As Obama said in his inauguration speech, "the time has come to set aside childish things." American leaders have a bad habit of treating its citizens as petty, naughty children, promising to know what's best for us. Perhaps this trend reached its apogee in the Bush years with his terror alerts and the culture of fear that infused his State of the Unions. But although the government might claim to know what's best for us, its pretty clear it doesn't know how to manage money very well. Ten trillion dollars in debt with a huge stimulus package and more tax cuts looming, it's just going to get worse. If we are going to avoid inflation, then we are going to have to act decisively as well as creatively.
Some states, deeply troubled by huge deficits, are trying to legalize some forms of gambling to cover shortfalls. This is a good idea. I don't gamble and feel bad for the families whose fortunes are ruined by addicts but gambling, like all vices, thrive on one of the most classic American homilies ever followed: "When there's a will, there's a way."
It's the same with prostitution. Luckily, like gambling, I have no need for it, but I am not so close-minded I cannot overlook its necessity. The irony of the existence of prostitution is that it is the rigid dogmas of Judeo-Christian society that create unhappy marriages, loveless, single men and the desperate women that have to turn their bodies into profits. Through legalization we can regulate the industry with regular health checkups for workers which would then do a little to turn back the tide of AIDS. I could even see prostitution as a feminist issue. If it were legalized, they would have their rights protected by police authorities against dangerous and violent men. Put those pimps out of business! It could be win/win for both Libertarians and puritanical capitalists: legitimize the work of the afflicted and then tax them!
Finally, there's narcotics. Like the windfall created by legalizing the sex trades, the income derived from taxes on hallucinogenics and related paraphernalia could be incredible. (Who knows? You could even create a special deposit account in which the government revenue from marijuana funds universal health care--considering how lucrative the drug trade is, it wouldn't take as long as you think). But why stop at marijuana? Cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms, even heroin-- are they anymore dangerous than extreme sports or supersizing every meal at McDonalds for one month? For every user, there's a dealer in the shadows. Not only would legalization wipe out kingpins, on a street level it would strip gangs of their raison d'etre. After all, the sensational turf wars tolling death and destruction in America's inner city neighborhoods are fought over who gets to deal where.
There are over 2.3 million Americans in prison, a higher percentage of incarceration per population than any other nation in the world. It goes without saying that this is absolutely shameful. Moreover, it is unaffordable. With legalization, it would not be right to move ahead without granting amnesty to all nonviolent drug offenders. The money saved from paying for the upkeep of the prison system could be used in social programs providing a soft landing for those looking forward to a second chance.
Rather than swim any more against the current, in the First Hundred Days of Roosevelt's Presidency the government repealed Prohibition. It did not fix the Great Depression but it certainly provided revenue and castrated the bootlegger.
What is more dangerous? A sixteen year old smoking pot in his front yard or a devalued dollar made worthless because of irresponsible fiscal spending.
The logistics of such an endeavor would be difficult, to say nothing of the leap into the great gap of the Culture War. It would entail great courage from politicians willing to risk outrage from a general public conditioned to view drug use as a crime rather than a disease.
Like I said, we are going to have to get creative if we are going to get out of this financial catastrophe.
Yes, we can.