Interview with Fergus Hodgson on State Drug Laws in United States
Fergus Hodgson is host of "The Stateless Man," a radio show on the Overseas Radio Network and a policy advisor with the Future of Freedom Foundation. Hodgson developed "The Stateless Man" after reading How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne, and in it he discusses how to unravel the mental traps that keep us from living as freely as possible. You can learn more about Fergus at www.thestatelessman.com. The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 with the intention to establish an educational foundation that would advance libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. According to the organization’s website at www.fff.org, the mission of the FFF is to "advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government."
We were able to connect with Fergus and discuss his opinion on the current drug laws in the U.S. and how they correspond and clash with our conventional ideas of freedom.
TestCountry: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Fergus. First, can you describe for our readers what you mean by the term "stateless man?"
Fergus: No problem. “Stateless” can have various definitions, but I use it in the sense of living without nationality, geography, race, and other unwarranted loyalties that distract us from living the lives we would otherwise lead. This mindset also allows us to value other individuals for who they are, as unique and not merely as members of stereotypical collectives. I reduce this notion to the tagline of “liberty beyond borders”: freedom beyond the arbitrary confines that people place before us. In particular, I promote the freedom to vote with one’s feet for a different life.
TestCountry: In basic terms, what about our current system makes us free or unfree?
Fergus: That depends which system you are referring to. Broadly speaking, however, wherever there is a lack of coercion—a lack of people imposing their will upon others by force—we are free and subject to only our own weaknesses. Those instances are few and precious, since almost all of human existence has been and remains subject to tyranny, both in the political sense and of the mind.
One can expand on that and say that in order to live the lives we want, or the lives we believe to be moral, we need both the resources at our disposal and either a lack of impediments—including peer pressures and mental traps—or a capacity to overcome them. Since people who work as “government” steal our resources, place a myriad of coercive impediments before us, and propagandize us into submission, they tend to be the greatest threat to liberty—at least in an institutionalized manner.
TestCountry: In what way does legislating behavior interact with our freedom? For example, mandating the use of seatbelts keeps us safe when driving, but does the regulation of behavior impede upon our freedom?
Fergus: I suspect few people realize the immense weight of government legislation on their everyday lives. One could go on forever on this topic, but this weight includes the inability to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor given taxation and a lack of choice, from the outlawing of raw milk to mandates regarding whom you can and cannot hire based upon where the person was born. Federal regulations, for example, number approximately 170,000 pages. This spider’s web makes criminals of us all, since we have no hope of either understanding or complying with all such dictates.
Beyond simple prohibitions, legislators “incentivize” and manipulate us in a host of ways, particularly via the tax system. Even a cursory glance at the Internal Revenue Service code and the array of sin taxes reveals a system designed to push and pull us in all sorts of directions. People who buy a house or get married may pay lower taxes, for example—as though people who do not yet own homes or are single should pay more. Similarly, lending to government entities or donating to approved charities is tax deductible, but private lending and direct personal charity is not. This exploitation of the tax system is perhaps even more insidious than legislative mandates, because it is so subtle and people may even feel smug when they manage to get ahead by jumping through the hoops placed in front of them.
Regarding seatbelt laws, there is plenty of disagreement regarding whether these even make us safer. Even if they did, such a mandate is a blatant example of imposing one’s will on another person by force rather than appealing to peaceful persuasion. It criminalizes people for non-violent behavior that places no risk on anyone else. Rather, the punishment is for simply not obeying the dictates of those who seek to rule over others.
TestCountry: Should we have the right to choose when risky behaviors put us in harm’s way?
Fergus: Of course, you have a moral claim to individual liberty. If you are not free to make those decisions for yourself, you have become the property of another. That is the natural law of non-aggression, as noted in the Declaration of Independence and which most of us understand and obey in our everyday lives. Whether legislators understand that or not does change the underlying moral claim.
All actions are risky to some degree, be they drinking alcohol, water skiing, or riding a bicycle. So if we accept laws against risky behaviors, unfortunately, they will be never-ending and subject to the personal whims of power-hungry people in political office.
Further, legislative attempts to “protect” us from ourselves inevitably turn out to have surreptitious motives—such as protectionism, cronyism, and redistribution—and do not tend to make us safer.
TestCountry: How does the criminalization of recreational drug use, in particular marijuana since it is the one currently in our nation’s spotlight, play into our ability to live as free people, especially for people who would never participate in its use in the first place?
Fergus: The drug war is terribly destructive to freedom in the United States, since it requires millions of people to forgo many years of their lives in prison—and for what is not a true crime but a medical or health concern. Regardless of whether you use drugs such as marijuana, you suffer because of this folly of a war. In addition to the tax burden, the drug war inflates prices, feeds organized crime, and makes us all less safe. Sadly, people in poorer communities feel these impacts the worst, since they are the most desperate and will be attracted to the quick money the drug trade offers. That includes many people in the developing world, particularly Central and South America, who suffer immensely from drug cartel violence.
TestCountry: In your opinion, would telling people suddenly that using a drug is actually O.K. mean that more people would participate in its use?
Fergus: Saying something is legal is not saying it is okay. Many things are legal but are not okay—from cheating on your girlfriend to engaging in malicious gossip. A show of hands does not determine what is right or wrong, and if people are going to look to legislators for their ethics, they will come away shortchanged to say the least. I encourage people to think for themselves about what an ethical life is and to live it because they believe in it, not because someone else threatened them into doing so.
Whether people would use more drugs, I don’t know, but experience with decriminalization in other countries suggests little change. Regardless, people can make such decisions for themselves, and if you are disappointed, you should seek to educate and persuade rather than send more people to prison. The United States prison population already dwarfs that of China and is a shame on this nation.
TestCountry: The whole purpose of organizations like the FDA and the DEA is to keep Americans safe. The FDA especially is designed to protect us from unsafe drugs and from widespread contamination in the industrialized complex that sells our Rx drugs and food. In a system where marijuana was mass produced and sold, aren’t big government organizations necessary to protect us from things beyond our “choice” and control?
Fergus: Those are the stated purposes, sure. However, these organizations exist because people draw salaries and power from them, not because they achieve their purported goals. They face little if any accountability for failure. In fact, failure often brings even more money and power for the agency, since the cry is that they must not have had sufficient resources to carry out their task. Further, considerable evidence indicates that these organizations prop up established corporations and drug cartels and impede supply rather than protect people in the United States.
Big government organizations are not necessary to protect us from ourselves. Not only do they already fail with such endeavors and violate individual liberty, they are costly and impede innovation and a dynamic economy.
TestCountry: How can we best help people to make healthy, educated decisions if we remove all of the current barriers to risky behavior?
Fergus: We are responsible for our own lives, not the lives of others. However, if we feel compelled to help others in this domain or see this as an area of particular interest, we can become experts in the field and offer our expertise as both educators and consultants.
We can also oppose and repeal the many barriers to education and a free flow of information and products. We do not need government food pyramids or similar junk initiatives, for example, and legislators ought to do away with monopolies on nutritional and health advice (occupational licensure laws). Direct purchases of items from farmers should be legal, be that for raw milk, fresh eggs, or whatever. Large processors and industry players lobby against such access because they want you to have to buy from them, not because they care about your health. We could also free up trade to allow foreign medicines and medical practitioners in.
You can learn more about Fergus at www.thestatelessman.com.