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June 2008
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War on Drugs as a destroyer of the family unit

I’ve long talked about how the war on drugs damages the inner cities and low income areas. The lure of black market profits is greater, the transactions tend to be more public, and there’s a stronger direct push for arrest and incarceration.
One of the casualties of this is the family left behind when dad is sent to prison for dealing. Now you’ve got a poor family in a poor neighborhood, without a father figure, dependent on welfare, and the kids grow up looking for an escape from that life (gangs, drugs, etc.)
And again, for any of the mindless “well, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” law and order types, this is not just about individual choices — it’s about the fact that prohibition creates certain destructive economic incentives and realities. By continuing to stand in front of a long line of about-to-be incarcerated drug criminals individually saying “he deserves it… he deserves it… he deserves it…” you ignore your responsibility as a rational player in society to make societal changes for the better.
So one of the realities is the broken family. But Reason’s Kerry Howley takes it a step further in the Los Angeles Times opines that more families suffer the fallout than just those who have a male in prison.

For low-income black women, the world really isn’t cooperating. We put an awful lot of nonviolent black men behind bars, which is not generally conducive to good fathering. With so many young men absent, the marriage markets are heavily skewed against women, and mothers who might otherwise demand that men stay home and change diapers find themselves in a miserable bargaining position. In his book “The Logic of Life,” Tim Harford describes one study indicating that “a one-percentage- point increase in the proportion of young black men in prison reduces the proportion of young black women who have ever been married by three percentage points.”

Ilya Somin of Volokh Conspiracy follows up in Why the War on Drugs is Bad for Family Values

Some conservatives might argue that the kinds of men who get arrested for drug possession or dealing wouldn’t make good husbands even if they stay out of prison. Perhaps that is true in some cases. But these men still probably beat the alternative of single parenthood. Moreover, Kerry’s point about bargaining position is crucial here. If fewer men from these communities were in prison, there would be more competition between them in the dating market and thus stronger incentives for them to behave in ways that appeal to women.

These are important points to remember when discussing the war on drugs with social conservatives in particular.
If they believe that the two-parent family is a value that should be desired, then the drug war is a negative factor in achieving that dream.
And stop worrying about gays destroying marriage. The real danger to marriage is prohibition.

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