In the current debate over how to regulate cannabis in a legal environment, I hear an inordinate amount of concern about the possible economic effects of disrupting the current black market. I mean, we didn’t mind when Amazon drove brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business. We didn’t care when iTunes destroyed the record industry. “That’s progress,” and “You’ve got to stay ahead of the curve if you want to compete,” we said. It seems to me that this whole Internet revolution, which turned our economy upside-down and ruined a whole lot of honest hard-working people’s lives in the process, remains hugely popular, despite the casualties.
But I guess it’s a different story when it comes to drug dealers and the legalization of marijuana. That’s what they’re telling us, right? They are telling us that we need to regulate marijuana very carefully so that the price remains high enough to preserve the drug-gangster lifestyle. The recently passed California state medical marijuana regulations will dramatically slow the development of new, legal, cannabis-related business opportunities. Instead they create a whole bunch of totally unnecessary regulatory jobs for people who do nothing, except consume tax dollars and keep marijuana expensive. It’s appalling!
For decades, we’ve paid exorbitant black-market prices for pot. We’ve lost jobs, been denied jobs, paid fines and legal fees and spent time in jail as veterans of the War on Drugs. We’ve paid excessive taxes, suffered indescribable social injustice and lost civil rights, to pay for the cruel, misguided and completely unnecessary War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has claimed millions of casualties. We’ve been through hell in the War on Drugs. We’ve paid enough for marijuana. After what we’ve been through, no one should ever have to pay for marijuana ever again. Never.
We really shouldn’t worry so much about the effect the collapse of the marijuana black market will have on our local economy. I know that the prospect of shrinkage in our local economy frightens people, but we should embrace it. What good does the economy do if it destroys the environment, works us to death and makes the things we need ridiculously expensive? The truth is, the marijuana economy does a lot more harm than good, and we’d be better off without it than you think.
It is important to remember that the economy is not one of those “more is better” kind of things. If you haven’t read my book On the Money, Economics for the 99%, you owe it to yourself to do so. In it, I explain, in detail, how the economy works against you, and why making the economy larger inevitably makes your life worse. Consider this example:
Imagine a businessman. He’s running his own small business, but business is slow. He’s just scraping by, economically. He goes to work at 9:00 a.m., where he has a few orders to fill, and the phone rings once in a while. He makes a few calls himself, to drum up some new business. His customers like him because he gives them excellent service, and he’s built a personal relationship with most of them, but business is slow all around, so they don’t have much work to send his way. By 3 p.m. he’s got his work squared away for the day, so he decides to knock off early. Of course he’s got his phone on, in case he gets a new order, but he’s out the door at 3 p.m.
Since it is such a lovely afternoon he decides to take a walk in the park and stop at the library on the way home. He arrives home around 5 p.m. with a stack of library books and cooks his own dinner. Nothing fancy, but he makes it the way he likes it. After dinner, he doesn’t go out to a nightclub, because he can’t afford it. Instead, he picks up his old guitar, which he enjoys playing, when he has the time and energy. Since it was an easy day at work he has some time and energy, so he has a good time playing the guitar, forgets about his money problems for a while, and maybe even teaches himself a new song. Then he relaxes a bit, reads one of the books he checked out of the library, until he gets too tired to read, and then goes to bed.
The next day, he wakes up, makes his own breakfast, and goes back to work, hoping he’ll have a little more business. Let’s imagine that on this particular day, he gets a big contract. I mean, an enormous new contract. Suddenly, this businessman is swamped with work, but his money problems are over.
He realizes he needs help. That means he needs to put up a sign, place some want ads, answer calls, conduct interviews, file paperwork, set up accounts, buy a time-clock and train new workers. Then he needs to order more stock, buy new machines and put an addition on his shop. So he gets right to work, and by the time he finishes working for the day, it’s already 9:00 p.m. He goes home, exhausted, orders a pizza and falls asleep in front of the TV. He feels a little queasy after that pizza, but he chalks it up to the excitement of this life-changing day.
The next morning, he gets up early, grabs a breakfast sandwich and coffee, which he consumes at his desk. It’s not great, but he ignores his disappointment because he’s got more important things to think about. Instead of lunch, he grabs a candy bar from a vending machine, and again, eats it at his desk, between interviews. His phone never stops ringing, and instead of knocking off at 3 p.m., he doesn’t get out of the office until 9. When he gets home he orders another pizza and eats it in front of the tube.
After a few weeks of this, he realizes that he’s drinking four cups of coffee a day instead of one, because he constantly feels run down, but the caffeine makes it hard for him to get to sleep at night, so he has a few beers with his pizza. After a few months, he realizes he’s gaining weight, so he joins a gym and orders some home exercise equipment he saw advertised on TV, but he’s too exhausted to exercise or go to the gym, and instead, decides that he needs to improve his diet.
He starts looking for restaurants that serve healthier food. Turns out they charge more money for it too, but he happily pays it. Instead of drinking four cups of drip coffee, he has a vente double cappuccino. He stops drinking beer and becomes a fine wine enthusiast. Still, the money comes in faster than he can spend it. He commissions a master luthier to build him the guitar of his dreams. When it arrives, he realizes that he no longer has callouses on his fingertips, and he doesn’t have time to play it.
He still feels run-down, and has a vague sense that he’s not taking very good care of himself, so he buys himself a brand new luxury car with all of the amenities. This makes his employees jealous, because they cannot afford such extravagant wheels. They now feel exploited, and so they start asking for raises. They no longer see him as the hardest working member of the team, but as the boss who gets rich off of their hard work.
Do you see a pattern here? Obviously this successful man deserves the money he’s making. He’s sacrificing his life for it. Clearly, we should view this successful businessman as a role model for the kind of job creator and consumer who drives economic growth That doesn’t mean he’s doing himself, or anyone else, any favors. In fact, he’s killing himself, and he’s killing himself in part because it’s the only relief he now sees from a life of too much work.
That’s what economic growth does to us. For the economy to grow, we have to work more, and spend more, every year. Believe it or not, we’ve got better things to do. You might not remember what they are, because you’ve been a slave for so long, but really, you’ve got better things to do than feed your one lifetime to the goddamn economy.
Too much money and too much work are much worse for people than too little. The black-market marijuana industry may have solved our money problems, but it has ruined the quality of our lives, weakened our community and it continues to consume people, littering our streets with more of their broken husks every day. We don’t owe drug dealers anything, and we owe the economy even less. We deserve better, and it’s time we demanded it.