Where government doesn’t belong
OUR DECLARATION of Independence states the basis for our form of government in the second sentence of the second paragraph, “That in order to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” Our concept of law had at its base that government exists to secure our rights and has no role in human interactions that do not violate someone’s rights.
Somewhere along the way, we lost track of that and government assumed the job of protecting us from our own folly.
Libertarians do not dispute that most victimless crimes involve someone doing something stupid, dangerous and/or immoral; we just don’t believe that government is the proper tool for dealing with these social ills, and that using the force of government when no one’s rights have been violated invariably turns out to be more stupid, more dangerous and more morally corrupting than the original problem.
Currently, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and a number of local police departments are actively pursuing prostitution advertised on the Internet. But when a man does business with a prostitute, whose rights were violated? If he is married, his wife might well have an infidelity issue, but that is between them and not a public matter. The prostitute freely chose to exchange for money what most of us see as an expression of affection and passion, but she was willing, and I don’t see how her demeaning herself affected anyone else.
So, what right of yours or mine did they violate, and if the answer is none, th en what purpose of government gives us license to interfere? Is it to protect the prostitute?
Certainly, most prostitutes live a dismal life. But to what extent is that the result of their profession, as opposed to the hardships our legal system adds to their woes? After all, if a masseuse is abused by a client, or the client pays with a bad check, the masseuse can go to the police for protection or to collect her debt. The prostitute must seek the protection of a pimp because she cannot rely on the police to protect her. By making her avocation unlawful, she is denied the protection of the rule of law the rest of us enjoy. Further, a criminal record will make other employment difficult to obtain, trapping her in her circumstances.
The same principles apply to gambling and drug use. Both are foolish and dangerous enough on their own, but our legal system magnifies those ills.
Consider that in the 1920s, cocaine and heroin were available legally, without even a prescription from a doctor, at your local pharmacy. There were people who misused them and became addicts, but no more so than today. But there were no pharmacists forming gangs or driving by and shooting other pharmacists for control of a street corner. Our prisons were not full of young pharmacists, and there were no pharmacists on schoolyards giving out free samples of narcotics to hook new clients. The profit margin on narcotics was no higher than on aspirin, so there was no reason to go to such extremes of marketing.
There was organized crime, and gangland killing, and lots of men in prison, but that was over alcohol, which was illegal during Prohibition, and not over the legal and cheap narcotics. Just as with Prohibition, making crimes of vices leads to massive corruption, violence, and enormous incentives for aggressive marketing. It’s really just simple economics. The greater the risk of any enterprise, the higher the profit margin will be.
Further, because neither party in a “victimless crime” has any interest in the prosecution of the other, the police must resort to stings, informants and often dangerous and questionable searches violating the rights of citizens to enforce these laws. The result is a large portion of the population viewing the police as threats rather than friends and protectors, and too often, injury and loss of life for police officers and citizens.
None of this makes prostitution, drug use or gambling desirable behaviors, and to be sure, they are poor life choices. But can there be any rational argument that making them unlawful has in any way made them less harmful?
Or have the unintended consequences of intervening where government does not belong simply made a bad situation worse?
Guest columnist Don Tabor is a grandfather, Libertarian activist and proprietor of the Tidewater Liberty blog, TidewaterLiberty.com. He is a dentist living in Chesapeake and practicing in Norfolk and Hampton.