Harm Reduction

On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver urged the adoption of harm reduction attitudes and policies when it comes to dealing with drug addiction, viewing it as an illness that needs treatment rather than a moral failing that requires punitive measures for deterrence.

It is encouraging that on many issues we are slowly shifting away from taking harsh moral stances and moving towards more accepting ones. Change does not come easily on issues such as this. It is usually presaged by wild claims that being more understanding and accepting is the first step towards the end of civilization as we know it. In this case, people are asserting that harm reduction policies are actually enabling drug use and perhaps even encouraging people to take up drugs, though that is manifestly not the case.

With drug addiction, we are very slowly shifting towards viewing it more like the way we view alcohol addiction. It was not long ago that marijuana was called the ‘demon weed’ and excoriated as being highly dangerous and the gateway to other drug addictions. The war on marijuana created massive amounts of suffering as people, usually people of color, were jailed for possessing even tiny amounts. Now it is becoming legal in many states and the House of Representatives has just passed legislation to decriminalize marijuana and expunge past federal convictions and the sky has not fallen.

Similarly, it was not that long ago that homosexuality was criminalized and people punished for being so. More recently, remember how we were warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to the end of the institution of marriage altogether? But nothing of the sort happened.

Right now with the issue of gender diversity we are hearing similar wild claims that if we accept people’s self-identification of their gender identity, then this will lead to the erasing of not only gender but of the differences between species and that people would claim to be cats and dogs and the like. It echoes the claims that allowing same-sex marriage would result in people marrying their horses.

I expect that this latest period of wild rhetoric that accompanies any social change and is fanned by self-serving politicians will also eventually die away. One hopes that it will be soon.


  1. says

    “I expect that this latest period of wild rhetoric that accompanies any social change and is fanned by self-serving politicians will also eventually die away.”

    If history is any guide, then yes, but only to be replaced by another foul stench. Money is to be made, and that is perhaps the dominant defining characteristic of modern USA.

    The real question is, what will be the next conjured up social “tragedy du jour”?

  2. says

    99% of the “harms” of drug use are caused directly by the illegality of drugs. That is, it’s not the drugs doing the harming, it’s the police, the courts, and society.

  3. flex says

    I know I sound like a broken record, but bring back the 90% tax bracket. So much of this crap is dependent on grifters raking millions from outraged dupes that if every dollar of income over, say, $4,000,000 was taxed at 90% a lot of this crap would go away. And if it didn’t, at least a lot of the money would go to the government to pay for roads, schools, poverty assistance, police reform, modernizing the IRS, etc. I’d be happy with a 90% income tax bracket which was set at 100 times the previous years mean income. Just do something to make people choose to be less greedy. Setting a maximum income cap would not work as well, but setting a 90% tax bracket means that the CEO, Lawyer, Sports-star, whoever, chose to have an income above that amount. The fact they are taxed at that level is their choice, not forced on them by the government.

    You want another idea to reduce the crap? Require any organization which receives government assistance to maintain open account books. I.e. if you get government assistance, in any way, any member of the public is allowed to look at them. Of course, tax breaks are government assistance. Many charities already keep their accounts open, but a lot of them, including churches do not. Shine some light on how much money they are taking in, and who gets the money, and a lot of the populist rabble-rousing will stop.

    Want another idea? Fund elections through government spending with each candidate given an allotment and make it illegal for them to get more. Allow candidates a certain amount of money for advertising and campaigning. All accounts are public and spending which doesn’t meet the requirements is heavily fined. People who want to contribute to election campaigns can contribute to a fund which is distributed equally to all candidates for a specific office. Money not spent is returned to the donor.

    But my bet is that restoring the 90% income tax bracket would solve a lot of problems. Let the people who managed to become wealthy over the mistakes of the last 50 years keep their wealth. A wealth tax is unworkable and will only enrich lawyers because wealth is arbitrary. Enact a wealth tax and all of a sudden that $5,000,000 Picasso becomes worth $50,000, and let the government sue to prove otherwise. The case would be in the courts for years. But income is well defined, and the last time we had a 90% tax bracket we saw the interstate highway system built, strong union membership, health care for employees and family members, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation started as well as movements for equal pay for equal work, a national government which was funded, a national government which worked without a great deal of partisanship, and a large expansion of the middle class which helped enable all of these things. Were all these things outcomes of the 90% tax bracket, probably not, but when the wealth starts spreading around a lot more things are possible.

  4. billseymour says

    I think I agree with flex, on this point at least.

    Want to make America great again? If so, when do you think was it great?

    I’m old enough to remember a time around the middle of the last century when America was great…for white males at least.  It was a time of high marginal tax rates, strong unions, and a rising middle class.  Magazines like Motor Trend and Popular Mechanics ran articles with titles like “Car of the Future” and “Home of the Future”.  Parents had the totally reasonable expectation that their kids would have it better than they did.  If we could go back to that, but without all the prejudice and hate, I’d be all for it.

    Unfortunately, for the MAGA crowd, it seems like it’s precisely the prejudice and hate that they think made it “great”.

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