“Giving money and power to government,” writes P.J. O’Rourke, “is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” It’s always a bad idea to increase politicians’ supply of either commodity, even in trade for some alleged increase in freedom. The state never lifts its boot from one part of the body politic without bringing that boot down more heavily on some other limb or organ.
That lesson seems lost on the current generation of libertarian political reformists. From Social Security alternatives to “school choice” proposals to schemes for legalizing marijuana, current reformist approaches have one thing in common: Each such proposal would extend the state’s reach into people’s lives, or increase the state’s revenues, or both, in return for a superficial quid pro quo.
The latest such proposal — and likely the most successful one in the short term — is manifest in a California referendum effort and a New York campaign for governor. The referendum and the candidate both propose “legalization” of marijuana, with the key marketing points being a) that said “legalization” would give the state regulatory control over cannabis, and b) that taxing the now-legal substance would close state budget gaps.
These kinds of proposals are, in essence, attempts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
When the state begins to visibly entertain a proposal which would in any way curtail its power, when the pro-state media begins to seriously discuss such a proposal, it’s 100% certain that that proposal is already over the hump of public acceptance. It’s a sure thing that’s being accommodated because there’s no choice but to accommodate it.
On the issue of marijuana, government is on the ropes.
The revenues they depend on for continuous expansion of the “law enforcement” bureaucracy are drying up.
The money they’re accustomed to shoveling at privileged associates for construction of the prisons and “justice centers” which now blight nearly every county in America isn’t coming in any more.
Turning off the marijuana arrest machine would be a no-brainer even if a solid majority of the American public wasn’t demanding it.
So why offer the politicians “sweeteners” like regulation and tax revenues? They’re going to seek those sweeteners, and they’re probably going to get those sweeteners — but let them be the ones to make the arguments for those sweeteners. It’s not the freedom movement’s job to think up ways of compromising our actual or impending victories.
Most freedom activists, be we anarchists or “smaller government” libertarians, understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day and likely won’t be un-built in a day. We’re well aware that eliminating the state, or even cutting it down to some reasonably small size, is probably a long-term project. Sure, some sort of quick-acting, state-killing cataclysm is possible, but it’s not something we’re in a position to bring about or to plan for.
However, we shouldn’t let this understanding lead us into initiating compromises which partially or wholly cancel out our gains. The supporters of state power have plenty of compromises to offer and plenty of marketing mojo to impose those compromises on us. We may occasionally be forced to settle for less than we’d like or to take a loss in exchange for a gain, but less and loss are not what we should be aiming for or proposing.