Welfare, Warfare, & Police: Dispelling the Mythology – Part 2
This essay was written by guest-author Will Porter.
Continued from Part 1
With all of this said, we have yet to address the issue of crime itself. It is oft-charged that without public police, surely criminals would run wild in the streets, looting and pillaging everything in sight, leaving average helpless citizens alone to deal with marauders, thugs, and street gangs. To deal with this point, let us take the hardest case possible: the violent crime which today plagues almost every major city in the world.
It first should be made clear, though, that the police’s primary job has never been to prevent crime, but to catch and punish criminals ex post facto. It is much less common for police officers to catch and stop crimes in the act, or to prevent them preemptively. Rather, police usually hunt down and catch people after they’ve already committed an offense.
In the past it was proper to call these people “peace officers”, because their purpose was to keep the peace and avert violence (ignoring for the moment their brutal treatment of non-white demographics). But shortly after the Vietnam War, when thousands of mentally-distressed troops were coming home, the government police system began to become more and more militarized and its ranks started to swell with former military members. Not only have police started using SWAT teams, APCs, M-RAPs and other military weapons, but the entire culture and purpose of the police force has changed. The police’s function used to be to keep the peace and diffuse violence, today their job is to “enforce laws” and to escalate violence at every opportunity.
To “protect and serve” is the age-old police adage which is supposed to illustrate the noble purpose of the profession. Now, this adage has turned into “make it home”. That is the purpose of the officer. It is of course expected that anyone working a potentially dangerous job will always be motivated to get home and see their families and friends again, but when this becomes the only factor in the police officer’s judgment, he will often disregard protection and service of the public in favor of protecting himself or his fellow officers. The police culture has turned more towards a gang or military mentality, where the unit or the brotherhood takes primary importance over all else, as if engaged in a war against the rest of the populace. One often hears police officers saying “I just want to make it home”, and one’s heart identifies with that sentiment, but so long as officers only care about making it home, “to protect and serve” will increasingly fall by the wayside.
Instead of leaving people alone in their mundane daily motions, the police actively roam the streets searching for trouble. They look for minor infractions or misdemeanors—which there are many thousands of—in order to meet quotas and often simply to exercise their position of authority over average citizens.
There are so many laws on the books that, even when one calls around to various government agencies to ask, nobody can tell you any kind of number;[i] how about too many to count. There are tens of thousands of laws, any of which you may unwittingly break and be punished for.
The average American commits 3 felonies a day, just by being alive and going about their everyday activities.[ii] Even when you think you have nothing to hide, you are always in danger of being harassed, fined, or even locked away, all depending on the police officer’s use of “discretion” in enforcing whichever laws his whims dictate.
To return to the issue of violent crime, we must ask what causes the phenomena of rampant inner-city violence so common to large urban areas. Surely we need police and laws to deal with this, right? Again, this statist-myth is completely without merit. An astounding amount of crime is created or in some way caused by government laws. Were it not for this, the amount of murder, assault, battery, and robbery would much less severe, eliminating much of what commonly justifies the ever-expanding Police-State in the first place.
A massive contributing factor to violence can be found in the worldwide War on Drugs, and more broadly, the War on Vice. The prohibition of various drugs, along with prostitution and some forms of gambling, alone can account for a major portion of such crime.
Even on a superficial level, it seems obvious that when highly-demanded goods and services are made illegal, they are forced into underground black markets, where crime and corruption flourish. Instead of being provided by reputable vendors, drugs, gambling, and prostitution are pushed into the hands of shady dealers, or even worse, cartels and street gangs. Whether one believes it is moral or decent to get involved in drugs, gambling, or prostitution, it remains a fact that many people do and will engage in these activities whether they are legal or not.
I am fairly sure that it is uncontroversial to assert that street gangs are significant contributors to violent crime. In contrast to the relatively rare cases of violence between average, upright citizens, the systematic and organized violence of street gangs surely wins out in regard to their share of aggression inflicted into society. It is almost totally due to the drug trade that these gangs can grow so large and well-funded, and become such a problem.
But drugs haven’t always been illegal, is there any historical parallel which can shed light on the Drug War phenomenon? Have we seen anything similar to the drug-dealing gangs and cartels that exist today? Has this always been such a serious problem?
From around 1920-1933, the United States instituted the 18th Amendment, commonly known as the prohibition of alcohol, which sought to eradicate alcoholism in a strikingly similar way to which the War on Drugs seeks to erase the blight of substance abuse.[iii] The results were, as well, almost identical to the effects of the Drug War.
Rather than reducing crime and the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the effects of the 18th amendment included: rampant organized crime and, in some areas, an almost doubling of violent crime rates, major corruption of law enforcement, increased consumption of alcohol, as well as an epidemic of deaths related to tainted, impure, or too-potent booze, distilled in basements and bathtubs.[iv] A similar trend occurs in the contemporary drug prohibition, where potency keeps increasing, as it is easier to illegally traffic smaller amounts of stronger, more expensive drugs.
