"It's a free country."
That's a popular saying—and true in many ways. But for a free country, America does ban a lot of things that are perfectly peaceful and consensual. Why is that?
Here are some things you can't do in most states of the union: rent your body to someone for sex, sell your kidney, take recreational drugs. The list goes on. I'll discuss American prohibitions tonight at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern time (and again on Friday at 10) on my Fox Business program.
The prohibitionists say their rules are necessary for either the public's or the particular individual's own good. I'm skeptical. I think of what Albert Camus said: "The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants." Prohibition is force. I prefer persuasion. Government force has nasty unintended consequences.
I would think that our experience with alcohol prohibition would have taught America a lesson. Nearly everyone agrees it was a disaster. It didn't stop people from drinking, but it created new and vicious strains of organized crime. Drug prohibition does that now.
The prohibitionists claim that today's drugs are far more dangerous than alcohol.
But is that true? Or is much of what you think you know ... wrong?
I believed the Drug Enforcement Administration's claim that drugs like crack and meth routinely addict people on first use.
But Jacob Sullum, who wrote Saying Yes, says, "If you look at the government's own data about patterns of drug use, it clearly is not true."
The data is remarkable: 8.5 million Americans have tried crack, but there are only 359,000 regular users. (The government defines "regular use" as using a drug at least once in the past 30 days.) More than 12 million tried meth, but only 314,000 still take it. The story is similar for heroin. Most people who try these "instantly additive drugs" do not get "hopelessly addicted." They give them up on their own.
As Sullum puts it: "The vast majority of people who use illegal drugs do not become heavy users, do not become addicts; it does not disrupt their lives. In fact, I would argue it enhances their lives. How do we know that? Because they use it."
But on the news, we constantly see people whose lives have been destroyed by drugs. Sullum says: "When you have prohibition, the most visible users are the ones who are most antisocial, most screwed up. They're the ones who come to the attention of the police. ... People who present themselves as experts on drug use because they come into contact with all these addicts have a very skewed perspective because they are seeing a biased sample. The people who are well adjusted, responsible users are invisible."
My prohibition show will also touch on prostitution. I want ratings—I admit it. Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy says prostitution is "sexual slavery."
I think calling it slavery is an insult to those who've suffered real slavery. Slavery is force. Prostitution is consensual. On my show, I'll let a former "sex worker" and the prosecutor fight it out.
The prohibitionists also ban the sale of human organs. You aren't allowed to sell a kidney to someone who will die without one. Sally Satel, a physician who is the recipient of a kidney and the author of When Altruism Isn't Enough, says, "Altruism ... is a beautiful virtue, but tomorrow at this time 13 people will be dead because they didn't get a kidney."
In a free country, we consenting adults should be able to do whatever we want with our bodies as long as we don't hurt anyone else. People who don't like what we do have every right to complain about our behavior, to boycott, to picket, to embarrass us. Bless the critics. They make us better people by getting us to think about what's moral. Let them mock and shame. But shaming is one thing -- government force is another. Prohibition means we empower the state to send out people with guns to force people to do what the majority says is moral. That's not right.
And it doesn't even work.
John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at johnstossel.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.
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