|The City Mouse|
Interview with a libertarian on pot profits
Q: You’re a libertarian. Could you tell us briefly what that means?
A: It means I’m a person who believes that people, as a general rule, should be free to be their potty old selves. That’s Bill Buckley’s definition of libertarianism.
Q: How does libertarianism differ from anarchism?
A: The anarchist is set upon overthrowing government so that he might luxuriate in the ensuing chaos. ANTIFA, the anti-Nazi Nazis, are anarchical, much worse, in my opinion, than some few violent members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, who want to rub white faces in flames and free stores of overpriced sneakers. The libertarian is set upon perfecting limited government by removing unnecessary impediments to fructifying liberty. As a general rule, he or she believes that less government maximizes personal freedom, and the maximization of personal freedom, virtually all the founders of our miraculous republic tell us, leads to prosperity, a beneficial increase in personal initiative, and a creative economic infrastructure. Ordered liberty is not anarchy; disordered liberty may approach anarchy.
Q: The Connecticut General Assembly has before it two bills that would remove legal penalties for personal use pot possession. There may be more such bills; progressives in the Assembly, in their haste to leave nothing unregulated or taxed, are prolific. Will these bills advance the public good?
A: We shall have to see, as the scattered band of non-partisan journalists in Connecticut often say. But advancing the public good, libertarians would argue, is not synonymous with advancing the sectarian good. George Bernard Shaw used to say that every profession is a conspiracy against the laity. Just so, every special interest, however laudable, is the enemy of the public good, because special interests are chiefly concerned with advancing their own special interests. Every special interest in the state seeks to advance its own good, separate from the public good and usually at its expense.
Q: The difficulty right now in the General Assembly concerns pot rake-offs. Special interest groups in the General Assembly begin to sound more and more like low grade mafia members dividing the neighborhood spoils. A majority of legislators appear to agree that the so called “war on drugs” has been a failure, that pot, formerly illegal, should be legalized, heavily regulated and taxed. You think, if I understand you, that when pot is legalized, there is no reason it should not be treated as any other legal product in a free market, such as peaches or bath towels.
This is the way Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont – certainly no libertarian – put it in a piece, “A push for equity in legal weed battle”, that appeared Wednesday in a Hartford paper:
“I think we have broad agreement – don’t we? –that we want this to be legal, we want this to be regulated, and leads with public health. Now, there’s always a scramble about who gets the money and how much for this group and that group. So I’ll watch that and make sure in stays within bounds. I think we all agree we want resources to go to the most distressed communities. I want it to go to economic development. I want it to go to mental health and addiction services. As long as we’re broadly within those parameters, I think we’ve got a deal.”
The governor's pot bill, the newspaper tells us, “calls for 55 percent of the money going to Initiative to help communities that were harmed the most during the war on drugs, 15% for mental health and prevention, and 30% to the state’s general fund to administer the marijuana program at agencies such as the state consumer protection department for regulations, testing, licensing and oversight.”
Which part of this program can you, as a libertarian, support? And what the Hell is equity anyway?
A: I support none of it. Equity, like the false patriotism Samuel Johnson inveighed against in the 18th century, has become the last refuge of scoundrels. Equity implies that every person is equal and that all outcomes should also be equal. This is nonsense. A murderer sentenced by a judge after being found guilty by a jury of his peers cannot vacate the sentence because he, equal in every respect to the judge, wishes to embrace equity. Equity is not “equality under the law.” And that’s what is wrong with it.
Q: Explain why you think Lamont’s remarks above are… what word am I looking for?
A: Stupid. If you legalize the use of pot, you have agreed not to punish in the future those who supply or consume pot. Laws illegalizing pot having been scrubbed from the books, the doctrine nullum crimen sine lege – “where there is no law, there can be no punishment” -- clicks in. That doctrine is an unabridgedgeable feature of all western law – no law, no punishment. The lineaments of this principle can been seen in the 10th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Is a regulation a law? It is indeed, when a punishment is assigned to its violation.
In what is euphemistically called a “free market”, producers and consumers are at liberty to do as they like – provided there is no Constitutional law limiting their liberty to be, as I’ve described above, their potty old selves. This is former Attorney General Dick Blumenthal’s personal nightmare; that there exists somewhere on the planet an outpost that has not been regulated by Dick Blumenthal. People put lots of products on the open market; some sell, some don’t. It is the market itself, the law, so to speak, of supply and demand, that provides a natural framework for productive free enterprise. Taxes and regulation kill free enterprise, which is why environmentalists, to pick one group of many, want to impose crippling taxes on fossil fuel driven car engines. They want everyone to take busses and trains to work.
Now, Lamont has said 1) we want the sale and distribution of pot to be legal, and 2) we want to regulate the sale and distribution of pot profits. By “we” he does not mean the whole democratic polis should regulate both the supply and demand of a product or service by means of its purchasing power; he does not mean “we, the producers of the product; he does not mean “we”, the consumers of the product. By “we” Lamont means “we happy few… we band of political robbers… we regulators who will affix penalties to an activity we have not decided to legalize. If any of this makes sense to you, you are among the fortunate few who are able to violate with impunity the nullum crimen sine lege doctrine.
Q: You think the free market delivers goods and services more equitably to people living in cities.
A: A free market, unburdened by excessive taxes and regulations, will do that, yes.
Q: That seems to run athwart common perceptions.
A: It is a view not shared by government officials, big spenders in the state legislature, professional tax gobblers and their accomplices in the state’s media. Don’t forget Shaw. Generally, the free market is friendly to small businesses, while highly regulated markets are friendly to large businesses that can pass along the costs of regulations to their customers without dipping into CEO earnings. If you overtax a barber on Barbour Street in Hartford, you will drive him out of business. If you overtax Warren Buffett, he will purchase the services of a high priced accounting firm that will steer him around the tax, which is why Buffett, so he tells us, pays less in taxes than his secretary. Political contributions to the reigning political power also help.
Let’s suppose you are a compassionate enlightened legislator who wishes to see poor, relatively speaking, African American businesses in the north end of Hartford prosper. Would you go about doing this by a) collecting tax money from obscenely rich hedge fund managers in Connecticut’s Gold Coast and rerouting a portion of it to the, relatively speaking, poor barber on Barbour Street in Hartford, or b) cut the barber’s taxes and return all of it, minus the administrative costs involved in transporting the money from the hedge fund manager, to the state, and from the state to the barber. Ask the barber which method he would prefer. I did, and he said he would choose a) because a loaf taken from a rich man’s table is reduced to crumbs under the table by the time it is distributed to the poor – if, he stressed, it ever finds its way there.
B: So, your answer to the question now being batted around in the legislature -- what is the most cost effective way to make sure that the poor in cities profit by the legalization of pot? – would be what?
A: Cut all taxes in those areas of cities you wish to see prosper. Progressives universally subscribe to the notion that, if you wish to kill a product or service, you tax it. This is why a pack of cigarettes and a gallon of gas are prohibitively expensive in Connecticut. The obverse is also true. If you want to see the desert flower, stop taxing sand. The cost of labor in poor parts of Hartford could be much less than it would be in rich suburbs; therefore the cost of the product also would be less – if we suspend legislatively enforced minimum wage laws in sections of cities we wish to lift from poverty. Hire all former pot dealers to sell the newly legalized product. They would be very grateful to receive from a beneficent state a whole loaf, rather than crumbs from under the rich man’s table.
B: Thank you.