The public at-large today sees the clear stupidity and insanity of such an attempted ban on alcohol, so why is it so difficult to fathom how this might be happening again, on an astronomically-larger scale, with the War on Drugs?
The slew of shoot-outs, massacres, bombings, racketeering, and police corruption turned the streets of some major U.S. cities into battlegrounds during Prohibition.[v] The Capones and Lucky Lucianos of yesterday are the Bloods, Crips, Vice Lords, and MS-13s of today. This is an obvious case of history repeating itself.[vi]
Almost immediately after the 18th Amendment was repealed, the spike in crime-rates reversed, the black market gangs receded, thus returning many large American cities to relative normalcy.
The particular myth surrounding the Drug War, then, is almost 100% nonsense. It is claimed strict drug-enforcement reduces substance abuse, it has and does not. In fact, the use of certain substances is at an all-time high in many countries around the globe, and continues to rise. This is in line with America’s experience with alcohol prohibition.
It is also said that drug-laws reduce crime, they have and do not.[vii] Crime rates are staggering in cities like Detroit and Chicago, almost exclusively due to the criminal enterprises that operate in the drug-gambling-prostitution trade. This, also, is almost identical to what occurred with the ban on alcohol. The two main thrusts of the case for the Drug War are completely without basis. The only other example of substance-prohibition in America—alcohol—brought about the exact same social-calamities, as well as similarly absurd arguments and justifications in its favor.
It is also incredibly vital to point out the fact that the U.S. government, through the CIA, has in the past been caught and proven to have smuggled thousands of pounds of hard drugs, like cocaine, into their own country.[viii] The somewhat well-known Iran-Contra scandal took place at the dawn of the U.S. crack epidemic, and may have been a primary factor in creating it.
The amount of crime and violence that spawned from the crack-mania could, to at least some extent, be directly linked to the CIA’s extensive drug-running operation.
The CIA seems to rejoice in running drugs because the profit accrued from it allows them a huge black-budget to fund various covert and subversive operations. Not that the CIA doesn’t already get a secret black-budget in tax-dollars, but they like to have plenty of money to do things like overthrowing democratically-elected leaders and founding/funding rebel-terrorist groups, but we’ll learn more about this below.
It is highly doubtful that the CIA, or whoever it now may be, has permanently ceased their drug-trafficking operations, as Iran-Contra wasn’t the only known incident.[ix] It really is no great mystery why they would do such a thing, the more drugs pumped into the country, the more crime and social unrest they can create. With increased social malady comes the public demand for more government power to control society and economy. The expansion of government allows more tax-money to be allocated into the coffers of police officials, state-bureaucrats, politicians, “private” prison contractors, and so on.
This, as well, does not have to be a unified conspiracy. Such a thing can occur when various factions within the state pursue their own corrupt incentives, not necessarily in concert with one another. If the CIA were running drugs for the purpose of funding the Contras, and the various branches of police like to keep crime around for their own separate reasons (retaining/increasing their funding), they don’t have to conspire on a mass scale for it to benefit them both. People follow their interests, and if various state-officials can somehow gain from what the CIA or another branch of government is doing, so be it.
Aside from the fact that the Drug War cannot possibly accomplish its proclaimed goals, the very same government who bans these drugs actually ships them in by the ton to ensure they will never succeed in meeting their target.
But that is not all; the prison system must be addressed here as well. America has the largest prison population on the planet and it swells with millions of inmates, a large portion of which are incarcerated for non-violent distribution or possession “crimes”.[x] Incarceration rates skyrocketed during the Reagan Administration[xi], when crack-cocaine punishment was made orders of magnitude more severe than powder-cocaine, at a ratio of about 100:1.[xii] Some will maintain this was purposely done to harm minority demographics and the poor, but regardless of the intentions, this certainly was the effect.[xiii] Despite locking up hundreds of thousands of people for non-violent offenses, crime rates nor drug use have been significantly affected.[xiv]
The government cannot even keep drugs out of its own prisons! Given this fact, it is quite strange to continually encounter individuals who truly believe drugs can be eradicated from the whole of society (if not the face of the planet). Proponents of statism often succumb to forms of magical thinking, this is a pristine example. A prison is one of the most controlled, locked-down, regulated places on Earth. If the state cannot prevent drug use even here, it is more than foolish to trust in their ability to quell drug use elsewhere.
The criminal justice system today is geared primarily toward the punishment and incarceration of offenders, as opposed to the recompense and restitution of real victims. Adding insult to injury, not only are victims of genuine crimes not compensated, but are also forced to pay tax-dollars to house, clothe, and feed their own tormenters. The legal-judicial and prison systems of modern governments are highly corrupt and provide the total antithesis of justice.
To make matters even worse, a new wave of “private” corrections-contractors have emerged to imprison the people the Police-State kidnaps. Similar to military-contractors, these are not truly “private” institutions, as they receive most of their revenue in tax-dollars and from exclusive contracts awarded by the state—whereas free market business actually has to compete. Government-contractors simply get paid to do things nobody but the government wants done, this is not genuine “demand”, and these firms are not really private. The profits made in such a business come largely from the government-racket of imprisoning the innocent.
