One of the ways things were different was that drugs were legal. Though that was about to change. In 1912 the Hague Convention (strangely enough opposed by Germany, Austria and Turkey) committed the signatories to banning the opium trade. This process was halted by the First World War but the leading states re-committed themselves to the ban in the Treaty of Versailles.
The really weird thing was the motivation. It emphatically does not seem to have been worries about the dangers of opium to the civilian population. At least, not in the West it wasn’t. The whole concern seems to have been with China and the prevention of its use there.
This is a point underlined by this article from the 25 November 1913 edition of the Times in which the author tours the opium dens of Limehouse.
We may call these places “dens” for all that they are so clean and orderly and so little withdrawn from public gaze. We may deplore the injurious physical effects which follow overuse of the drug however small the proportion of cases of definitely traceable injury may be either to the number of smokers or the Chinese population.
...all the “dens” in these two streets together will not furnish from one month’s end to another any such spectacle of “degradation” or rowdyism as may be seen nightly in almost any publichouse.
Not exactly a problem was it?
Ho hum. There’s been a big media campaign7 on this this week. They seem to want some sort of restriction on the sale of alcohol - although whether this involves higher taxes or a higher age limit I really don’t know. My guess is that Tesco is simply jumping on the bandwagon before it’s too late - although it must be said this seems a tad out of character for Tesco - usually they’re pretty keen to keep out of politics.
Now as a libertarian I tend to be rather against this sort of thing. In principle6 I would like to see no restrictions on the sale of alcohol8 at all and in theory I believe that this would make the world a better place.
What’s interesting is the coalition of motivations that’s been assembled. On the one hand are concerns about public order - teenagers getting legless and causing trouble3 - and on the other worries about an “epidemic”1 of alcoholism.
The second point is easy to deal with. My health is none of the state’s business. Except, of course, that it is - by virtue of the existence of a state-funded NHS whose casualty wards groan with the results Chateau Laffite abuse. For me that’s just another reason to abolish it2.
On the point about public order, well, this is not a simple one. My guess is that a lot of the problems are caused by the welfare state combined with compulsory education4. However, I’m not immune to the idea that underneath the surface the British aren’t all that civilised and that drunkenness is simply what they do5.
1. “Epidemic” indeed! What a misuse of the English language. Now that’s something that ought to get added to the list.
2. Yes, that’s the NHS that should be abolished not Chateau Laffite. See Against the NHS.
3. Yeah, I know, if they’re truly “legless” they’re not really going to be in a position to cause trouble but you know what I mean.
4. See Brian Micklethwait’s Abolish the Welfare State and restore some Respect. See also The Trouble With Child Labor Laws by Jeffrey A Tucker which is sort of related.
5. My understanding is that England was for a long time an astonshingly violent society and that the low levels of crime recorded in the century before 1970 were something of an aberration. Think Gin Lane in the 18th Century - no welfare state, cheap booze, mass disorder.
6. See Why I am a Libertarian
7. In both senses of the term
8. I think most of the same arguments as used in the drugs debate would apply here. See Sean Gabb’s A Neither Profound Nor Original Article on Why the Sale and Use of Recreational Drugs Ought Not to Be Illegal.
When I was fourteen it was a lot easier to buy a block of cannabis than a bottle of vodka.
When I first heard my teenage dinner party co-host utter these words I thought it was a commentary on the failure of the war on drugs - which indeed it is - but it occurs to me that it doesn’t necessarily say great things for government licencing laws either - in that if the government would prefer people (and presumably this includes children) to drink alcohol than smoke cannabis then this is probably the worst of all worlds. Either make alcohol totally legal - so that it is much easier to obtain than cannabis, or make it totally illegal - so that it is on the same footing - but licencing the product is about the very worst thing you can do.
Watch out for a huge increase in teenage drug taking when the age for buying tobacco rises to 18.
Here are a few of the items I enjoyed this week:
- Tony Blair holds a summit on gun crime but somehow fails to invite Rob Fisher: “I know the solution, and it is really very easy and straightforward. Drum roll please. Are you ready? Legalise drugs. No-one ever got shot over cigarettes, alcohol, or anything you can buy for £2.99 from Boots.”
- Jeremy Black has a couple of good articles on the First World War. Here and here.
- Also from the Social Affairs Unit, William Rubinstein offers an historical perspective on the current cash for honours scandal.
- Live Aid: “Fund-raising event which helps needy African dictators enlarge their fleets of Mercedes, while simultaneously enabling white, midole class people to demonstrate conspicuous compassion.” Harry Phibbs reviews How to be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History.
- Stewart Brand, environmentalist heretic. (hat-tip: Instapundit)
- Want to get ahead in the USA? Easy: brag. OK, so that’s a bit of an over-simplification of a thought-provoking, if long, article. (Hat-tip: Instapundit)
- An academic bemoans the state of British education before the Guardian journalist interviewing him proceeds to prove it: “It’s superficial stuff, fine for the general populous,...” Oooh.
- “At last, a machine fully compatible with Windows Vista.” Heh.
If nothing else it goes a long way to explaining the price of oil. (Hat-tip - I jest not - The Magistrate)