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You Are Here: Home» austrian school of economics , libertarianism , philosophy and economics , political philosophy , praxeology » The Political Philosophy of Prohibition

In the podcast below that I listened to the other night, Stefan Molyneux interviews Praxgirl (host of a YouTube show that focuses on Praxeology) and its director Robert Taylor. Being that it's been a habit of mine to listen to these kinds of podcasts before I sleep to relieve myself of the boredom brought about by the idleness of awaiting my slumber. It's always humbling to be reminded that my knowledge of libertarianism and the Austrian School of Economics is very premature and that there's always so much more to learn.  

Basically, from my understanding of it, praxeology is focused more on studying human action through a priori methodology (ie. things you accept to be true based solely on logic and deductive reasoning like knowing that 2 + 2 = 4) as opposed to focusing more on empirical data (ie. things we accept to be true based on experience like touching fire will cause harm and damage to your body). Having read the chapters on Rationalism, Empiricism, and Immanuel Kant in the book Sophie's World is actually paying off.

It's great how director Robert Taylor thought of utilizing his filmmaking skills to promote praxeology and Austrian economics and created a show that is concise, appealing, and is hosted by someone who is actually quite pretty. Let's admit it: people's attention spans nowadays are very short and sometimes effectivity of educating people is all about marketing and packaging.

Mainstream contemporary economics is usually considered by most scholars as something that is a "hard" science mostly, if not entirely, based on empirical data whereas the Austrians mostly rely on sound logical and deductive reasoning instead of historical or statistical interpretations. Although it was interesting that Robert asked Stefan about his views on ethics being a combination of both theory and empirical evidence to which he answers:
"Theory precedes everything... if you're having trouble accepting a priori theory then appeal to evidence can be helpful. So if you're saying communism is great and the free market is terrible, you can go through the a priori arguments but if people are having trouble with that then you can point out, you know, 200,000 people killed by communism and 50,000 people a month getting from the poverty class and middle class in India... you can sort of give examples that are designed to chisel away and shake loose the blinders of dogma but evidence by and in of itself cannot establish any theory universally cause evidence by nature can be contradicted by something on the dark side of the moon, something that's never been examined before or whatever so the a priori stuff is really the way to clinch the arguments..."
One perfect example I can think of that best represents this kind of perspective on ethics and morality would be prohibition. One of the most interesting examples of prohibition in history is the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920's. As Stefan mentioned, these kinds of failures in history will help "chisel away and shake loose the blinders of dogma" because people have been so indoctrinated about prohibition then any of empirical data can easily help justify the sound and logical a priori arguments against prohibition.

HBO TV Series Boardwalk Empire

The poster above, as I'm sure most of you know, is a popular HBO period TV series about the prohibition of alcohol in the US during the 1920's. The characters and scenarios depicted in the show are actually not far from the historical reality of that time. There was connivance between government and syndicates. From a praxeological point of view, you could say that this is not something that emerged merely because those seated in government are corrupt but because it is inevitable for prohibited substances to go to the black market. And it's not just syndicates or mafias or corrupt politicians: up to now opium and other drug trades nowadays are actually funding terrorist groups.

Ron Paul talks about the failures of the War on Drugs

In the video above, Ron Paul argues the economical, moral, and empirical reasons why prohibition has and always will fail. For the economical, he points out trillions of dollars of taxpayer's money funding something that doesn't even work. He also points out that prohibition actually makes it easier for adolescents to purchase marijuana than alcohol. Also, being a physician, he mentions that addiction should be treated as a medical condition and not a crime the same way we view alcoholism. Incarcerating young men and women for non-violent use of illegal substances only increase their chances of becoming worse when they get out of prison.  For me, the argument for legalization is already so petty. I like how the Drug Policy Alliance argues that drug policies should be grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights. It's all about facts really. Facts that are, once again, blatantly or sometimes unintentionally ignored because of the blinders of dogma.

And it's not even just about illicit substances. As I have said, it's already so petty. Let's take Jueteng, for example, a popular but illegal gambling game here in the Philippines. Many times, including the impeachment of previous president Joseph "Erap" Estrada, there were records that showed how much bribery and corruption is involved with this illegal game. It makes no sense because the act of playing this game is non-violent and entirely voluntary.

Many people will argue, as with illegal drugs, that gambling games such as Jueteng destroys lives and therefore the government should step in and be our nanny or our big brother and prohibit us from doing these things. But that is, as Stefan mentions in the podcast, an "argument from effect" and not an "argument from morality" which is basically some sort of subjective interpretation of empirical data. The idea is that because some people destroy their lives by doing X therefore X should be prohibited by government or, in this case, monopolized or licensed to a select few who are rich and powerful. These arguments are obviously not sound. This is why praxeology's method of starting from sound arguments and deductive reasoning first when deciding public policy as opposed to basing them solely on subjective interpretations of statistics or historical events is more objective and leads to better policies.

Libertarians believe that for as long as you are not hurting anyone else, destroying the property of others, or doing any other act that may interfere with the liberties of others, then the government has no right to prohibit you from doing so. That is your prerogative. That is your liberty. That is self-ownership and voluntary association. These are sound and undeniable axioms: the non-aggression principle and property rights. Dr. Walter Block who wrote a book that defends victimless crimes (see my article on Defending the Undefendable By Walter Block) gives a good introductory lecture on what libertarianism and Austrian economics in this video:


He also mentions that Austrian economics is a positive science, one that deals with real world scenarios  and is value-free whereas libertarianism is a normative one which means it deals with values, virtues, and morality. He does explain that Austrian economics and libertarianism almost always goes hand in and hand because both are based on principles of freedom and liberty.

Our perspective and methodology when it comes to deciding public policy should always be based on sound logical arguments or axioms. Once these foundations are compromised or denied then there will no longer be justice or freedom, something very apparent in contemporary society.
"Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes." - Abraham Lincoln


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