Drug offenses are referred to as “victimless crimes”, as there is no true victim. A real crime is an activity that physically harms or damages a person or their property. There is no such thing as a crime against society, or a crime against one’s self. Victimless crimes are, in fact, not crimes at all.[xv]
On top of incentivizing real crime, where person or property are actually harmed in some way, the Drug War makes criminals out of people who haven’t actually done any wrong and adds a completely unnecessary, massive burden on the already-inefficient judicial system (and, not to mention, costs taxpayers mind-boggling sums of money).
Do not mistake me here to be in favor of drug use, it is clear that such a thing is spiritually and physically detrimental for the user. But the non-violent choices of individuals, personally-good choices or not, cannot possibly justify the moral abomination left in the wake of the War on Drugs. Many things that are legal, including tobacco, alcohol, and junk food, are also harmful to health, and here nobody presumes the right to beat down your door and lock you in a cage to prevent you from consuming these substances.
Not only does it fail to prevent crime from occurring, the Drug War creates vast amounts of crime by leaving the drug trade in the hands of gangsters and thugs. Additionally, the mass-incarceration of drug offenders has doubtless contributed to the solidification of the criminal underclass by sending vast amounts of otherwise peaceful people through the “criminal school” of prison where they house with miscreants and malefactors of all backgrounds.
Trillions of dollars[xvi] have been devoted to this effort, and the effects have been completely contrary to its alleged goals. Every dollar which is spent on the Drug War is a dollar not spent to protect people from real crimes, violations of person or property. When ever-more legislation, time, effort, and resources are devoted to it, all this can do is aggravate the problem. Inner-cities again turn into war zones where rival drug-gangs and police alike all fight for territory—a situation almost identical to alcohol prohibition, but now ongoing for many decades.
If the Drug War had never been declared in the first place, it is highly unlikely our cities would be so ravenously violent, and therefore the public at-large would not feel the urgent need for a militarized Police-State to protect them.
Things haven’t always been this way. Crime is, of course, eternally-present in any society, but the concentrated and organized nature of the drug trade is an altogether unique phenomenon, created by artificial state-intervention. It did not emerge naturally and spontaneously, but directly as a result of counter-productive, nefarious laws.
The typical justification for the Police-State is crime. But the problem of crime is made inconceivably worse by, at bare minimum, the Drug War, giving government a blank-check to continually feed the fire they claim to be trying to put out.
The War on Vice isn’t a complete explanation, however, of the scourge of crime which afflicts society. Crime is the daughter of desperation, and it is poverty which breeds desperation. The drug trade is simply an outlet for crime, made highly profitable and lucrative by its illegalization. Destitute inner-city youths, especially, are incentivized toward a life of misdeeds which manifests in drug-dealing street gangs and mafia cartels.
We may begin to illustrate the roots of poverty simply by pointing to the countless billions of dollars extracted from productive private society and poured into the Police-State apparatus, including the tax-funds devoted to feeding and clothing the millions of non-violent drug-offense inmates.[xvii]
Every single dollar stolen from productive hands in taxes is a dollar which will not go toward the savings and investment, capital accumulation, and business expansion vital for alleviating poverty in society. We cannot precisely pin down the damage done by all of this, since we cannot see all of the businesses that didn’t start up or expand because of it, but it is certain that when vast sums of wealth are stolen and poured into destructive government-programs, this hurts society as a whole. Every dollar wasted in the militarization of police,[xviii] undertaken to combat the government-created phenomenon of drug-crime, is a dollar that will not go to feed a hungry child, or to allow a business to expand to employ an unskilled worker.
Continue to Part Three
Note: Many of the references provided are simply to help illustrate the various points made in the essay and to direct the reader toward additional relevant information. It is always encouraged that the reader does their own research. Do not take these citations as themselves authoritative.
[i] Number of laws on the books:
[ii] Three Felonies a day:
[iii] The 18th Amendment:
[iv] Effects of alcohol prohibition:
[v] Crime & prohibition:
[vi] More on organized crime & prohibition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States#Organized_crime
[vii] Failures of the Drug War:
[viii] Iran-Contra scandal:
More on U.S. drug-running:
[ix] Bill Clinton & drug trafficking:
[x] Adult prison population (1980-2009): http://www.notbeinggoverned.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/U.S._adult_correctional_population_timeline.gif
[xi] Incarceration during Reagan Administration up from 50,000 to 400,000 (1980-1997): http://www.drugpolicy.org/new-solutions-drug-policy/brief-history-drug-war
More on prison populations:
[xii] Crack-to-Powder cocaine punishment ratio:
[xiii] Race & the Drug War:
[xiv] Incarceration rates graph (1925-2008): http://www.notbeinggoverned.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/U.S._incarceration_rates_1925_onwards.png
[xv] Vices Are Not Crimes – Lysander Spooner:
[xvi] 2.5 Trillion spent on drug war since 1971:
Drug War clock:
[xvii] Money spent on incarceration:
[xviii] Militarized police: