COMMENTARY: Comedian W. C. Fields joked, “The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” That is like the solutions our leaders have for America’s problems of illegal drug use and poverty. Over the last 60 years our leaders have filled to overflowing our court system with non-violent illegal drug users. And our leaders have dramatically increased the number of people on welfare.
Neither solution over the years has even started to eradicate the problems. Worse, it seems the best minds in our society can only come up with things that make the problems worse. We have more illegal drug use and more poverty now after spending billions of dollars.
Tragically, both leave lots of human carnage in their wake and lost opportunities for generations. It would be nice if we apply Thomas Edison’s view of failure. He referred to inventions that didn’t work by saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In each case he tried something different.
Our leaders cannot see different solutions for poverty and illegal drug use other than what we have been doing for 60 years. Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Part of the problem is that crime and welfare are huge industrial complexes with billions of dollars to employ people. If you no longer need all of those police and prison workers do we have anyone who could fire a million government workers? Politically it is impossible. But it needs to be done.
Poverty is not because other people are successful. Poverty is because people do not have the desired productive skills or inclinations to use their skills. Welfare stalls people from jobs because they lose benefits.
Poverty doesn’t cause crime. Criminal behavior and illegal drug use are mental illnesses. I am not saying ignore or release them because it is an illness. But before we find a solution we must correctly identify the problem. We must frame as mental illness the disregard of society’s rules.
Putting millions of Americans into the legal system because of their choice for themselves of taking drugs does not work. One approach is to view illegal drug use as a health problem rather a criminal offense. Portugal did so in 2001. The results are compelling.
I am not involved in the illegal drug question personally. A few years ago a speaker said, “All you people from the sixties spent your time in college partying and smoking dope.” I raised my hand and said, “Did not!” If drugs were all legal I would still only be medicated by coffee and green chile.
The reason I am looking to Portugal along with 25 other nations is that over 50 years as a journalist I have watched our drug policies fail miserably. Drugs are as available now as 50 years ago, according to people who know.
I believe that the correct direction for our country was mentioned by Herbert Hoover in 1928 as he was campaigning to be elected president of the United States. He said, “We have not yet reached the goal but… we shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty shall be banished from this nation. There is no guarantee against poverty equal to a job for every man.”
Our nation can become great when we allow people to become more productive, to use their natural talents and abilities in jobs. Jobs are the great changer of a society. The free market is the engine of prosperity. The enemy of prosperity is government people who want to control the free market.
Every rule or regulation that diminishes the ability of people to be productive moves people toward poverty. It is not something that can be legislated. Everyone is either moving toward poverty or not. Change the drug laws to treat it as an illness and not something to fund our vast law-enforcement/judicial/prison industries.
I hope Winston Churchill was right when he wrote, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” We’ve tried all those things that don’t work. Let’s try something different.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers.