, there is no evidence that counties or states with higher gun ownership rates have higher murder rates, rather the evidence shows the contrary.

First, let’s take the 50 states and D.C. and separate the twelve with the highest and lowest gun ownership.

Those with the highest rates include, Wyoming (at number one), Alaska, Montana, both Dakotas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Alabama.

The states where guns are nearly nonexistent are, D.C., New Jersey, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Florida and California.

The twelve states that represent the “gun culture” that leftists complain about averaged a murder rate of 4.15 per 100,000 residents, while the eleven states and D.C. that are known for strict gun laws and drastically low gun ownership averaged 5.13 murders.

Not only do historical trends and state comparisons prove no correlation between high gun ownership and high levels of murders, they actually insinuate the opposite.

Finally, there’s no real evidence that gun control even prevents gun ownership. Not only will many economists such as John Lott argue a pro-gun stance, but the vast majority of economists are in agreement, as is the data they use.

Dubner and Levitt in Freakonomics explained why the Brady Act played no role in reducing crime in the late Clinton area (which should’ve already been obvious since the crime rate continued to plummet after it was repealed). Not only that, the number of guns in America still skyrocketed during the duration of the Brady gun control bill.

Prostitution

The likely goal of banning prostitution outright is to prevent abuse, rather than sex itself on the open market, and it’s very true that human trafficking is a serious issue where people (mostly women) can often be abused or exploited.

That doesn’t mean that legalized prostitution leads to this by any stretch, so it’s important to see if the data shows whether legalized or criminalized prostitution plays a role.

Looking at Eastern Europe, the countries can be easily separated into three categories: areas where prostitution is prohibited, areas where prostitution is okay but pimping and brothels are not and areas in which all prostitution is legal and regulated.

In addition, analysis by the State Department ranked every country by whether they are tier one (the best score, meaning the fewest cases of human trafficking), tier two, tier two watch list or tier three. For simplicity, we’ll score three points for tier two watch list countries and four for tier three countries for the sake of averaging the nations out. (Note: I opted not to include Albania and the former Yugoslav countries for the sake of not analyzing nearly an additional 10 countries.)

Countries with completely legalized prostitution that do not prevent the creation of brothels and organized commercial business include, Latvia (2), Austria (1), Hungary (2), Greece (2) and Turkey (2) for an average of 1.8.

Low nations, that do prevent organized prostitution but not the act itself, are represented by Poland (1), Czech Republic (1), Slovakia (1), Estonia (2) and Bulgaria (2) for an average of 1.4.

Even lower meanwhile, the places that ban prostitution outright are, Russia (4), Lithuania (2), Belarus (3), Ukraine (3), Moldova (2) and Romania (2) for a final tally of 2.66.

Not only is there not a single tier two watch list or tier three country that has legalized prostitution; there was not a single nation among the ones that tax and spend to criminalize and prevent prostitution that had a tier one status. This is very consistent across the globe.

While there can be an argument over what legal precedent should be set for organized prostitution, it is apparent that forbidding an open market where sex is the product only creates a closed market in which sex is still the product, but abuse and violence replace income as the incentive.

Conclusion

Alcohol prohibition that was enforced under the Eighteenth Amendment during the Woodrow Wilson presidency was seen as one of the most catastrophic policy failures of the early 20th century.

Hopefully, Nixon’s War on Drugs, that Reagan and Clinton both exacerbated, is seen the same way years down the road.

The simple argument is that any product or service being sold in the economy (a handgun, an ounce of marijuana, a pack of cigarettes, an abortion procedure or a sexual act and so on) cannot be prevented by a federal law.

I would argue there is a role the state should play in the market, and I say that as a capitalist that largely opposes taxes, bailouts and subsidies; that role is product verification.

A monetary transaction is a pact of consent in which the consumer and producer exchange currency for a specific product.

It’s fairly hard to prevent rat poisoning from being put in illegal drugs, counterfeit currency from being given out and diseases being spread as a result of paid intimacy.

Why? Well, I don’t believe most people would be agitated enough to inform the authorities they got lead poisoning from consuming an illegal drug. Thus, it follows that by legalizing these products, a state could prevent maternal deaths from unsafe abortions, sickness and fatalities from unsafe drugs and assault committed by abusive pimps and clients.

However, it is vital to clear up the fact that legalizing a product or service doesn’t lead to more violent crime or even a spike in the usage of it, but rather the opposite. In other words, it’s time for authoritarians to stop painting libertarian policies as being pro-abortion, gun murder, drug overdose and human trafficking and time for libertarians to start wondering what cynical reasons statists have for wanting to ban specific products. After seeing the glaring evidence showing that the one goal of a ban, to limit the usage of it, is statistically unsuccessful.

However, if history taught us anything about the real reasons behind Nixon’s war on drugs or Mao’s gun control policies, all we can do is guess that the reason is cynical and cruel in nature.

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Jake Dorsch

Jake Dorsch is a libertarian activist, bank teller, investor and aspiring future economist from Green Bay, Wisconsin that is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both political science and quantitative economics at Drake University. He is currently on track to graduate a year early and will likely continue to obtain a master’s degree in econometrics.

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