Sacrificing Privacy for, Err, for What?

Wiretaps and government surveillance is on the rise, and it has little to do with terrorism.  The failed war on drugs continues to be the main excuse for assaults on privacy:

State and federal investigators obtained 3,194 wiretap orders in 2010, an increase of 34 percent over the previous year, and a whopping 168 percent increase over 2000. Only one wiretap application was denied—which you can choose to take as evidence that law enforcement is extremely scrupulous in seeking applications, or that judges tend to rubber stamp them, according to your preferred level of paranoia. Just half the states reported any wiretaps, and nearly 68 percent of the total 1,987 state wiretaps were attributable to just three states: California, New York and New Jersey....

Still, this invasive technique is still reserved for investigating the most serious violent crimes, right? Alas, no: For 84 percent of wiretap applications (2,675 wiretaps), the most serious offense under investigation involved illegal drugs. Further proof, if proof were needed, that privacy suffers enormous collateral damage in our failed drug war. Drugs have long been the reason for the vast majority of wiretaps, but that trend, too, is on the upswing: Drug cases accounted for “just” 75 percent of intercept orders in 2000.


  1. Mark:

    Always love the "failed" War on Drugs line. It is the libertarian rhetoric that is done to support a public policy that would legalize drugs. But, in what ways is the "War" "failed"? Is it because we still have drugs in our society? But, by this logic, the "War on Murder" is a failure too. So is the "War on Drunk Driving". So is the "War on Speeding".

    I guess we should make murder legal too because obviously the laws on the books are very costly and cannot stop murder. Same for drunk driving and speeding. Drink as much as you want. Drive as fast as you want. Hell, drink as much as you want and drive as fast as you want, simultaneously, a true libertarian dreamland. Since there are no rules, we can save a fortune by eliminating the highway patrol and, as a bonus, not have to worry about those invasive searches the libertarians always have a fuss over.

  2. JOdy:

    Mark - the argument is that in the case of the War on Drugs the cure is orders of magnitude worse than the disease. Hence a failure in terms of actually improving society.

    Also don't conflate anarchism (no rules) with libertarianism (rules that maximize negative rights).

  3. frankania:

    Marky, The difference is VICTIMLESS crimes vs. crimes with a clear victim, like murder and drunk-driving.

  4. Jerry:

    Drunk driving and speeding are also victimless crimes, until such a time that someone causes an accident, which results in an injury or death. These events, however tragic, are few and far between, no matter what the idiots at the MADD try to purport with their statistical mumbo jumbo. I don't want someone totally inebriated to be driving, but we've taken the bar so low, to make it easy for the police, that instead of getting the true drunk drivers off the road, we end up ruining millions of peoples lives and for most, they haven't caused a harm (you would think that there is wanton death on the roads and there is a drunk driver behind ever bush waiting to run into you). It's a perceived harm by the sheeple, but in reality, there are relatively few alcohol caused deaths.

    But as to the War on Drugs, it is an abject failure. Drugs are easier to get, cheaper and we incarcerate more drug users than anywhere in the world and it hasn't stopped anything. So yes, it is a total waste of time, money and energy and the trampling of the 4th amendment in the quest to end drugs is worse than the supposed cure. I chuckle every time I hear drug-free world. Never going to happen, people have been trying to get high since time immortal.

    Why are you so worried about what someone else puts in their body? If they legalized all drugs tomorrow, would you run out and buy some? I wouldn't even if they gave away free samples. Most people I know wouldn't either, do you need a law to stop you from snorting or shooting up?

  5. Roy:

    The solution will never happen: do what it takes to demand responsibility.

    Get drunk, high, whatever, as you wish. But do something in that condition, got no excuse from limits that condition brings upon one. Eg, driving intoxicated, lose car. On the spot. Doesn't matter whose car. Injure someone while under influence, become responsible for 100 percent of bills, including those needed to locate and prosecute to conviction if refuse confession. (False prosecution, btw, brings to prosecutor, maybe including lawyer, penalty sought against prosecuted.) Don't have resources to pay? Just became identured servant. Kill someone while high, lose life.

    Or, to play off Jerry's "victimless crimes" point: make victim, must restore. Or die trying. Or die. (This, btw, is why I oppose MADD.The organization wants cops and prisons, which does not work, rather than restitution, which would work. Thus MADD becomes part of prolonging the problem rather than part of the solution.)

    Or, to put all this another way: victimizers rather than victims pay cost of war.

  6. MagyarBowman:

    This may be overly pedantic, but clarification is still helpful; anarchy means no rulers. Specifically a top-down hierarchy of rulers imposing their rules upon the ruled. That does not mean that groups of individuals could not voluntarily come to agreement about rules between themselves. It would be safe to say a large percentage of the peoples all over the Earth believe murder to be unacceptable, regardless of the "laws"/legislation written that prohibit it.

  7. Shane:

    I always love the "Since there are no rules" line. Mark, like a communists/socialists you seem to have a hard time grasping cause and consequence. If I drive my car too fast in the libertarian utopia and I hit someone then there will be ... wait for it ... consequences. Libertarian != Anarchist. And amazingly when I drive even now with all of the laws against it, I very often see people exceeding the speed limit. What is needed according to you is more police, jail time, death penalty and a whole laundry list of things to make ... get it MAKE ... people behave as you deem they should. Never mind that no amount of anything will MAKE anything happen, so then according to your ideology you will fall back to the "it's the thought that counts argument". And the whole time the jack boots have no rules concerning them. They do as they like. Why is it that you think that Lenin's ideology spawned one of the most bloodthirsty dictators history has known. All of this because people will not accept the simple idea of cause and consequence.

  8. Jerry:

    Roy, driving intoxicated shouldn't be the reason to lose your car, you should have to harm someone else. Driving a car over some perceived BAC limit is not the way to do it, I may be totally capable of driving at well over that limit and/or I may not. Having a number is easy to convict, becasue of per se laws. A per se law means that I'm all for restitution instead of incarceration. If that means wage garnishment to repay the debt, all for it.

  9. Mark:

    A few points.

    1. To claim that the "cure" is worse than the crime is nonsensical rhetoric.
    2. To claim that drug offenses are "VICTIMLESS" is also nonsense. If we lived in a world that could hermatically seal you off from the rest of society if you decided to use illegal drugs, then maybe I would agree with this statement. But, we cannot. Drug "offenders" live in society and their actions impact others, mostly in a negative way.
    3. Jerry makes my point. He claims drugs are "easier" to get, etc, etc, but versus WHAT? Is he claiming that if we made drugs legal they would be "harder" to get? I seriously doubt that and fear a world that would allow drugs like cocaine, crack, and heroin to become as available as alcohol.

    And, lets look at three potential consequences of drug legalization.

    A. Legalization of drugs makes the prices of drugs less expensive. This is the most likely outcome no matter how much it is taxed. A lower price means more demand and higher availability. This is not a desired outcome.

    B. Legalization of drugs makes drugs more expensive. But, what this means is that nothing really changes. The drug industry already exists at the current level of prices and they would just continue to distribute drugs. Drug suppliers would still be breaking the law, just different laws. But, maybe since it involves governement revenues they would really get serious about it!

    C. Legalization of drugs keeps drug prices the same. Maybe the government can set the tax rates exactly to make this scenario true. But, then, we have already determined that this is a "failure". I guess you can argue that now instead of spending money on the "War on Drugs", that the government could be collecting tax revenues. Ok, that is a "benefit", but of at what cost? Now, our government is complicit in the drug trade, an active partner profiting more than any drug king pin ever profited in ruining the lives of citizens our republic is sworn to protect.

  10. Roy:

    Jerry, a non negligible percentage of DWI maims, kills, wrecks lives of people. These people never asked if they agreed to risk themselves in a lottery where sometimes, anyway, they don't get maimed or dead. If you wish, argue about BAC. Take into account that some folks have greater tolerances. Create table with variables for age, gender, muscle mass, drinking habits. Whatever. But set a number. Publish it. And, if caught driving with that number, too bad. Knew better. Had all sorts of alternatives, from designated driver to, well, not drinking. Take pick. But can't put risk on others without asking them.

