Ludwig von Mises pointed out that one government intervention inevitably leads to more government interventions. The reason is that the first intervention inevitably causes a crisis. Rather than repeal the original intervention, public officials double down by enacting a new intervention to fix the crisis caused by the first intervention.
The second intervention, however, doesn’t fix the crisis but instead makes it worse, which then causes public officials to enact a third intervention, and a fourth, a fifth, and more. At the end of this interventionist road is a full-fledged police state, a type of society in which the freedom and privacy of the citizenry has been destroyed.
No better example of this phenomenon could be found than the war on drugs and the war on immigrants, which are actually interrelated. Both of these programs are decades-long, both of them have caused ongoing, never-ending crises, and they are both characterized by a endless series of government interventions, all of which have produced a drug-war and immigration-war police state, especially in the American Southwest.
Right now in New York City, U.S. officials are beginning their criminal prosecution of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the alleged leader of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel, which supposedly has smuggled 200 tons of cocaine into the United States.
Needless to say, the mainstream press is all gaga-gaga over El Chapo’s prosecution, making it front-page news. But of course, they won’t ask the important question: What will the prosecution accomplish other than put El Chapo into jail for the rest of his life?
I grew up in Laredo, Texas, which is located on the Texas-Mexican border. After graduating from law school, I returned to Laredo in the mid-1970s to practice law. I have seen this drug war since I was in high school. Nothing has changed. Back then, they were busting drug lords and drug cartels, just like they’re doing today with their prosecution of El Chapo.
In fact, just go watch the three seasons of Narcos on Netflix and you’ll see what I mean. Year after year, decade after decade, the pattern has repeated itself. Drug lord busted and drug cartel eradicated. Big criminal prosecution. Massive publicity in the mainstream press. Higher budgets for the DEA and other drug-war law enforcement agencies. Guaranteed jobs for federal judges, federal prosecutors, and court clerks.
And then: New drug lord and new drug cartel takes the place of the old drug lord and old drug cartel. And the game starts all over again.
With each drug bust, officials get angry and frustrated, which causes them to enact new interventions. Mandatory-minimum sentences. Asset-forfeiture. No-knock raids. Harassment and abuse of African-Americans and Hispanics. Mass incarceration. Snitches. Illegal searches and seizures. Planted drugs.
But none of it works to end the so-called drug crisis. If it had worked, there wouldn’t be a prosecution of El Chapo today. His prosecution is a confirmation that the many decades of drug-war intervention have not worked.
The drug war, of course, has been a favorite government program for both conservatives and liberals. What these people are unable to realize is that it is their drug war itself that has produced the drug lords and the drug cartels. Without the drug war, the drug lords and drug cartels would ceae to exist. But rather than end the drug war, conservatives and liberals just keep doubling down and, in the process, destroy the freedom and privacy of the Americans people with their drug-war police state.
For example, a conservative website called the Patriot Post has just published an article entitled “Drug Cartels Are a Real Border Threat” by a conservative named Arnold Ahlert, who details the existence of a large number of drug cartels, which, he says, pose a grave threat to America. But rather than asking himself why all these cartels exist after decades of the drug war, Ahlert engages in the predictable: He calls for more intervention.
Ahlert’s idea is to treat the drug war like the war on terrorism. Well, it’s not difficult to figure out what that would mean. Indefinite detention, torture, assassination, Gitmo, military tribunals, denial of due process, denial of trial by jury, and, well, a permanent suspension of constitutional protections against tyranny and oppression on the part of the federal government.
It’s no different in the war on immigrants. At first, statists enacted a law that said, “No entry without permission.” Nobody complied with it. And so a long series of enforcement interventions were enacted, just as Mises said they would be. Fixed highway checkpoints. Searches of Greyhound buses. Roving Border Patrol checkpoints. Warrantless trespasses onto ranches and farms. Making it a felony offense to hire, transport, or harbor an illegal immigrant. Forcing people to disrobe so that federal agents can closely examine their body cavities. Forcing people to turn over their passwords so that federal agents can explore their cell phones. Violent raids on private businesses. Forcible separation of children from parents. Forced deportations. A Berlin Fence and a proposed Berlin Wall. Eminent domain to steal people’s property.
And to what avail? Like the drug war, I’ve seen this perpetual crisis in immigration since I was a kid growing up on the border in Laredo. Yes, the immigration crisis has been with us for decades! It has never gone away. There is a simple reason for that: immigration controls are the cause of the crisis. All that subsequent interventions have done over the decades is make the crisis worse, not the mention the fact that they have accelerated the destruction of liberty and privacy of the American people, just like the drug war has.
A dark irony in all this is that the drug lords and drug cartels that the drug war has brought into existence have ravaged Mexico and Central America with violence, death, corruption, and destruction, which has motivated thousands of people to flee to the United States to save their lives, which, in turn, has caused statists, both conservatives and liberals, to go ballistic in fear over the coming “invaders,” which include penniless, unarmed women and toddlers.
There is one — and only one — solution to all this statist morass. That solution is freedom and free markets. That necessarily means the end of the drug war — i.e., the legalization of all drugs, which would put all the drug lords and drug cartels out of business immediately. It also necessarily means free trade and open immigration — i.e., the free movements of goods, services, and people across borders, which would end all the death and suffering produced by America’s system of immigration controls. The end of the war on drugs and the war on immigrants would, of course, also mean the end of America’s drug-war police state and its immigration police state.