Drug Legalization

I find this article pretty outrageous: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/6/17649036/fda-fentanyl-opioid-epidemic-drug-legalization

It’s basically saying that the opioid epidemic demonstrates why we shouldn’t legalize more drugs. To me the evidence it presents lends itself more to an indictment of the current system and thus advocacy for legalization.

High potency synthetic opioids like fentanyl were not “legalized” in the sense that you can now go buy them at the store, they were approved by the FDA to be prescribed in a somewhat wider variety of circumstances than previously. This was all about pharmaceutical companies lobbying doctors to prescribe more of those drugs, and then relying on people’s health insurance to pick up the tab for the insanely high prices ($30,000 per month!).

Needless to say that’s not what a legal but regulated market for recreational drugs looks like. There will not be any doctors trying to tempt you to partake in a bit of heroin, nor will your health insurance be interested in buying it for you. Ideally drug advertisement, whether the drugs are medicinal or recreational, currently illegal or currently legal, could be banned altogether.

The way the legal opioid dealers in big pharma have managed to capture the drug regulation apparatus to push their pills on people looking for medical health is disgusting and we need to do something about it, but banning people from putting what they want in their bodies is not the way to go about it.

The irony of Marxist materialism

The history of Marxism is really weird because it’s an ideology premised on materialism that then had huge idealist effects on the world.

Materialism in this sense means history is explained by material factors – population growth, economic growth, technological advance, etc. This is in contrast to idealism, which says ideas, from religions to philosophies to… Marxism are more in the driver’s seat.

Marx had this spectacular analysis of capitalism in the mid-1800s. He was seeing the infancy of industrialization and was remarkably insightful as to what had happened, and prescient in where it was all leading. He saw that industrial capitalism was going to eat the world, and predicted that after that had happened the situation would become clear to the working class and the revolution would come.

This is where the strangeness comes in – the biggest obstacle to everything playing out as Marx anticipated turned out to be Marxism! Countries that in his materialist understanding were just ready for a liberal revolution to replace feudalism and monarchy with capitalism and democracy started to have communist revolutions instead! A lot of the people in those countries who in an earlier era would have been liberal dissidents instead ended up as socialists, and when the opportunity came to take power they didn’t content themselves with ushering in the same liberal capitalism they saw their socialist comrades fighting in more advanced countries, they tried to build socialism!

So then while capitalism was still in the process of eating the world there emerged this force Marx never anticipated – Leninists. They created a whole different kind of society from any Marx had experienced: the planned economy. Whether you define it as socialist or Marxist or not is immaterial, it was quite different from capitalism. Imagine if the Soviets had won the Cold War! Unlikely but not inconceivable, and it would have put us on a historical track Marx didn’t envision. And of course the very existence of that real threat forced capitalist regimes to accept a level of social democracy they haven’t shown much interested in before or after that threat was around. An external enemy does wonders for submerging the class conflict.

But instead the various Leninist states fell apart or at least gave up on the planned economy, proving to be just a particularly hardy version of all the other unsuccessful efforts by the periphery to resist capitalist domination. The post-WWII social democratic experiment turns out to have just been a longer term version of the benefits workers tend to get from any war mobilization. And we are back on track with Marx’s predictions, with capitalism having made a lot of progress on eating the world and socialism on the rise politically in the core capitalist economies.

So maybe Marx would tell us he was right all along, and that the whole Leninist global movement was just a minor thing on the grand scale of the dialectic. The real irony might be that the strongest argument against Marx would be that the Leninists really could have changed everything.

Bad Arguments on the minimum wage

As someone who is in favor of large minimum wage increases but likes to keep an open mind, I try to keep up on what the anti-minimum wage people have to say. My latest stab at that project was this article, describing a $15 an hour minimum wage as absurd:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/09/01/the-absurdity-of-a-15-minimum-wage

So I decided to look into the only data this article actually presents to support it’s position, this quote:

“The actual state of knowledge of the impact that the minimum wage has on employment in North America, and especially in Québec, leads to the conclusion that a minimum wage that is greater than 50% of the average wage is harmful to small wage earners and that a minimum wage that is less than 45% has very little risk for this group of workers. Between these limits, the area of 45% to 50% would represent an increasing danger to employment.”

It doesn’t really present any evidence, just makes a factual claim and moves on. Still, people do that all that time, and as long as you link to where you can find more info it’s not a problem.

So I follow the link, which turns out to be Worstall linking to himself (not the best sign):

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/02/17/greg-mankiws-excellent-question-why-a-9-minimum-wage-why-not-90-or-90-cents/

In that article, the same quote is presented, and sourced to a 2006 post in a Canadian economics blog called “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative”:

http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2006/11/when_the_minimu.html

There, we learn the quote comes from an economist named Pierre Fortin, and we get this gem of an attribution:

“An internal working group at the Quebec government kindly offers us a translation for how Fortin summarises the argument (the actual paper is written in French, and as far as I know, no electronic version exists – I got my copy by fax)”

Within that quote there’s a link that is presumably supposed to go to said paper, but actually goes to a ‘page not found’ message:

http://www.travail.gouv.qc.ca/actualite/revision_salaire_minimum/summary2.pdf

And that’s the end of the rainbow. So to be brief about it, I’m not convinced. Worstall’s claim is that we only have evidence that smaller minimum wage increases can be passed without greatly increasing unemployment, but of course the reason for that is we’ve only ever had small, gradualist minimum wage increases to observe. So we have weak evidence in favor of minimum wage increases in general not harming employment, and no evidence pointing the other way. And this is in an article by an anti-minimum wage partisan!

Of course intelligence is not simply the opposite of stupidity, but it still gives me some warm fuzzies that this is the level of discourse on the other side of the debate.