Last week, conservative Ann Coulter took a swipe at libertarians, calling them “pussies” for their stance on marijuana. Coulter’s best qualities are her bluntness (get it?) and her willingness to fight. In her “pussies” comments, she argued that, since the US is a socialist welfare state, people’s choices regarding their lifestyles are her business – hence MJ should be illegal. Coulter has a point; socialism turns strangers into family. However, her conclusion that statism and central control are warranted is an abandonment of principle.
Libertarians come in several flavors, and nearly equally from left and right backgrounds. The actual Libertarian Party is dominated by barely reformed hippies and ideologues, who put drug policy front and center. Most libertarians, however, do not belong to the LP. While libertarians like GOP Sen. Rand Paul do not support the war on drugs, that issue is just an example in the spectrum of Constitutional abuses and overreaches by today’s government. Perhaps coincidentally, the Tea Party has embraced much of the constitutional libertarian platform of confining government to its enumerated powers.
When conservatives complain about the cost of providing services to immigrants and their children, libertarians blame welfare, not immigration. When conservatives like Coulter complain about the harm drugs do (never mind tobacco and booze), libertarians blame socialized medicine, not drugs. Perhaps Coulter is being pragmatic by acknowledging the US socialist family, but she is conceding this generation’s key battle and even the soul of the US by doing so.
Socialists refer to their subjects as family much as dictators refer to their subjects as their children. Under collectivism, the consequences of an individual’s bad choices (e.g. smoking, or drinking, or irresponsible debt) are borne by everyone. This creates what economists call a moral hazard. By mitigating the negative consequences of bad behavior, the deterrent is minimized. Why not borrow too much when the government will always bail me out? Why not smoke crack when food, shelter, and health care are available no matter how worthless drugs make me? Of course the government might outlaw crack, but the criminal deterrent has proven to be less effective than the personal ruin deterrent. The best policy regarding vices is for people to live with their decisions’ consequences, but socialism is a family where consequences are limited.
Coulter is a big sister who thinks MJ should be illegal so she does not have to pay for whatever negative consequences its users might incur. However, the socialist family is not one which libertarians wish to join. Banning drugs is ineffective at best, and the consequence of proscription might actually be more drug use based on decades’ long trends. Libertarians are not in favor of MJ, they are opposed to substituting personal responsibility for the socialist family. Liberals just like MJ for policy reasons. While MJ is a popular example and a clear policy argument, the issue is only an example of why the government should not be the master of a socialist family.
Still, Coulter has a point. The US is a socialist welfare state, and she is forced to be responsible for the bad choices of others. She is not wrong to expect good behavior from her wards. Perhaps Coulter has illuminated the key difference between conservatives and libertarians – Coulter is willing to be a member of today’s deeply flawed US socialist family, while libertarians are still willing to fight. As such a famous fighter, Ms. Coulter should try harder and expect a little more.