Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review: Prohibitions

‘Prohibitions’ edited by John Meadowcroft on behalf of the institute of economic affairs, is a collection of papers about our governments’ attempts at prohibition, which, says the author, ensures that all intoxication is caused by alcohol. Prohibiting voluntary transactions remains popular not only with politicians but also with the voting public, even though almost all prohibitions so far has failed to achieve their goals.  Despite its failings, this is the path most often taken not only by the politicians but also by the general public, notwithstanding its dictatorial element. Why is it so? Where does this authoritarian tendency come from? Perhaps our genetic and social programming for parenthood predisposes us to it. Perhaps it is because most of us are constantly educated by the state. Perhaps it is the result of a lingering tribalism, whereby we like to see our own values dominate those who differ from us.
This collection has papers examining various areas where prohibitions thrive, namely:
•  recreational drugs, in particular cocaine, heroin and marijuana;
•  boxing;
•  firearms;
•  advertising;
•  pornography;
•  medicinal drugs;
•  prostitution;
•  gambling;
•  body parts for transplant;
•  alcohol
In the introduction itself, this book makes a few things clear. That prohibition places markets into the hands of criminal enterprises and criminalizes people who would not otherwise be criminals. And prohibition increases public ignorance, while effectively diverts law enforcement resources. For prohibition to succeed, organized interest groups are crucial.
Next paper is an overview of prohibition and economics, which explains the dichotomy between the individualistic approach of economics and the generalized nature of prohibition. This is followed by a paper on recreational drugs. History of the use drugs such as marijuana is traced, how the use of these spread across the world, what are the negative consequences of prohibition, and how that affects recreational use of drugs. This paper clarifies that prohibition is harmful in numerous respects, but the alternatives also are not perfect either. The dangers of Boxing and Firearms are analyzed in the next two papers. Then comes pornography. Here is discussed the benefits of free expression in general, including sexual expression, and the costs of suppressing any expression. It then focuses on the particular forms of sexual expression that have been targeted, like the prohibition of ‘degrading’ sexual expression, arguing that such a prohibition would advance women’s equality and safety. The role expensive drug testing requirements have on the availability of medical drugs is the one examined next. The paper discussing prostitution follows. Here, prohibition and other attempts by governments to curtail the market for sexual services are seen to infringe the basic rights of citizens. Firstly, such interventions infringe the basic rights of individuals to freely engage  in  sexual  relations  with  partners  of  their  choice;  it  is  morally wrong  for  the  state  to  seek  to  prevent  adult  women  and  men  freely choosing their sexual partners. Second, they impose costs on prostitutes, their clients and society as a whole. The paper discussing the issue of transplanting human body parts finds that innovation, even medical innovation, is frequently driven by the profit motive and, the free market offers both the possibility to profit from innovations  as  well  as  to  raise  the  capital  necessary  for  experimentation.

This collection is an exhaustive study of each of the ‘pet’ areas of administrators around the world. These include almost all the entertainments that have been constantly bearing the brunt, especially when it comes to offering an excuse for the states’ below par performance in any field. The view presented by each author is well balanced, giving all sides of the mostly controversial issues of life.  Though I have known of the significance of at least some of these, having a look at the collective influence on our society, of all these restrictions, reaffirms my doubt, one that I have expressed through my books ‘Why are we so much prone to wrong choices, especially in matters concerning our welfare?’ 

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