This is another indication that the Democratic Alliance, which continues to fancy itself South Africa’s ‘liberal party’ – being the host of the continental Africa Liberal Network and SA’s only associate in Liberal International – has no intention to end the disastrous international War on Drugs, which has cost untold billions, wrecked untold millions of lives, and continues to strike at the very heart of the liberal notion of individual autonomy.
At various stages during the preceding year, writers at the Rational Standard have prodded the national DA leadership and provincial officials on why exactly the DA continues to make itself an accomplice to this travesty, and how they are able to bring it into line with their ostensible liberal credentials. We have been given non-answers, none of which come close to appreciating the reality of the Drug War.
SEE ALSO: The DA may be Many Things, but ‘Liberal’ it is Not by Martin van Staden
It takes nothing more than a basic understanding of economics – coupled with a little bit of respect for individual rights – to understand why the War on Drugs has failed so far, will never work, and should never have been started in the first place.
When something – anything – is prohibited by the State, the prohibition does not destroy the demand. If anything, it increases demand, especially among the youth when they want to be perceived as being rebellious. The market for the prohibited item is therefore not extinguished, but because it is now illegal and one could potentially go to jail for participating in it, the market is pushed underground. This is a so-called ‘black market’.
In legitimate markets, competition and transparency are what hold producers and service providers accountable. Civil society also ensures that whatever product is being sold is not a serious health risk, and, if it is, that the consumers are fully aware of that risk. But in black markets, violent crime is how competition is dealt with, and how payment is enforced. There are also no health standards, and consumers are forced to be happy with what they get from their dealers. Because nobody has recourse to the courts or the police when they engage in a black market, these criminals are what they have to contend with. And because the law is nowhere to be seen, the producers (i.e. the gangs) have very little interest in competing with other producers to sell the best product. Instead, they rather kill the competition to try and assert their dominance.
The fact that the production, distribution, and use of drugs is illegal, is the only reason why violence and gangsterism is associated with the drug market. The same thing happened during the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s. But the War on Alcohol was promptly ended, and further bloodshed was avoided.
SEE ALSO: Legalise It: Marijuana in SA by Nicholas Babaya
If production, distribution, and use are legalized, the gangsters will become irrelevant. Virtually all consumers will prefer to buy their drugs over the counter in a store which enjoys the protection of the police and law, than from a criminal under an overpass.
Instead, Mashaba and the DA now propose to spend millions in taxpayer rands to fund new law enforcement divisions, which will never succeed in what they intend doing. Only ordinary market processes can affect the demand for something, not the brute force of State power.
Calling for the legalization of the drug market does not mean I encourage drug use. As a teetotaler, I do not consume alcohol, I do not smoke cigarettes, and I do not use drugs. I think all of these things are very dangerous in their own ways, from the health risks associated with smoking to the behavioral modification that comes with alcohol and drug use. But we should appreciate the fact that the continued prohibition of drugs does far more harm to the economy and to individuals and their families, than the drugs would do if they were legal.
The DA is certainly not living up to any liberal values in its continued support for the War on Drugs. And I do not much care for the fact that there are – apparently – still many ‘social conservatives’ in the upper echelons of the party who would never sign off on a liberal drug policy. The DA has been warned, time and time again, to not try to be everything to everyone, because it will inevitably only end up being nothing to anybody. The DA’s history in South Africa has always been to lean toward personal liberty and economic freedom, and it would do well to stick to that formula if it wishes to see this country prosper, and save some of the little integrity it has left.
Ending the War on Drugs is the only policy on which there is a complete censuses across the world among the various factions of liberalism: From European social democrats to the most hardline minarchist libertarians. The Democratic Alliance – to borrow a saying from social justice left – now finds itself on the wrong side of history.