  11. Gil:

    Actually I wouldn't mind how much taxes government receives to fight the "war" on drugs versus how much tax revenue would supposedly be raised by taxing drugs if they were all legalised. Since legalisation means the price of drugs comes right down then the taxes from legal drugs shouldn't be that much at all. Whereas losing the "war" on drugs makes for good advertising towards Conservative family types and would lead to more taxes being directed to the war on drugs. And don't forget the income from seizing assets of people where drugs are involved. Somehow I think the police get way more in tax revenue with drugs being illegal.

  12. Mark:

    "Why are you so worried about what someone else puts in their body?"

    Again, this just cuts to the heart of the issue. I am worried about what someone else puts in their body. I worry about my children having access to these types of drugs, many of which are very addictive.

    I worry about other people who may use these drugs (and "legal" ones too) and become incapacitated. They drive and put others, including me, in danger. They operate other equipment too, as well as make decisions, big and small that can have severe impact on other people.

    Drug abusers also have severe health problems and overdoses that suck up health care resources, much of which is paid by third parties.

    Drug abusers are also, in many cases, common criminals that resort to crime to support their habit.

    All of these things impact other people, so drug abuse is not "victimless".

    Regardless, there are three reasons other reasons why most drugs should continue to be illegal:

    1. The obvious addictiveness and destructiveness of these drugs;
    2. Drug crimes are very easy to convict, and habitual drug criminals also are committing other crimes such as robbery, theft, assault, etc. The incarceration of habitual drug offenders is a major reason why crime levels are down almost across the board. But, whereas it is almost impossible to convict someone for theft, drugs crimes are easy to convict because they criminals are caught in possession.
    3. By maintaining the illegality of drugs, we can force people into rehabilitation. Sadly, rehabilitation is not very effective and this fact is one of the biggest failures of the liberal+drug legalizer crowd. In fact, about the only really successful treatment for drug addiction is the christian based 12 steps, a sad indictment to the groups that have essentially glamorized drug use in this country.

  13. el coronado:

    lovely speech there, mark, but entirely 100% wrong.
    1) they started criminalizing drugs back in 1913. that means we've been "fighting" the demon scourge of....of....herbs and powders used for personal consumption for almost 100 years now.
    2) after that 98 years of ever-escalating "war" on drugs, the situation today remains *exactly* what it was back when i was in high school, lo all those decades ago: ANY kid can get his hands on ANY kind of drug he/she wants in 72 hours or less, as long as they've got the cash and don't have a rep as a snitch. EVERYbody knows a guy who knows a guy.
    3) if the result of 98 years of ever-more-draconian laws and penalties for drug use/possession is that john or jane high-schooler has to wait all of 3 whole days or less for his her weed/x/coke/heroin - less time than it takes to get a gun, which are *legal* - then the whole "drug war" farce MUST be seen for what it is: a 3-act play, the final results of which is a police state. go watch old 'andy griffith' shows: did good ol shrff taylor & deppitty fife have an MP-5 in the trunk of their crusier? did they do 'felony stops' on otis the drunk, like they do today? did they shoot the dog while serving warrants, for "officer safety"? did they play pretend and dress up like ninjas, and pump themselves into roid-raged "law furies"? did they taze aunt bea when she got lippy or didn't show the proper 'respect', which is now just as important to a cop as it is to a crip?

    the generally accepted definition of insanity is 'keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result'. that's the crux of yout argument, mark.

    sure, drugs ruin people's lives. but those lives are ruined and drugs are ALREADY illegal as hell. what's left in the arsenal? the death penalty for even THINKING about drugs? some folks are just going to ruin their lives - that's the way it works out. legalize drugs, and the price falls 95% - when was the last time you saw or heard of a drunk committing a crime to feed his habit, when a bottle of booze runs $10? - and maybe the cops demilitarize (not likely: they LIKE their new mil-spec toys and thei APC's and .50-cals) and maybe we can start to get our country back.

    lastly, why is it anyone else's business what an adult chooses to injest/inject into his/her own body? i'm all for criminalizing *driving* while high - but what an adult does at home ain't nobody's bidness but his/hers. unless, of course, you're a puritan inquisitor. or a cop/prosecutor making 50% higher-than-private-sector pay, with fantastic bennies, and collecting a solid-gold pension. THEN, you just MIGHT have a stake in keeping the drug war going for...forever, right?

  14. Mark:

    Hilarious, el coronado. Again, while you have made the case how the "war" on drugs have failed, you have also made my point about how the argument that the "war" on murder has also failed. Laws criminalizing murder date back to before 1912 and we are still fighting that issue.

    Apparently, you feel that a law(s)/policy concerning an illegal behaviour is a "failure" if there isn't zero instance of that behavior happening. ANd, your concept of a "police" state is rather ludicrous if you think you live in one (although the paranoia effects from drug abuse is probably the main cause of your feelings).

    Further, you offer no other alternative besides legalization. SInce we have murderers and the laws fail to stop those murderers, lets make murder legal. Since we have speeders, and the laws fail to stop those speeders, lets remove all speed limit laws. Hell, just about every stop sign has violators. We can't stop them with ever more draconian laws. Lets remove all stop signs....and on and on and on.

    And, if an "adult" actually chose to injest/inject something into their bodies in the privacy of their own home then I could care less. But that isn't the case, is it? First, the biggest issue isn't adults using drugs, but children. Second, few adult drug offenders keep this issue in the privacy of their own homes. These people are mostly total losers that are committing crimes to pay for their habit and are spending other people's money in health care costs and failed "rehabilitiation" of their personal (victimless) sin. AS I stated above, drug use would be just fine and dandy if you sealed yourself off from society, and did not expect society to pay for you when you come crashing down. If that was a true option I would just let these morons go off and kill themselves in true Darwinian fashion, which I don't think is a real trait of a "puritan".

  15. el coronado:

    reductio ad absurdum, mark? that's it?? that's all you got? that's the best you can do?

    you bleat - rather sanctimoniously - that you don't want "your children" growing up in a world where drugs are legal. how very noble. presumably, you also don't want your kids to become hopeless rummies pushing a shopping cart around skid row, either. but alcohol is legal. so how do you deal with that?

    THAAAAAT's PARENT them! or is your puritanical, curiously authoritarian stance in re drugs perhaps an unconscious reflection of an irrational, hysterical fear that you might not be a good enough parent to keep them away from the demon weed? or the satanic powder? you'd better HOPE you are: because when your kids get to junior high, if they want it, they'll be able to get it easier than cigarettes. (also legal, BTW.)

    hey, this is FUN! it's FUN to slop around in the mud of your preferred medium of argument, mark! P.S. Do let me know where i called for the decriminalization of murder, won't you? P.P.S.: since heroin, cocaine, and every other drug you can think of was legal as sea salt until 1913 - it seems folks back then had the crazy notion the government didn't have the RIGHT to tell an adult what he could or couldn't inhale/injest - how'd we make it till then? why didn't the union dissolve into a frfenzied orgy of dope-fueled murder? hell, cops back then didn't even have guys playing ninja, or automatic weapons! HOW did we ever survive???

  16. me:

    Mark, the argument el coronado makes is that the war on drugs and your "war on murder" differ in one critical way: one is making war on a potential precursor to a crime, with no discernible effect and at a tremendous cost. The other is making war on an actual crime, with great success and at a relatively low cost.

    To illustrate the first point: if we pursued the "war on murder" the same way we do the war on drugs, possession of any weapon would be a criminal offense (instantly making pocket knife possession a reason to go to prison for life)

    To illustrate the second: The us imprisons more people than any other nation worldwide in its war on drugs. As pointed out earlier, this has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs. At the same time, the major crime rate is declining so much that experts pronounce themselves baffled (again, just google)

    To illustrate the third: The direct cost of the war on drugs is around 45B just for law enforcement (never mind the cost to the welfare and prison system). The estimated increase in tax revenue is about 30B increase per year in the case of legalization. The cost of murder prosecution in the US per year is 2B (~8700 murders with 307k per murder cost). I sure know which problem I find more important. I find it especially vexing that around 80% of the 45B in the war on drugs are spent on Marijuana prosecution - a drug that in medical studies consistently turns out much less bad than Alcohol on all counts.

  17. Mark:

    Illustrative Point 1: Not even close to being true. What you are missing is the fact that the possession of many forms of drugs is legal. So, clearly drug enforcement has nothing to do with what you claim.

    Illustrative Point 2: Again, you have zero proof of your assertion. I understand that this is your opinion, but you there is no way to prove what the availability of drugs would be under different set of policies. In a post above, I lay out three possible scenarios of what would happen if drugs were legalized. I have yet to see anyone come up with a valid argument how making drugs "legal" would somehow make them "less available". In fact, the most likely outcome would make drugs cheaper and more available, and this would exasperate the drug problem, not help it.

    Illustrative Point 2 again: The rate of all crime is down in the United States. Most "experts" are baffled because they don't want to attribute the reason for this to the most likely cause. Since the 1980's we have been incarcerating criminals at a higher rate. This removes criminals from the streets. When the criminals are off the streets they no longer commit crimes. Many of these individuals are sent to prison for drug offenses, but these are the people who are doing most of the crime.

    Illustrative Point 3: Again, it is sad that you cannot see the immorality of the US government peddling illicit drugs at a profit. Why not charge a tax on prostitution too? It is a "victimless" crime that cannot be stopped. Lets fund the government literally on the backs on abused women.

    Illustrative Point 3 again: The reason why alcohol is "worse" than marijuana is that it is legal, essentially less expensive and more readily available.

    The fact of the matter is, I would consider the legalization of marijuana that included very heavy excise taxation but never the legalization of cocaine or other illicit drugs.

  18. me:

    Interesting - I was about to make the same complaint (you didn't check your facts but state opinions). Let me elaborate in case I was not clear enough.

    Point 1: Possession and use of drugs is illegal and prosecuted heavily (people go to prison and/or have their assets seized before they commit any harm through - say - vehicular homicide under the influence). Possession and use of weapons is not illegal but regulated. People got to prison (and, oddly enough, seldomly have their assets seized) only if they actually kill someone. That's the difference between the war on drugs and the "war on murder" I was calling out.

    Point 2: Illegal drugs are widely available to anyone, just as they have been during the last 100 years. At the same time, we've sent millions of people to prisons, with no impact on the availability of drugs. The argument you supply (imprisoning lots of casual drug users reduces all crime) is fallacious and not backed up by evidence; the one thing I'll state here is that nations with much more relaxed drug policies have substantially lower murder rates than the US. The point I was making was that the US is spending tremendously on the war on drugs compared to the "war on murder", and that while drug availability hasn't been reduced, the number of murders has.

    Point 3: I disagree with you on ethics. I believe taxing behaviors like smoking, drinking or the consumption of illicit drugs is a working approach, as demonstrated by countries like the netherlands or portugal and much preferable to incarceration.

    More Point 3: Current statistics indicate a prosecution heavily focused on Marijuana (~800k arrests/year, ~90% for posession only). Given that there are much worse drugs (like cocaine, heroin, crack, meth and alcohol), this seems like a poor allocation of resources. I should point out that when I said "worse" I was referring to the medical impact - addictiveness as well as health damage.

    (1) There is a difference between murder prosecution (somebody was killed) and Drug prosecution (somebody was doing something that according to the opinions of some might eventually lead to some other persons death)

    (2) The return on investment per stated goal (reduce drug use/reduce murder) is terrible for the war on drugs and great for murder

    (3) There are proven tactics that reduce violent crime and drug use that cost much less than what the US current spends.

    PS: An interesting anecdote RE: point 3 - I would indeed support the legalization of prostitution, thereby removing any hold that pimps have over their girls and ensuring that much less abuse happens in this profession. I have to admit that I used to have exactly the same bias as you (abused women) until I dated a girl only to later discover which line of business she worked in. It turns out there are smart, intelligent, dedicated business women who by themselves made a choice about what they consider ethically permissible and even though that episode was full of personal heartbreak for me, I now believe that prostitution is a victimless crime and valid business endeavour. I do believe that abuse of women is a crime and should be persecuted in all its forms.

    That last point comes back to a philosophy of prosecution: don't go after things that in your opinion lead to some unfavorable result. Come down hard on the actual result.

    PPS: Sources - start with reading the wikipedia pages on the war on drugs, and google for crime statistics like marihuana arrests and prison data

  19. Mark:

    SInce the "point" structure is broken down, let me get this straight.

    Are you claiming that there should be no deterrent laws? If you don't believe this, you certainly seem to have this as your underlying assumption by emphasizing the "actual" crime and limiting a crime to when someone is "hurt". In your world, is attempted murder a crime? The person did not "ACTUALLY" kill someone. Maybe we should give failed murderers a pass? I don't know what kind of world you live in, but it is clearcut to me that the value of public safety of deterrent type laws such as drunk driving, speeding, and drug legalization far outweighs the cost. I want speeds controlled (not every speeder caught) because this reduces traffic accidents and thus serves the public.

    Ethics? Again, so you are comfortable with the morality of the government being a drug pusher? There is a significant difference in impact between the usage of tobacco and illicit drugs like heroin, meth, cocaine, or crack. And, regardless, I point to my three scenarios of government taxation of drugs. I will repeat them:

    a. the prices of drugs is reduced. This is a totally unacceptable outcome because it will lead to more availability and more drug problems.
    b. the price of drugs is increased. Then, what you will have is the bootlegging of drugs. The illegal drug market already exists. They will supply the drugs at this price. The drug pushers will continue to break the law, just different ones.
    c. the cost of drugs remains the same. Then we still have a significant problem and all we have done is change the economics with a moral ambiguity of the government being involved in the drug trade.

    And, you seem to avoid the other issue I bring up. You claim that the "availability" of drugs, particularly "hard" drugs like meth, heroin, or crack would be "LESS" if drugs were legalized? Again, that is a nice opinion, but really fails to follow much logic. Drugs being illegal forces their price up, and this reduces demand. Simple laws of economics. Making drugs legal would just follow one of the three scenarios above, and those simply are not acceptable options.

    And, the "Pretty Woman" anecdote is really nice. But, if you are basing your views on prostitution on this episode you really have no understanding of reality. Most women engaged in prostitution have severe drug, economic, social, and family problems. Most of them have a combination of all of the above. It is not a happy, pretty time. Most of these women will be severely abused during their "career". This is an issue that I can support "partial" legalization as sort of a zoning issue, but not in general. That is, legal prostitution in areas of Nevada makes some sense.

    The real "solution" to the drug issue is rehabilitation. And, as I stated earlier, this is a major failure of people on "your side" of the equation. This society has glamorized drug use without conceiving a real way of dealing with the consequences of drug use.

  20. me:

    Yes, my point of view would be that punitive laws are a deterrent in and all by themselves. Whenever laws punish a common behavior that might have positive or negative outcomes they overreach, typically reducing rule of law by irregular enforcement. The example you make is fallacious - attempted murder by that definition is a major crime (an action with no good outcomes has been committed).

    Speeding is a great example for what I mean - a large majority of the driving population violates posted speed limits at all times, driving safely all the while. In large part this is due to unreasonably low speed limits (often set for reasons entirely unrelated to traffic safety - a public disservice if I ever saw one). There is no evidence that speeding (as in "driving any faster than the posted speed limit") correlates with accident rates. Note that official statistics suffer from a bias in that a common behavior in the population will show up on accident reports more frequently (if you followed the same logic, "breathing" would be a major contributing factor as well - everyone does it). There is, however, evidence that distractions like talking to a passenger in the car or driving at a speed significantly different from the flow of traffic around you correlate with accident rates. Note also that there are countries with much higher speed limits and much lower accident rates than the states. Speeding tickets do little to increase traffic safety but much to support municipal budgets: A few get picked out of traffic and charged, generating revenue for municipalities under the guise of promoting safety. The problem here of course is that the cost of collection is high (compared to, say, a higher tax collected for tabs). My preferred proposal here would be to punish only in case of actual damage done, but punish harshly (a perfectly appropriate deterrent). If you insist on punishing behavior that might or might not lead to negative outcomes, then at least ensure consistent enforcement and try to pick something that actually correlates with the outcome (like reckless driving: going much faster or much slower than surrounding traffic)

    I agree that there are significant differences in outcome between soft drugs like Marihuana, hard drugs like cocaine, alcohol or tobbacco and poisons like heroin or meth. Governments function in society is to regulate behaviors with potential impact on others and (ideally, cough) create a fair and level playing field with well understood rules. Drug use in society has a long history, withstands prohibition and has potential impact on others - hence it should be regulated. You and I agree on that, btw, in that law enforcement is just one form of regulation. My complaint is that it's not very successful in preventing harm and in reducing use of toxic substances, and that most of our enforcement is focused on soft drugs.

