Milton Friedman and Drug Policy
One reason that drug policy reform has proven to be such a difficult endeavor is that the subject is so often missing from discussions of public policy. An example of this can be found in the PBS documentary The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman, which aired last Monday night.
The film looks at the influence of Friedman’s free market advocacy in countries such as the United States, Estonia, Chile, India, and China making a persuasive case that he is responsible for lifting more people out of poverty than anyone else in the history of mankind. Friedman’s significant arguments for school choice and against the military draft are also addressed; however, his steadfast and principled opposition to drug prohibition found no place in this piece.
This is a major omission as Friedman’s sharp and analytical mind produced some the most devastating arguments in favor of drug legalization ever written. His position on this issue was completely consistent with the same free market principles he applied to economic systems. In fact, in 1992 the Drug Policy Foundation published On Liberty and Drugs: Essays on the Free Market and Prohibition by Milton Friedman and Thomas Szasz; edited and with a preface by Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese. As far back as 1972 in an article for Newsweek Friedman got to the heart of the matter when he wrote,” I readily grant that the ethical issue is difficult and that men of goodwill may well disagree. Fortunately, we need not resolve the ethical issue to agree on policy. Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse-for both the addict and the rest of us. Hence, even if you regard present policy toward drugs as ethically justified, considerations of expediency make that policy most unwise.”
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