Thursday, 30 October 2014

Traffic lights and drugs

Oh dear, those pesky facts and real life evidence from other countries getting in the way of blind prejudice again...

Exhibit One

London Assembly Tory transport spokesman Richard Tracey said:

“Every year Londoners waste over 170 million hours sitting in traffic, costing London’s economy £4 billion. Many of these journeys in our city are unavoidable.

"But rather than hurting motorists with ridiculous charges and taxes, we should look at innovative ways to cut congestion and make traffic flow more smoothly. Turning off traffic lights at night, like they do in parts of Europe and North America, is one measure which would boost the economy and help the environment.”

Exhibit Two

There is "no obvious" link between tough laws and levels of illegal drug use, a government report has found.

Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Norman Baker said the report, comparing the UK with other countries, should end "mindless rhetoric" on drugs policy. He accused the Conservatives of "suppressing" the findings for months.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the research did not offer "specific conclusions" and said he did not "believe in" decriminalising drugs.

It strikes me that there are so many well-documented real life experiments in most things from so many different countries, there's little room for airy-fairy debates any more. It's just a question of choosing the ones with the best outcomes.

That goes for speed limits, traffic lights, education, the health, immigration, the tax and welfare systems, legalising/criminalising drugs and prostitution, you name it.


Graeme said...

But that would probably mean that our legislators have to turn us into a mini-Switzerland and you know full well that they will not stand for that.

Mark Wadsworth said...

G, Switzerland gets a lot of things right, but not everything.

I'm not sure whether their referendums are much use, but it doesn't matter.

If Switz implements a policy (like property value tax, legalising some drugs etc) and "it works" then we can just copy it. Whether that arose from legislation, lack of legislation or a referendum is neither here nor there.

paulc156 said...

That's how it should be. Presumably Cameron isn't ruling this out because it's generally unpopular, because it isn't but because he estimates that older people [their core vote] will find it unpopular.

Bayard said...

"It's just a question of choosing the ones with the best outcomes."

i.e. the ones that support your prejudices.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, exactly.

B, what prejudices?

First we have to agree how to measure or value outcomes.

I personally think "number of users" is irrelevant, but the spoilsports think this is important.

It's easiest if you ascribe monetary values and look at 'cost to the whole of society' and do one column for 'stay with existing policies' and one for 'legalise' and enter amounts for each of the following:

(All these amounts are somewhat arbitrary, but here goes)

1. Cost: 'the mental stress and strain on otherwise law abiding recreational drug users of obtaining their gear illegally and worrying about being arrested'. Ditto 'cost of parents worrying about their kids getting arrested'. This is zero in the 'legalise' column.

2. Cost: 'people who die as a result of drug use', That includes actual drug users and people who are killed by drug users, whether as a result of drug fuelled violence or e.g. drug drivers.

3. Cost: police, court and prison time chasing and punishing drug dealers and users. This is zero in the 'legalise' column.

4. Cost: acquisitive crime, burglaries, muggings and so forth.

5. Cost: people who are pissing about in the drugs supply chain, which is hideously inefficient, who would otherwise be doing something a bit more useful.

6. Cost: supervision and regulation of legalised drug production. This is zero in the 'stick with existing policies' column and we can spend as much or as little as we like if we legalised.

7. Benefit: collecting taxes on drug production and retail, same as booze and fags. This is zero in the 'stick with existing policies' column.

8. Cost: number of actual drug users, if you think this is relevant. I don't, but there you go.

9. And so on and so forth.

Then we add up the total cost minus benefits in each column and do a comparison.

Fag packet says that society as a whole would be tens of billions a year better off.

I mean, FFS, 2,000 people in the UK are killed by cars each year, many more are injured and cars are bad for air quality, but we as a society accept that overall, cars are a net benefit.

Graeme said...

just wondering...what does Switzerland get wrong? OK it seems very expensive to get hotels and food in Switzerland but what else?

Mark Wadsworth said...

G, in the end, they caved in to the indoors smoking ban. That springs to mind.

Apart from that, I've only been there three times for a couple of days so I'm no expert. I thought it was lovely, but I believe it gets a bit boring?

DBC Reed said...

As regards Alpine "well documented real life experiments ,"the Chiemgauer in Bavaria which started off ,and probably still is, a school project doesn't seem to be doing too badly.Not your usual school project which involves the parents doing massive amounts of homework (and then, rather obviously, complaining loudly about the marks they get) but an experiment into the nature of money and the advantages of artificial stimulants to circulation.( Cue outbursts from the leave the banks alone they're just passing on their customers' savings school of blind prejudice.)

Lola said...

I lived in switzerland for about 18 months when a youngster. lOved it.

Don't whether posting that helps the argument at all...

Lola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bayard said...

"B, what prejudices?"

The point I was making was that, if you are a spoilsport politician, you look at the countries where the outcomes from, say, legalising drugs has been the most disastrous (probably a tiny island state in the Pacific), because to you, that is the "best " outcome, i.e. the best argument for keeping the status quo, or for banning currently legal drugs. (This is the "somebody somewhere once f*cked it up, therefore it is impossible for anyone ever to do it successfully" argument.)