There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
In my column of August 9th I defined my own coinage “lawhead” as “one who believes that man-made laws are actually based in objective reality like physical laws; he is unable to comprehend that the majority of laws are completely arbitrary, and therefore views a violation of a ‘vice law’ with the same horror that normal people reserve for rains of toads or spontaneous human combustion. Though lawheads are a minority of the population they are disproportionately represented in positions of power, with the result that once a law is on the books it cannot usually be removed by any means short of armed insurrection.” Lawheads are most dangerous when they work in close association with control freaks, those who know very well that laws are arbitrary but enact them anyway so as to have more excuses to threaten, intimidate, arrest, fine and imprison the citizenry.
These laws are usually designed with sufficiently diabolical cleverness so as to fool the Great Unwashed into thinking they do indeed have a basis in reality, especially when enacted in conjunction with a moral panic (such as “national security”, “child welfare” or the like). But even when they aren’t, there are sufficient numbers of lawheads around to ensure that these tyrannical laws are rarely, if ever removed. And even when they are, for every repressive statute which is struck down ten more have been enacted in the meantime. Governments don’t care HOW universal criminality is achieved, so long as it is; if it isn’t accomplished by prohibiting drinking it will be by banning smoking, and if not by forbidding homosexuality and abortion it’ll be by denying privacy and the right to self-defense. And as we’re seeing in many places, control freaks are equally happy demonizing our clients as they ever were demonizing whores. The important thing is to define as many people as possible as criminals, thereby inducing a social autoimmune disorder for which government can be touted as the cure though it is actually the cause.
One example of this were the Jim Crow laws designed to control free blacks in the latter half of the 19th century; all manner of things were made illegal for black people so that governments would have the excuse to monitor, harass and persecute them. But after the successes of the civil rights movement in the middle of the 20th century, government somehow succeeded in casting itself as the great savior of black Americans even though it was government which had created the laws which criminalized them in the first place. The Jim Crow laws were a clumsy attempt at control because they directly targeted one obvious segment of the population and thus A) did not intimidate everyone; and B) disallowed those in the targeted group any illusion of escape through “correct” behavior. By comparison, the anti-prostitution laws which proliferated a generation after the first Jim Crow laws affected almost 10% of women and 70% of men and were thus far more effective means off social control; a generation after that alcohol prohibition was even more efficient at creating criminals out of previously law-abiding citizens.
At the stroke of a pen, the 18th Amendment magically transformed tens of millions of ordinary Americans, no different from their neighbors, into criminals, and many millions of others lost respect for all law and authority due to the rigor with which the asinine prohibition law was enforced. Deprived of legal sources of alcohol Americans turned to those who could supply it, thus enriching true criminals (gangsters and smugglers) and enticing many who might not otherwise ever have crossed the line into the now-lucrative bootlegging market. Hundreds of thousands were blinded, paralyzed, and killed by poisonous moonshine or industrial alcohol because there was no longer supervision of product contents. Official corruption ran rampant, courts and prisons were clogged with people who were not considered criminals a few years earlier, federal police powers were dangerously expanded and civil liberties were bulldozed in order to enforce a law which was unjust and unenforceable to begin with, and billions were wasted on enforcement while billions more were lost in tax revenues.
This was, of course, utterly incomprehensible to lawheads; those who made statements on the subject in 1920 predicted that the law would magically remove the desire for liquor from the American mind. The Internal Revenue Service predicted that the law would be instantly effective, but that it would take six years for all existing private liquor supplies to be used up. And Prohibitionists both inside and outside the government questioned neither the ability to legislate state-defined morality into existence nor the rectitude of attempting to do so. And the fact that the so-called “Noble Experiment” failed miserably in less than a decade (calls for its repeal were widespread and vocal by 1929) did absolutely nothing to penetrate the thick skulls of lawheads and control freaks, who have in the intervening 80 years continued to support other prohibitionist bans and even foisted upon us a host of new ones.
Each of these bans – from marijuana to prostitution to pseudoephedrine – have had exactly the same effects: None of them have affected demand one iota, nor hampered those who wish to partake. All of them have enriched criminals and increased true crime and bloodshed. All of them have enticed millions who might not otherwise have committed crimes into participating in the lucrative black markets created by their prohibition. All have increased the danger to users or sellers of the banned product or service (and even to innocent bystanders), often to fatal levels. All have given rise to rampant corruption, overwhelmed court and prison systems, dangerously expanded governmental powers, negated civil liberties and billions wasted on enforcement and lost in tax revenues. And each has admirably accomplished what it was enacted to accomplish: the redefinition of large segments of the population from citizens to criminals, thus allowing government yet another excuse to deprive them of their rights, goods and freedoms.