Finally, a Drug That Should Be Banned

'The measure of the state's success is that the word anarchy frightens people, while the word state does not.' ' Joseph Sobran

Suppose someone invented a new drug that could significantly reduce the risk of contracting cancer. Suppose, further, that the drug was free and that all you had to do to be protected from cancer was to take the drug once a day. Would you take it?

Now suppose that it is discovered that the drug has several very harmful side effects. Taking the drug, while significantly decreasing your risk of getting cancer, does, however, significantly increase your risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure, cirrhosis, hepatitis, and even AIDS. Would you continue taking the drug?

Most sensible people would quite rightly discontinue taking the drug, realizing that it is going to do them far more harm than good. There might be a few people who are so paranoid of cancer, perhaps from watching a loved one die of the disease, that they would cling to the slightest hope of avoiding it even in the face of such obvious dangers; but the vast majority would make the only logical decision and stop taking the drug.

Somehow, though, the situation is exactly reversed when it comes to the issue of the necessity of government.

The vast majority of people, regardless of their political persuasion, would agree that the primary purpose of civil government is to provide a measure of security. That is, each government's job is to protect the citizens within its jurisdiction from criminals within and invaders without. For the sake of argument, let us grant that point.

Let us be clear even in granting this point: Government is a miserable failure when it comes to preventing either crime or invasion. The police generally show up after the fact, and the military usually isn't mobilized until an attack is under way (see December 7, 1941 , or September 11, 2001 ). As a matter of fact, the courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have consistently ruled that the government has no legal obligation to protect individual citizens, so even the black-robed rulers of the country don't buy into this reasoning. At best, the government rounds up suspects and subjects them to trial and punishment; and even then, many evade the law or are arrested, tried, and convicted falsely. Just the same, the fear most people experience at the thought of anarchy surely stems from the belief that government protects them, however imperfectly, from evildoers.

Nevertheless, again let us grant that government does some good when it comes to protecting citizens from both internal and external threats. Now the question becomes: Do the 'side effects' of government outweigh the benefits?

Well, let's see. Throughout history, according to University of Hawaii political science professor Rudolph J. Rummel, author of Death By Government, governments have killed more than 300 million people. Over half of those deaths, 170 million, occurred during the Twentieth Century alone. One might counter that most of those deaths were caused by totalitarian dictators, and that is quite true: The Nazis and the Communists together account for 110 million of them. Other assorted thugs, particularly in Africa , account for another 9 million or so. Still, that leaves quite a bit of blood on the hands of the more 'civilized' nations'and we haven't even counted combat deaths yet!

Plenty of democratic nations were involved in various wars during the Twentieth Century, wars that Rummel estimates cost about 34 million lives in combat. It might be argued that non-democratic nations started some of the biggest wars; but it also true that our own federal government saw fit to involve its citizens in every one of them, in every case via deception and intrigue. How many more Americans would have lived had Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and both George Bushes not connived with the British to draw our country into World War I, World War II, and both Gulf Wars, respectively? How many would still be with us had Harry Truman not decided to involve us in Korea , or John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam ? Over 3,000, for certain, would not be dead from the 9/11 attacks had presidents from Roosevelt to George W. Bush not seen fit to meddle in the affairs of foreign countries, prop up favored dictators, and station troops all around the world.

Speaking of 9/11, the government of New York City is responsible for many of the deaths in the collapse of the Twin Towers . In 1971, while the towers were still under construction, the city bowed to political hysteria surrounding the use of asbestos and banned any further use of this great fireproofing material. Consequently, only floors 1 through 64 of the towers were insulated with asbestos; the remaining floors were insulated with other, politically-approved materials. As a result, what was supposed to be a 4-hour window of time in which the buildings could be evacuated before the fire would cause the steel frames to melt turned out be as short as 56 minutes, in the case of Two World Trade Center .

In fact, regulation'which is always promoted as 'for our own good''is the direct cause of many deaths. For example, Robert Goldberg of Brandeis University claims: 'By a conservative estimate, FDA delays in allowing U.S. marketing of drugs used safely and effectively elsewhere around the world have cost the lives of at least 200,000 Americans over the past 30 years.' Similarly, the Washington Times in 1993 estimated that 3,900 Americans die annually because of the federal government's Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Those standards may (although this is doubtful) have reduced our gasoline consumption slightly by forcing automakers to produce smaller, lighter cars, but in the meantime they've killed (extrapolating the Times' estimate forward'and with the increase in population this is probably far too conservative) 109,200 people since 1975.

Even considering things much less serious than life and death, the picture isn't much better. Taxes, to take one such subject, eat up a gigantic proportion of the average American's earnings. According to a 1998 Cato Institute study, 'When all taxes are factored in, a median-income two-earner family pays roughly 38 percent of its income in federal, state, and local taxes.' Five years later that number is almost surely higher. Tax Freedom Day of 2003, the Tax Foundation says, occurred on April 19'which, frankly, seems a bit too optimistic. (Tellingly, the District of Columbia came in with the latest Tax Freedom Day in 2000 and was second only to Connecticut in 2003'and look at the crime statistics for D. C.!) Being forced to work over a third, and possibly half, of one's time on behalf of anyone, including the government, most definitely qualifies as slavery and hardly seems a benefit of government.

Of course, there is much more that could be documented about the evils perpetrated by government, from the small (mandatory seat belt laws) to the large (the War on Drugs); but the evidence is clear: Governments do vastly more harm than good.

This brings us back to our analogy. If only oddballs would keep taking a drug whose risks far outweighed its benefits, why is it that those who would discard government are considered oddballs, while those who wish to retain it, if only for a sense of security, are considered sensible and responsible? Apparently, government is a highly addictive drug'in a sane world, the only one that would be banned.

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Michael Tennant's picture
Columns on STR: 30

Michael Tennant is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.