The case for lifting prohibitions

The last century has seen a steady expansion of the ‘nanny state’, a process that has arguably accelerated in the last decade. A ‘banning culture’ has developed, with numerous restrictions placed on what individuals are permitted to do with their own bodies on private property.

The economic and social costs of such policies are enormous: the prohibition of recreational drugs is responsible for a high proportion of crime; the ban on trade in body parts indirectly kills tens of thousands every year and raises healthcare costs; restrictions on prostitution put women in unnecessary danger, pushing the trade onto the streets and blighting many residential areas.

Taxpayers spend vast sums enforcing bans and dealing with their effects. A Home Office report estimates the overall cost of crime in England and Wales – much of it drug related – at £60 billion per year.

Lifting prohibitions is not an issue of morality but of prudence. It is simply imprudent to ban everything we might regard as immoral. Ending current restrictions would bring banned activities into the formal sector, with reputable businesses paying taxes and investing in the quality and safety of their products and services. Drug dealers would no longer have the same incentives to supply more addictive forms; the poor who sell their body parts would have legal redress if they were exploited; and lifting the ban on handguns would undermine the profitable black markets run by criminals.

11 November 2008, IEA Blog


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