Eric has a post up about the Mandarin mentality. Which fits into a comment I was responding to that my friend Neil made on a different post. Here is what Neil had to say.

It’s probably true that drug use was not a major problem when government began prohibition efforts. It wasn’t really a problem until advances in the chemical industry and agriculture made large quantities of various drugs available.

Interestingly, alcoholism WAS a problem. Prohibition was a (misguided) effort to address a real cultural habit of binge drinking that was causing real problems. Americans didn’t drink for pleasure, they drank to get drunk. And to stay drunk. I think we’re finally starting to find some balance now. “Drink Responsibly”. “See you at AA”. “Don’t Drink and Drive”. A web of cultural permissions and limits on when and when not to drink.

I shudder to think of what will be required to find some balance on drug use. It probably starts, as you point out, with trying to understand who uses drugs habitually, and why. I support legalization, but I doubt it’s a panacea for responsible drug use. It’s certainly not a panacea for the Republicans, and probably not for economic freedom, either.

Well of course I had to respond. Here is my response revised and extended:

Neil,

You are now getting into an area I actually have some insight into.

Look at alcohol use in America from 1750 to 1900. It steadily declined from astronomical rates to more moderate rates. My theory is that hard conditions determine most drug use. Everyone gets PTSD short term from difficult events. Infant and child mortality say. The death of a wife in childbirth.

In America the preferred drug was alcohol. In China – opium. Although there was considerable opiate use in America post Civil War.

So what do we see today? In America the opiate using population was 1.3% before prohibition. After nearly 100 years of opiate prohibition it is still 1.3%.

That residual is due to long term PTSD. And the way to cut that back is to reduce child abuse. Especially sexual abuse in childhood. Current opiate use is highly correlated statistically and anecdotally with sexual abuse in childhood.

Alcohol abuse was already on a steep decline by 1900 and may have been near residual rates by the time Alcohol Prohibition was instituted. The problems with alcohol were still in memory but no longer much in actual evidence when Alcohol Prohibition was instituted. Typical government program.

Our government typically lags the real world. In electrical systems that is called a phase lag. And what do you get out of a lagged system with enough gain? Oscillation. Which is why fewer laws are better generally for system stability. People can adapt to changing circumstances faster than government can. And if you need government local rules are generally better than global rules because they adapt better to local circumstances. The libertarian ideal if you will. Common law is a way of adapting the law to individual cases. Which is why you need very high caliber judges for such a system.