Drug Policy Generosity

by Jonah Goldberg

Seth Mnookin has an interesting memoir of his years as a heroin addict up at Slate. It’s blissfully free of public policy conclusions. Reihan of the American Scene (one of Sullivan’s guest bloggers last week) has a response which is not. He concludes a long post (which Ross Douthat concurs with) by saying:

What angers me, and I realize that I haven’t been very coherent, is that a middle-class person can mess up again and again, falling through safety net after safety net, and still thrive, given time and a bit of gumption and stick-to-it-iveness. If you’re not middle class, and you’re not from a stable, intact, literate, ambitious family, you will have a very, very hard time. Your likelihood of death is vastly higher, as is the likelihood that you’ll live at the mercy of a criminal justice system you scarcely understand. (That I, in my infinite idiocy, scarcely understand.) This is a grave injustice, and it derives at least as much from a cultural breakdown driven by middle-class people who’ve suffered virtually none of the consequences as from the unconscionable stinginess of a social policy oriented primarily towards social control.
Me:As someone who has seen loved ones destroyed and brutalized by drugs, I can certainly understand where Reihan is coming from. But I just can’t quite get where he’s going with this. Is it a shock that the Middle Class have more resources than the lower class? Is it news? Is it unique to the issue of drug addiction? The answer is no on all fronts. Kids with gambling problems, alcohol problems, health problems, problems stemming from their sexual preferences, family problems …. people with problems have more opportunities — over all — to overcome their problems if they’re from the middle class, all else being equal. It was ever thus and shall be ever thus. Maybe it’s a “grave injustice” but if it is, than grave injustices are simply baked into the cake of life.

That said, the picture is more complicated than the class-centric view Reihan seems to embrace. For example, I would rather be born into a stable two-parent family with fairly traditional values then an upper-class family with only one parent and messed-up values. And, last I checked, the social science backed me up on this.

In that last clunky sentence Reihan seems to be implying that a public policy which was less stingy and less geared toward “social control” would result in a world where poor drug addicts get as many second-chances as well-to-doo ones do. How would that work? Exactly? It seems to me that a public policy which involved more social control — if by social control you mean the tightening of morals in this country — would do far more good than a less stingy one.

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