    You appear to agree with me that we're wasting money on enforcement with your cases a to c (if the outcomes don't change based on investment, reducing investment is a rational choice). My counterargument to the current strategy btw is that I'd be much more comfortable with regulation akin to medical drugs - which would give you quality control, reduce the contact region with people engaged in illegal activities and thus reduce secondary crime.

    I never made the claim that availability of hard drugs would be lessened if legalized. My point is that they are widely available now, but from people you wouldn't want to associate with. They are bought and sold but in a way that is outside of the control of the state. There is no medical consult, no quality control and there are no tax revenues. Fundamentally, you're seeing the same problems prohibition generated last century: if you force a substantially common behavior into the criminal underground, you actually create a lot of secondary crime instead of preventing it.

    As far as your take on my pretty women story goes - my point is not that that profession isn't full of abused women. My point is again that the wrong activity gets regulated, actually creating more abuse (because prostitutes operate outside legal protection). If percentage of abused women was a good criterion to ban activities, we should prohibit alcoholics anonymous. As an added incentive, once you regulate an activity and make it legal, you *can* regulate things like zoning.

    I'd also like to add that rehabilition requires communication. If the preferred method of interacting with people who take drugs is to hit them hard with the biggest legal hammer around, not much open communication is bound to happen.

    That said, like alcohol and tobbacco use, my take on drug use in society is that a certain percentage of harmful behavior is unavoidable and that we're better of creating a legal framework ensuring that it's properly regulated instead of funnelling money into the pockets of criminals by essentially giving them the monopoly on the drug trade.

  21. el coronado:

    that was an impressive, very well-reasoned, well thought out, and well-written argument there, 'me'. not that it matters: you'll still be accused of being a dope fiend/hooker enabler, and "soft on crime". vin suprynowicz (PBUH) has argued that every law passed since 1913 that created a new "crime" should be invalidated. all the major crimes would still be crimes: murder, robbery, rape, fraud, all that. after all, they've been crimes for thousands of years - society *knows* what a real crime is.

    an adult choosing to partake of an herb/powder, or a woman selling her ass (voluntarily).....isn't anyone's business but their own, and **it sure ain't a crime.** now if we can just sedate the puritans among us into listening to reason.....(LOL). mencken said it best: [drug warriors and puritans share] a haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

    can't be having THAT!! cotton mather said so! besides, how would we ever manage to maintain and grow our police-state apparatus if we vacate 75% of the "crimes" on the books?

  22. Mark:

    " There is no evidence that speeding (as in “driving any faster than the posted speed limit”) correlates with accident rates."

    This assertion is absolutely false and doesn't even pass a google test. For example:

    YOu can argue with the research that has been done, but that is significantly different than saying there "is no evidence.

    "My preferred proposal here would be to punish only in case of actual damage done"

    I guess that you are going to volunteer to be the victim then. I think that is a swell position to take as long as the damage from your policy is happening to someone else.

    The question in this case is how we weight the "cost" of deterrence versus the cost of doing nothing. Sorry, but you are in a small minority that really cares about the punishment of a person caught driving drunk or speeding. It is clear to most people, including myself, that the value of deterrence from these laws far outweighs the costs becaue frankly I don't care that the drunk is punished. He willingly broke the law and placed himself and more importantly others at risk from his behaviour. He got caught (probably 1/100 times that person has driven drunk) and now needs to pay the price. I am no member of MADD, and might have some agreement with you about certain laws going too far, such as the blood alcohol content of .08 being too low for a criminal offense. But, that is far different than desiring the elimination of drunk driving laws and just treat the consequences in the end. That is just plain stupid public policy.

    "n large part this is due to unreasonably low speed limits (often set for reasons entirely unrelated to traffic safety – a public disservice if I ever saw one)"

    Some laws may be set this way. Clearly there are speed traps that law enforcement likes to set. But, overall, speed limits are set not to prohibit people from speeding, but rather to control the distribution of speed on the road. IF you set the speed limit to 70mph then you will have a given distribution of speed. Some driving 85, others 80, others 75, etc. IF you set the speed limit to a different speed, 75 or 65, you will have a shift in speed distribution. Back when the speed limit was 55, you had very few drivers over 75 mph.

    "My counterargument to the current strategy btw is that I’d be much more comfortable with regulation akin to medical drugs – which would give you quality control, reduce the contact region with people engaged in illegal activities and thus reduce secondary crime."

    And, I think that this will be totally ineffective. If you give a user of these types of drugs they are going to get their fill, legally or illegally. THis is clear from how legal perscription drugs are used, like Oxy, Vicodeine, or Valium. Making a certain level of use that much easier and cheaper to obtain will just increase the level of how much a drug abuser will be able to obtain. They simply will get their perscriptions filled and then hit the streets in search of more drugs.

    "if you force a substantially common behavior into the criminal underground, you actually create a lot of secondary crime instead of preventing it."

    NOt really. The secondary crime is going to happen, legal or illegal. It is all based on the price of the product. If you keep the price the same or increase it, the users will be forced to maintain their current level of secondary crime to support their habit, or increase it to meet the higher price. If you lower the prices, you will just have more drug addicts behaving like drug addicts.

    "n adult choosing to partake of an herb/powder, or a woman selling her ass (voluntarily)…..isn’t anyone’s business but their own,"

    And, finally, the absolute WEAKEST argument to be made. I would agree with you if this was true. But, the problem is that these people do not mind THEIR OWN BUSINESS. Drug abusers interact with everyone else in negative ways. They are a significant health care cost, short term and long. They are a significant legal problem. They require support from third parties because most of them cannot hold a job to support their own living. Very few have health care coverage so their hospital trips and rehabilitation are covered by the taxpayers. Most of them are habitual criminals of opportunity that will steal anything that is not locked down to support their habit. And, many of them are not adults.

    If all of the drug abusers agreed to swim out to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and live their lives isolated from mine, minding their own business, then I would support drug legalization 100%.

  23. me:

    The article you link to clearly states that this study (about the methodology and assumptions of which I harbor some serious doubt, just for the record) "found safety is more dependent on traffic law enforcement than on the actual laws themselves. That is, less accidents were (sic) occur by heavy enforcement than by lowering the speed limit." As written, this supports my statement, not yours - the study claims a correlation between law enforcement and accidents, not between driving faster than the posted speed limit and accidents.

    The difference in our argumentation is that you take for granted certain theories about what leads to negative outcomes and ask that those hypothetical precursor activities be prosecuted based on those assumptions. My take is that those assumptions are unproven and that prosecuting based on them limits essential liberties in a counterproductive way. Note also that you are drawing extreme conclusions - you are arguing vehemently with positions I did not take (all drunk driving should be legal, etc), while ignoring the arguments I actually make (a substantial portion of traffic and drug law enforcement has no beneficial impact and tremendously high cost; there are more efficient and less costly proven alternatives).

    Just to throw a reputable reference into the mix, specifically contradicting your theory about drug use, legitimacy and secondary crime:

  24. me:

    Oh, and another (speeding to me is a side issue - it's enforcement is less costly to society at large, but it is another case where a "war" is declared on something that's easy to measure and control but turns out to be a minor contributing factor to accidents):

  25. Mark:

    "you take for granted certain theories about what leads to negative outcomes and ask that those hypothetical precursor activities be prosecuted based on those assumptions"

    LOL, and so does most of the civilized world. Sorry, your opinion on these matters is a small minority. There will never be a day when we remove the very sensible law that we have regarding these activities. To society, the OBVIOUS benefit to prosecuting drunk drivers and drug offenders far outweighs the costs. It will most likely be impossible to ever totally eliminate drugs or drunk driving, or even murder. But, it is clear that enforcement of these laws benefits society. Probably because I have no sympathy for a three time felon spending time in jail. If they cannot learn their lesson, who cares. One less criminal off the streets. Getting these criminals off the streets for drug offense (or gun offense, another good crime to catch these pricks with) means many other crimes, theft, shop lifting, assaults, vandalism are stopped. Incarceration is, at a minimum, a deterrent of one.

    "As written, this supports my statement, not yours "

    NO IT DOES NOT. Your position is that we should just treat these issues like common torts. There is no "illegality" until there is damage. The public should not care if people drive drunk at 100 mph unless they do any damage. It is "victimless", you claim, until there is a victim. But, instead, this study CLEARLY demonstrates that public safety is enhanced by traffic laws, and that more ENFORCEMENT of traffic laws directly saves lives. Enforcement of traffic laws reduces speeds, and speed distribution, and that leads to fewer accidents. Sorry, your spin simply is not working.

    Here is what I think about you, and a couple of other posters. You are most likley younger. You are most likely childless, or if you have children they aren't really that old.

  26. me:

    I have never subscribed to the theory that sufficient numbers of people behaving irrationally is grounds for that behavior to be reclassified as rational.

    You have yet to present evidence why you consider the laws you cite sensible; I've presented plenty that they aren't. If you carefully reread your messages, you express opinions and feelings without backing them up with facts.

    In essence, this isn't news: it's just another instance of that age old human hobby, witchhunting:

    The civilized world knew that witches cause all the evil in the world, and the opinion that the crop failed because the weather was simply bad was that of a small minority. To society, the obvious benefit of prosecuting witches and warlocks far outweigh the costs. It's most likely impossible to ever totally eliminate all wizardry, but it is clear that the enforcements of those laws benefits society. There's no sympathy for anyone proven a witch - if they cannot learn their lesson, who cares. One less magic practicioner off the streets. And even if they weren't witches, burning them at the stakes discourages other criminals...

    As far as the claim that the article you quoted supports my stated position and contradicts yours, please consider: I claim that exceeding the posted speed limit does not correlate with accident rate. The study you quoted claims that increased law enforcement of any kind reduces accident rates, and, crucially, that this is independent of the speeding laws. Specifically, the study explicitly states that reduced speed has nothing to do with fewer accidents but that only the presence of increased enforcement of traffic laws matters. Again, you confound your unproven theories with the source material and argue vehemently with a position I did not take (drunks driving 100mph - note my earlier argument that reckless driving should be a red flag instead of exceeding a set speed limit)

  27. me:

    And just to illustrate the argument a bit more - the second speed study I cite above published data that indicates that more than 80% of accidents are caused by inattentiveness. Your argumentative chain of "more enforcement reduces speed and accidents are therefore reduced because of reduced speeds" is one theory (that is not supported by your study). An alternative, equally likely (and equally unsupported) chain would be "enforcement increases the likelihood that drivers pay attention and that increased attentiveness reduces accident rates". IMHO, that's more likely, given the results of the second study. Crucially, though, both of these chains represent arguments unsupported by evidence where the studies quoted are concerned.

  28. Mark:

    "You have yet to present evidence why you consider the laws you cite sensible;"

    Again, sure I did. I linked you to a study that showed that there is a correlation between traffic law enforcement and automobile related fatalities. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT? That is PURE evidence that just about everything you state is wrong.

    Second, if you think drunk driving or even drug laws are "witch hunting" you are off your rocker. Driving drunk or using drugs is a dangerous behavior for everyone around. That is far from a "witch hunt" and frankly, this reveals you have no serious input into this matter. A criminal and a witch are two different things. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    "I claim that exceeding the posted speed limit does not correlate with accident rate"

    And your claim is obviously wrong. When speed limits are enforced, accident rates go down. This study DIRECTLY CONTRADICTS YOUR POSITION NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU DENY IT. If it did not, and speeds did not matter, then there would be no correlation between accident rates and law enforcement. Zero. Absolutely none. How could there be? You claim you can simply drive as fast as you want and there will be no increase in the accident rate. This study demonstrates that accident rates are dependent on enforcement of the laws. If you want to be treated seriously and your arguments respected, you cannot spin like this. Again, this study directly contradicts your position, it does not support it. You can argue about methodology, etc, etc, etc but you cannot argue that this study "supports" your position.

    When you create laws you need to look at the value the public gains versus the private "liberty" lost in enforcing those laws. With respect to traffic laws, this study demonstrates the public value in those laws. But, as stated above, jsut because there is value to the public that does not immediately mean that policy that restricts private behavior should be supported and made into law. In the case of traffic laws the preponderence of benefit is with the public. The "cost" of a drunk driver being arrested, fined and/or jailed is minimal when compared to the value the public gains.

    WIth respect the drugs, the loss of liberty of a person wanting to use illegal drugs is minimal compared to the public gain. I simply do not feel sorry for the person convicted of these crimes. I sincerely hope that all drug abusers can get the help that they need and I also sincerely wish that there were effective rehab programs for these people.

    But, illegal drug use is simply not a "victimless" crime as you claim. This behavior impacts other people whether it is in health care cost, welfare benefits, or crimes committed in support of their habit. The case for legalization does not solve these problems, and frankly it throws it back further on society who are now complicit in the drug trade that is not worth the value of any tax revenues that could be made.

  29. Mark:

    "“enforcement increases the likelihood that drivers pay attention and that increased attentiveness reduces accident rates”"

    YOu are not serious, are you? This is your "fact based" argument?

    Regardless, "speed" relates to two of the top five accident factors in the study that you cite. Further, speed is probably a contributing factor in all of the others, such as inattentiveness or recklessness. Clearly, higher speeds makes these issues more pronounced.


    BUt clearly speed, and more precisely speed distribution obviously has an impact on traffic safety. If you enforce the laws to maintain the "desired" distribution you reduce accidents and you reduce deaths.

    Now, it becomes a simple matter of HOW TO ENFORCE and WHAT PENALTIES TO USE. THese are judgement calls. In some cases I do not think we have effective enforcement or even effective penalties. For example, I would make a person's 2nd DWI/DUI arrest have a very draconian penalty. In addition to heavy fines (at least $5,000 direct fine) and increased insurance rate (I would double the allowable time insurance companies can charge risk insurance), a 2 time convicted offender would have to do 30 days in jail. Not 30 days of weekends or 30 days with a job pass. 30 STRAIGHT DAYS. If you have a job you would have to tell your boss you are going to have to miss 4 weeks of work because you have to go to jail. Frankly, if you are convicted of a second DWI/DUI you have a problem and I simply do not care to listen to you rational. Go to jail, get into AA, and fix your problem before you create victims.

    On the other hand, I do not htink that the .08 blood alcohol limit is a high enough standard for a DUI offense. I think I could compromise with the MADD elements and call someone with a .08-.1 a lesser offense, but that is just too low.

    Oh, and by the way. I fully support police check points designed to catch drunk drivers. I also totally support the power of a police officer to search your vehicle given probable cause. I don't deny that there will be times when police abuse this power, but it is a small price to pay. If you want to avoid the reprecussions from this, don't do illegal activity. If you are doing illegal activity, boo hoo for you.

  30. me:

    Let's settle the speeding issue first:

    The study you quote is very specific about speed not being a factor but increased law enforcement being the correlated factor. It specifically states that the laws enforced are not exclusively speed restrictions and it explicitly states that in their analysis, the kind of laws enforced doesn't matter with respect to accident reduction but only the presence of increased enforcement. They even specifically point out that reduced speed isn't a factor.

    That said, how about the other two arguments I made above (studies indicating more than 80% of accidents are caused by inattention, and accident statistics in other countries)? I can speak with authority on German autobahns - no speed limits; the accident rate on German autobahns is lower than on the US highway system. And, to top it off, autobahns with speed limits have the same accident rates as autobahns without:

    "Accident rates
    Despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low. The Autobahn carries about a third of all Germany's traffic, but injury accidents on the Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than 12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes (2009). In fact, the annual fatality rate (2.7 per billion km in 2009) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates (4.5 in 2009). Furthermore, a 2005 study by the German government found that Autobahn sections without speed limits had the same accident rate as those with speed limits."

    I feel that the comparison with witchhunts (find someone to punish for bad outcomes they did not cause based on generally understood provably false information), this is exactly what this is.

    I'd also challenge you to help establish an enclave somewere in this huge country where there are no speed limits and drugs are legalized (note that the federal government currently makes that utterly impossible). I'd personally move there in a heartbeat and I expect the crime and fatality rate there to be much less.

  31. Mark:

    "n fact, the annual fatality rate (2.7 per billion km in 2009) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates (4.5 in 2009)."

    LOL!!!!!!!!! You are joking!!!! This might work on some people the same way that defenders of ObamaCare use life expectancy to "prove" the value of government run health care.
    Since you probably have no clue what I am talking about, I will lay it out for you. In Germany, and most other countries, the ability to have a drivers license is much more restricted than in the US and much more expensive. Further, since petrol is expensive in all of Europe you simply do not have the same distribution of drivers there as you do in the United States. The German Autobahn is essentially an expert course, but I am sure if the US exported a couple of million elderly drivers and another few million young drivers, the statistics would be much different.

  32. me:

    I happen to have driven a solid 10 years on German autobahns and happen to hold a German drivers license - let me assure you that the spectrum of drivers you see there is roughly the same you see on American roads. And let me also assure you that 120mph is a perfectly safe and sane driving speed.

    It just so happens that it's easy to believe that "speeding causes accidents" despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Thought experiment: if we take a stretch of road where the current speed limit is 30 and reduce it to 25, will the drivers who drive 30 after the reduction really drive unsafely? Or is it just a case of limits set incorrectly? If billions of people drive safely at much higher speeds in other places, what makes the US so special that it can't deal with this? And if there's evidence that distraction leads to accidents why not police for inattentive drivers instead?

    Also note that speed limits didn't impact the safety of driving for the same set of drivers (second part of the quote).

    Let me turn this around: you've chosen to believe something that I believe incorrect. I've presented you with various bits of evidence contradicting your theory (driving above a posted speed limit leads to accidents). What would it take for you to reexamine your opinion? If you're standing solidly on the "I'll just believe this regardless of what anyone says or demonstrates", we might as well not argue.

  33. Mark:

    " let me assure you that the spectrum of drivers you see there is roughly the same you see on American roads."

    AGAIN, you are JOKING. This is patently false. Traveling 120mph on the autobahn with a select group of drivers might be safe. Driving 120 mph on the US highway with old people and teens just is not the same.

    Sorry, you have not "presented me with any evidence at all". The data you produced does not adjust for the age and types of drivers on the road. For example, you can't even get a license in Germany until age of 18 (probably a good idea). And, as I pointed out, when gasoline is $8-10/gallon you eliminate the low skilled/high risk drivers from the road. People, particularly young people, ride the bus or the train instead.

    You seem to have clamped on to some sort of conclusion that I somehow believe speed causes all accidents. Why you make this assumption, I dont know.

    Speeding laws, drunk driving laws, and other traffic laws are well designed to reduce accidents and injuries. TO disagree is just foolishness.

  34. me:

    No, I was most certainly not joking. The distribution of people driving on German highways is roughly the same you see here (minus the 16 year olds, but with 17 year olds learning to drive). Your assumptions about the availability of cars are incorrect (again, having lived in each country for more than ten years, I do wonder what kind of evidence you will present for your theory). I've presented evidence that driving above the posted speed limit is not a large contributing factor in accidents, that other factors are more important and that much higher speed limits work well elsewhere. You have multiple times restated your opinion that this is incorrect. I do not believe that you hold the opinion that speed causes all accidents. I do believe that you hold the opinion that spending a large amount of law enforcement resources on enforcing the current speed limits is a good idea. My belief is that this constitutes an inefficient and wasteful use of resources that unnecessarily limits my freedom. I understand why speed limits are enforced this way (widespread incorrect beliefs, great source of revenue, easy to measure). Nonetheless I hate to see my tax dollars wasted this way.

    Best of luck with your view that you are right regardless of what facts other people bring to the table and that arguing with you is foolishness. I reluctantly have come to agree with that position.

    However, I wish people with such preconceived and unshakably immutable notions about how the world works would not force everybody else to live by your standards.

  35. Mark:

    Sorry, again. you are just making a fool of yourself. The Vehicle Miles Traveled is almost 50% higher in the US than in Germany.

    "I do believe that you hold the opinion that spending a large amount of law enforcement resources on enforcing the current speed limits is a good idea. My belief is that this constitutes an inefficient and wasteful use of resources that unnecessarily limits my freedom."

    And, it might "limit" your freedom, but it is done for public safety reasons. Only a fool argues against this. Your "right" to drive as fast as you want conflicts with OTHER PEOPLE's EQUIVALENT RIGHT to have safe public transporation. How to balance this conflict is the role of government. I am not arguing that in every situation government gets this correct. They should place the benefit of the doubt on any statute that restricts rights. BUt, in this case, it isn't even a close call.

    Maybe even a better example would be Noise Restriction laws. Clearly, you would argue that these are "victimless", but they are not. Your right to play your music as loud as you want conflicts with my right to have peace and harmony.

    "However, I wish people with such preconceived and unshakably immutable notions about how the world works would not force everybody else to live by your standards." are priceless. This is projection if I have ever seen it. Again, there is a reason why your views are not widely held.

  36. Mark:

    BTW, VMT from above is VMT per capita.

  37. me:

    Mark, it makes me sad to see you continue to (a) not read the source material carefully and (b) argue with positions I don't espouse.

    Let me mention that the accident rates quoted above are per VMT (hence rendering your argument about higher VMT in the US moot) and that I disagree with your stated position that we all should pay higher taxes for bigger government because of your unfounded fears.

  38. Mark:

    "above are per VMT"

    Of course they are. But the number I quote is not VMT, but VMT per capita. The average American drives almost 50% more miles than the average German. If you do not understand how this impacts the accident rates, then you have no business making arguments in public. It also destroys your 10 year anecdotal references. Again, the average American drives 50% more than the average German. It isn't even close. And it is factors like this that skew overall stats that you are demonstrating. The accident rates in Germany are lower because a smaller portion of the population that is "safer" (older, more affluent) drives a higher proportion of the miles.

    Again, if we sent our teenagers and elderly to Germany and let them drive the same number of miles they drive in the US, the German accident rate would probably excede the US rate because of the high speeds.

  39. me:

    I'd suspect you don't understand the argument - it's hard to tell because you keep throwing around assertions without explaining your reasoning or presenting any evidence.

    Note that while it's true that average Americans might travel more than Germans, the numbers above indicate that germans per mile travelled on a highway drive with fewer accidents while unconstrained by speed limits compared to accidents per mile driven on American highways with strict speed limits. Why you'd believe that a per mile per capita statistic is meaningful is beyond me - unless there are plenty of cars driving on American highways with two drivers at a time, which would explain the higher accident rate?

    Then again, you have your opinion about what constitutes the truth and no facts or demonstrations could ever sway you from it. Good luck; if one day you learn to reflect about issues and question yourself, your life might take a surprising turn for the better.

  40. Mark:

    Again, sorry that you cannot understand. I will give you an outside example to teach you how to understand.

    Here are two state SAT scores:

    Minnesota Avg SAT Reading: 594
    Maine Avg SAT Reading: 468

    Which state has the better SAT reading score?

  41. me:

    There is a certain irony in your question ;)

    That said, I'll bite. In return, I do ask you to explain to me, in your own words, why you believe that per mile travelled on highway numbers are not comparable between Germany and the US, and, crucially what your evidence for that theory is.

    You ask me which state out of the two has a higher SAT reading score. By that I assume you mean Avg SAT Reading score. The answer is easy, given that there are only two scores available: Minnesota.

    What I believe you are referring to is the fact that the subset of students actually taking the SAT is substantially smaller in Minnesota, such that an argument can be made that the higher score is a factor of self-selection, and that if a test had been performed across all students in Minnesota and Maine, the outcome might have been different.

    Back to the "irony" bit: "speed as a factor in accidents" suffers from the same issue (ie in order to prove that exceeding the posted speed limit is a good predictor of accident risk, one would have to examine the complement of drivers exceeding the speed limit without getting into one).

    To save some time, I'll note that statistics on car ownership (which, sadly, is just a proxy for actual drivers) put Germany at 55% of the population owning cars, compared to 48% for the us (see, for example,, which, according to the same logic as in the Minnesota/Maine example, ought to give us slightly worse accident rates for Germany than for the US. Also note that SAT participation rates in Minnesota are around 7% and in Maine at around 90% - numbers skewing the observed population drastically, whereas 55% and 48% are rather close.

    I'll also remind you of the statistic that compares the same population driving on highways with and without speed limit finding no difference in accident rates.

    If, as you point out, Germans have some inherent quality that makes them better at driving then US Citizens, shouldn't we attempt to find out what that is and model US driving requirements after those instead of putting up with a higher accident rate? (And, as a corollary, should the "I learned to drive in Germany" be a valid reason to get out of a US speeding ticket for people like me?)

    Lastly, yet another link, to a study from the UK finding that speed is a factor in about 3% of accidents:

  42. Mark:

    Exactly. The overall statistic is not as important as to the distribution of the scores. In Maine, the participation rate on the SAT is 75%. In Minnesota, it is 11%. And, this directly models the "accident rate" statistics that you report. They are meaningless because the distribution of drivers in Germany is much different than the distribution of drivers in the USA. AS I already have pointed out, US drivers, on a per capita basis drive about 50% more miles than German drivers. THis means a much different driving demographic. Yoing people drive much more in the US than in Germany. And, that is the major difference. Again, if we shipped all of our 16-21 year olds to Germany and let them drive to the same extent there (they would not because gasoline is so much more expensive), their accident rates would be as high, or higher than ours.

    Statistics that do no adjust for demographics/distribution, are worthless. Jsut as the overall state level SAT score is worthless because it does not adjust for participation, the statistics you point are are similarly worthless.

    AS far as these studies, they are marginal in the argument. What does "reckless" driving mean? Or "reaction"? Automobile accidents are almost always caused by multiple problems, and speed contribute to almost all of them. Driving at higher speeds reduces your margin of error in all cases, causing your "inattentiveness" to become an accident.

    And, as the study I cited demonstrates, enforcement of vehicle laws reduces accidents, injuries, and death. This more than implies a correlation between those laws and public safety. If there was ZERO correlation between what laws were enforced, as you claim, there would be no reduction in accident rates.

  43. me:

    I am not claiming that there is zero correlation. I am claiming that there is less than 5% contribution from exceeding speed limits and that we're spending much more than 5% on speed limit enforcement.

    I am also claiming that there is proof that for some populations of drivers, the presence or lack of speed limit matters little (see the n-2 argument re: driving on the autobahn with and without limits).

    If what you claim (without giving any data), there is a prevalence of young drivers on the US highway system and they are the proportion of the population that cannot handle no speed limits (which begs the question why young German drivers can, see above), then way not enforce speed limits up to, say, the age of 30 and call it a day after?

    As far as enforcement goes, I agree that the study you quoted appears to prove that more law enforcement reduces accident rates. I disagree that this means we need straightjacketlike speed laws for everyone. My practical answer to your question about how to enforce based on vague standards like "reckless" driving is the old "I know it when I see it". Have highway patrols out in force, have them videotape and pull over drivers they consider behaving harmfully. Have draconian penalties and trial by juries - if the behavior is dangerous, it'll be obvious from the video record and the community will self-regulate to ban that behavior.

    Back to the main thread:

    It's been pointed out to me that "witchhunt" has the connotation of "invade their homes and night and search under the beds" in the US. And while that's partially apt with respect to current drug prosecution, it's not what I meant.

    My point here is that the folks in the middle ages hunted down and burned witches not because they were malevolent little pricks, but because they sincerely believed that that was the right thing to do. And, hey, it worked - you burned enough witches, and most often next years crop was good and not so many people died of the flux. And if it wasn't or too many people did, hey, find and burn more witches. However, the percentage of GDP they spend in that area would probably have been better invested into teaching about crop rotation and urban hygiene.

    We're doing the same with resource allocation in law enforcement. Everybody just kind of knows these things, but if you're like me and like digging int the data, you'll find that the available data doesn't actually support the theories. Yet, we allocate the lions share of resources towards going with the gut instinct. And we're not talking small money here.

    Science has brought us such nice toys like antibiotics, computers, blood tests, antivirals and teflon. Why not use science to examine where to best allocate law enforcement resources? The US is huge. Find some unincorporated land, get some volunteers together, fund some experimental communities (heck, you might even get enough private sources to get this started). Allow them to do their own thing with respect to laws regarding "victimless crimes" (I know, you cringe). Give it ten years - at the end we'll *know* what works and what doesn't. And can apply these results to maybe experiment on a slightly larger scale.

  44. Mark:

    "I am not claiming that there is zero correlation. I am claiming that there is less than 5% contribution from exceeding speed limits and that we’re spending much more than 5% on speed limit enforcement."

    WOW, now the story has changes. I doubt that you have any statistics that can even back this up. Further, I also doubt that this is true. My guess is that if you subtract out the amount of money collected in fines that the "net" cost of enforcement of speed limits is pretty limited and supports having highway patrol on the highways for other emergency actions. What is the value of being on the freeway in an emergency and having a patrolman come help you? Can you even measure that?

    Regardless, because you are such a moron and my "analysis" of speed versus accidents consisted of one google search and citing the first return, I will simply give you another source. So, if you look at a study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration, Synthesis of Safety Research Related to Speed and Speed Limits, you will learn that you are totally incorrect (at least with your claim that "there is no evidence" that speed limits have an impact on highway safety). This study found that increasing speed limits on high speed roads increased average speed and increased crashes. So, your position is totally unfounded, as usual.

    The fact that changing speed limits on low or moderate speed roads had little impact on accident rates ALSO does not support your position. The reason for this is changing speed limits on high speed roads and freeways changes the distribution of speed and had significnat increases in average speeds. On the other hand, changingthe speed limit on low or moderate speed roads did LITTLE to change the distribution of speeds and barely changed the average speeds.

    "I am also claiming that there is proof that for some populations of drivers"

    ANd, I TOTALLY AGREE. But, unless we are going to make the roads segregated (fast lane) for one population of "good drivers" that can handle higher speeds, and another lane (slow lane) for "bad drivers" that cannot, your claim really does not matter. And, in my opinion, the real cause of most accidents isn't necessarily speed itself, but the relative speeds of the vehicles involved in the accident (this is quite literally so). So, even if all of your good drivers drove fast and well, by letting them drive faster we increase the relative speed differences between the good and bad drivers, and that has disaster written all over it.

    "I agree that the study you quoted appears to prove that more law enforcement reduces accident rates. I disagree that this means we need straightjacketlike speed laws for everyone."

    And, this is quite stupid. I have never made this argument at all. I only advocate A SPEED LIMIT and ENFORCEMENT to maintain this limit, which is generally the 85th percentile of speed distribution on the road +/- 5-10 mph. And, your "if there is an accident" motif for law enforcement is just plain stupid, and suicidal. Sorry, unless YOU VOLUNTEER to be the victim, I simply am not going to take that risk. Maybe your life does not matter to you, but mine does. And, SPEED LIMITS WITH PROPER ENFORCEMENT SAVE LIVES.

    "Why not use science to examine where to best allocate law enforcement resources? "

    And, I think we have. Unlike the libertarian whiners who complain about the "FAILURE" of the "WAR ON DRUGS", I think it is a total success. One of the major aspects of the "WAR ON DRUGS" is the fact taht our incarceration rates in this country have rapidly increased. And, "unexpectedly" as the liberal press talks about economic bad news in the Obama era, the crime rates have dropped significantly. Anyone who denies this correlation is fooling themselves. We lock up criminals, drug criminals included, and crimes drop. Less theft. Less murder. Less rape. That is because the criminals are a fixed class. Other criminals may be bred, but they simply are not trained. Locking up a criminal means that the criminal is not commiting multiple crimes (until they are released, that is).

    If you want to feel sorry for some dope head in prison, that supported his habit by stealing anything that is not nailed down, that is your choice. I can care less about them, and really do not value their "freedom" all that much. If you integrated the "societal value" of all of the felons currently incarcerated, you don't get much more than a pile of sh*t.

    So, if you add up the value all of the lives saved. Or the "value" of saving all of the potential assault and rape victims. And if you add up all of the value and cost of property that is stolen and vandalized. Or even the value that you can take your family to places like New York's Time Square and not fear for you life or property, the "War on Drugs" is cheap. QED.

  45. me:

    Mark, I quoted multiple articles with more in depth information about how exactly I arrive at these specific stats earlier. I note that in return, you confirm that you guess at certain theories and are sure the everyone knows them to be true but seem unwilling to back up you claims with concrete references.

    Meanwhile, I'd like to ensure that you're at least aware of accounting for all the cost of stringent speed enforcement: it's not only the acquisition cost for the 200k speed recording truck that could have financed a new traffic light instead or the time that the officer spent pursuing speeders vs the time he didn't take to react to a call about a burglary, the time the drivers, lawyers, prosecutors, officers, judges and the court clerks spent deliberating about various 22 in a 20 zone and similar speeding tickets, as well as the economic reallocation from, say, purchasing food for the family of four to paying off said tickets, lawyers fees and court costs. Not to mention the extra cost caused by prolonged commutes and for signage adjustments needed to establish ever changing speed traps. Imagine if we invested the money spent here on better drivers education and tougher driving tests.

    That said, the fact that your baseless convictions appear just not strong enough that you'd allow them to be put to any test indicates to me that at least part of you realizes just how much trouble you have with arguing your position rationally and gives me hope for a better future.

    PS: Also, if you have no sympathy for the dope fiend who ends up in prison for enjoying a drug less harmful than alcohol, how about the guy who's door is kicked down at 4am in the night, who's dog got shot and who's left with a scared family and damages - all because we have a triggerhappy law enforcement system that is all to happy to act on spurious anonymous tips? Meanwhile, I see no data for the secondary lifes saved you claim, but plenty that support evidence of reduced crime rates as a consequence of legalization (quotations above).

  46. Mark:

    " I note that in return, you confirm that you guess at certain theories and are sure the everyone knows them to be true but seem unwilling to back up you claims with concrete references."

    Are you just being purposefully obtuse? Or are you just stupid? Seriously? I have backed up my claims with "concrete" references. I talked about the "Synthesis of Safety Research Related to Speed and Speed Management" and demonstrated how this is evidence that completely destroys your hypthesis. This study reports that "for every 1 mi/h change in speed, injury accidents will change by 5 percent." Sorry, why be such a moron? Here is a link to the report, again, just a quick wikipedia search blows your contention away, especially since your ORIGINAL claim is "there is no evidence that supports higher speeds cause more accidents". Here is a study that completely rejects your contention.

    "200k speed recording truck"

    Well, I am not going to justify how the government spends money. But, I imagine that the "speed recording truck" will help whatever entity that invested in this thing increase its traffic violation revenues, and my guess is that it will easily pay for itself. AS for the 22 in the 20 costs, that is so ridiculous it wrecks your entire argument. My guess is that traffic fines more than pay for these costs and then some.

    As far as "prolonged commutes", the speed limit is not the issue in most people's commutes. In many major cities, the posted speed limit could be 1000 mph, and that aint going to change a damn thing when the entire freeway is a total parking lot. ANd, I am sure that the "signage" costs really does not amount to much.

    I think you are really reaching here and your arguments are getting rather ridiculous. You have been hammered and you know it.

    "how about the guy who’s door is kicked down at 4am in the night"

    This is a rare occurance and it is properly handled exactly the way that you want DRUNK DRIVING HANDLED. The officials that are responsible for this type of "abuse" have a lot to lose (unlike most drunk drivers) and Officials who are respobsible for this conduct need to pay punitive damages to anyone they do this too.

    "but plenty that support evidence of reduced crime rates as a consequence of legalization (quotations above)."

    The "legalization" of what???????????????? Crime rates are going down in the United States and we have not legalized drugs at all. In fact, all of your types are continuously whining about the "WAR ON DRUGS". Again, the secondary lives are there. All of the crime statistics have declined since the late 1980's when the incarceration rates started to increase rapidly. Again, if you want to deny this correlation, be my guest. But, it is clear that locking up criminals has a deterrent effect on crime, EVEN IF IT IS A DETERRENT OF ONE. A criminal in jail is a criminal who is not on the streets committing crimes. That is what criminals do. They commit crimes, many of them. And, it is a fact that most of these convicts are sent to jail because of drug offenses. But this should be no surprise to anyone who has a brain. Drug offenders commit other crimes. THey rob. They steal. THey shoplift. They commit violent crimes to support their drug habit or because they lack control. It aint no secret that drugs removes people's inhibitions and cause them to do dumb things. I have zero sympathy for these criminals. None. No matter what you like to pretend, most of these criminals are not just recreational users. They are hardened criminals engaged in criminal activity through and through. They are complete scumbags.

    "hat said, the fact that your baseless convictions appear just not strong enough that you’d allow them to be put to any test indicates to me that at least part of you realizes just how much trouble you have with arguing your position rationally"

    And, this is just laughable. SOrry. We aint gonna be taking down the speed limit signs or legalizing drugs real soon. I am very confident in that. So, you can believe that my postion is baseless all you want. But, the fact is that I have presented unimpeachable data. You raise speed limits on high speed roads, you get more traffic accidents, more damage, and more deaths. Sorry.

    On the other hand, you presented a statistic that did not take into account demographics. This is a rookie error and excusable, except you dig your heals in and continue to argue. Like I said, your data on German autobahn accidents is equivalent to arguing that nationalized health care is superior to semi-free market health care because the life expectencies in Europe are slightly higher than in the US. Of course, if you adjust those life expectencies for things such as auto usage (WE DRIVE MORE SO WE DIE YOUNG IN AUTO CRASHES MORE OFTEN, WHERE HAVE YOU HEARD THAT????), we have a less homogenous population that is more violent (meaning you are more likely to be murdered and die young in the US), if you actually demographically adjust this data the life expectency in the US is higher. Likewise, if you adjust the German autobahn accident rate for the demographics of the user, I am absolutely confident that the accident rate would be higher in Germany.

  47. me:

    Dear Mark, if you read over all the posts under this heading again you might notice that while I regularly supply links to the studies including actual data, you seem to have forgotten to supply yours.

    I am particulary interested in a pointer to data backing up your statement that the demographics of drivers on US and German highway systems are vastly different. My personal experience living in both countries for more than 10 years each seems to indicate the exact opposite, and I'd be thrilled to learn where I went wrong.

  48. me:

    Meanwhile, I am beginning to wonder if you have read the study you quoted (, correct?)

    "the likelihood of being involved in a crash was extremely flat, with little difference in crash risk for vehicles traveling within 15 mi/h (25 km/h) of the mean speed of traffic"
    "Lave concluded that "speed limits designed to reduce the fatality rate should concentrate on reducing variance. This means taking action against slow drivers as well as fast ones"
    "Similarly, Garber and Gadiraju (1988) reported that crash rates increased with increasing variance on all types of roadways and that speeds were higher on roads with higher design speeds, irrespective of the posted speed limits. They reported minimal variance when the posted speed limit was fewer than 16 km/h (10 mi/h) below the design speed of the road"
    "In general compliance with speed limits is poor. Harkey et al. (1990) found that 70 percent of the vehicles exceeded the speed limit on a representative sample of low and moderate speed roads in four States."
    "A number of studies have examined the effects of altering speed limits on speeds. Spitz (1984) reported that the 85th percentile speed of traffic increased less than 0.4 mi/h (0.6 km/h) in 40 zones where speed limits were raised in 10 California cities."

    Most speed limits in the US are set unreasonably low, in order to generate increased revenue. In addition, drivers usually approximate a safe driving speed regardless of posted limits. Drivers driving significantly faster or significantly slower than the actual average speed create risks for accidents.

    As a result, driving faster than the *posted* speed limit is not prone to increase accident rates. Exactly what I claimed earlier. Thanks.

    Here's one for you:

    It asks the very pertinent question why the increases in US speed limits following the repeal of the 55mph limit in 94 didn't increase accident rates. if the data contradicts the theory, then the theory is like not quite right.