Thursday, May 23, 2013

Call Me a Crackpot Libertarian

By Murray Sabrin
In his Star Ledger column, “Crackpot libertarianism at the convenience counter,” Paul Mulshine tries to make the case that Senator Richard Codey’s bill to increase the age to legally buy cigarettes from 19 to 21 is not an infringement on individual liberty.  He fails miserably.
Mulshine writes. “…think about the fact that cigarettes annually kill more Americans than all of those (marijuana, opium and crack cocaine) drugs combined, plus alcohol use, car accidents and suicide. So just what is the basis for outrage at a minor restriction (emphasis added) on the most deadly drug of them all?” Applying Mulshine’s logic, then the State of New Jersey should ban cigarettes completely, saving everyone from their own destructive behavior.

Next, Mulshine correctly states, “A strict libertarian could argue that the government has no role in regulating either drug,” that is, marijuana or cigarettes. Correct.  The government should not regulate, ban, proscribe, etc., what we smoke, drink, eat, read, where we travel, or how we should defend ourselves.  That is called liberty, the founding principle of our country.
Senator Codey, the once acting governor and undertaker, not only buries the departed, he wants to bury individual liberty under the guise of altruism.  As Mulshine observes, “Codey is on much firmer ground when it comes to the ‘nanny state’ argument often raised by the crackpot libertarians. Codey argues that people who get through their teen years without smoking are much more likely to avoid addiction. This is backed up both by science and his own observations as an undertaker. In that capacity, he meets many relatives of people killed by smoking.”  But people usually die after decades of smoking.
Mulshine then makes the disingenuous argument that since state government pays for the healthcare of the poor (Medicaid), charity care, etc., it has the right to stop young people from smoking by raising the legal age to buy cigarettes from 19 to 21.
Mulshine writes, “If we taxpayers are going to pick up the tab, why shouldn’t we tell young people how to behave?  Yuck. Why not raise the age to 25 or 30 or higher, if the “scientific evidence” shows that individuals who begin smoking in their teens increase the risk of a lifetime nicotine addiction?
The logic of this argument should force Codey and Mulshine to support raising the legal age to smoke to 25, 30 or higher, which will then lower the risk of young people beginning to smoke at an early age.   Will Codey amend his bill to raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes or will he call for a total ban on cigarettes?
The correct policy on smoking or any other medical issue is for the government to get out of the healthcare sector.  Period.  That would force individuals to make better decisions about their lifestyle choices.  Currently, the government has created a huge moral hazard by subsidizing smoking, in effect telling people that taxpayers will pay for their healthcare if they get ill because of smoking, excessive drinking, overeating, etc.
The solution to create better outcomes in healthcare among other areas of our society is liberty, individual responsibility and voluntary charity, not the twisted logic of the Senator Codey and now Paul Mulshine.

Dr. Murray Sabrin is Professor of Finance in the Anisfield School of Business at Ramapo College of New Jersey. The above originally appeared at and is reposted with permission.


  1. The "strict libertarian position" would be that the neighborhood should be private, including the roads, and that such lifestyle issues would be determined by the owners of the neighborhood.

    Similarly, drugs could be banned without black market effects. And so could thugs, thereby easily solving the otherwise intractable problems of Chicago.

    1. I heard a cell phone ring tone that sounded like an old rotary phone ringer a while back. When I commented that I hadn't heard that in forever, someone mentioned how diverse the selection of phones (and ringers!) became as soon as Ma Bell was broken up. Monopoly Economics 101. Want to know what life will be like when we quit using a monopoly to provide government services? Think of the telephone, before and after the break-up. Many, many, many neighborhoods and rules.

      I'm glad you keep pushing that point, Bob. We don't need to know how anything will be organized without coercive government. We just need to know that humans are capable of organizing.

  2. Dr Ron Paul made the point that you can't even keep drugs out of the prisons. Cigeratte laws don't work anyways, kids who want to smoke are going to do it. We all had high school friends back in the day who walked right into their local party store and bought cigarettes underage.

    I am not sure what the "studies" show regarding the use of cigarettes comparing to strictness of laws, but you could never do a controlled double blind study to see what the reality is. Depending on who is doing the study there is going to bias.

    Regardless, cigarette laws are wrong. So even if you could (which you can't) prove that strictier cigarette laws reduced smoking rates it doesn;t matter

  3. robert this would be a great way to show why Rand is so wrong about raising the age and means testing for entitlements. Why not continue to raise age and income higher and higher? Shouldnt Rand be calling for an end to government intervention over people's incomes instead of perpetuating the problem?