21 Jump Street is real. Right now, young looking police officers are infiltrating high schools across the country looking to break up major crime rings. Problem is they are usually doing more harm than good. So the next time you see Channing Tatum, or Jonny Depp wandering your high school, before you ask for their autograph, make sure you know the real ways cops are taking advantage of teenagers.
Everybody knows not to buy drugs. But did you know that there is a way to buy drugs and have the cops thank you for it? In an in depth analysis of all the weird rules, strange loopholes, and loony litigation, Professor Alex Kriet takes you behind the scenes of The United States’ drug laws.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have sentenced people to jail for decades, sometimes for doing something as simple as selling pot a few times. Is there any reason to be hopeful that things could change? Alex Kreit, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, tells of four recent contributions to the reform of mandatory-minimum drug sentencing laws.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines on how federal prosecutors enforce drug laws. President Obama himself granted clemency for several drug offenders sentenced under mandatory minimum laws.
Meanwhile, Senators Cory Booker and Rand Paul joined forces to advocate reform. Bipartisan action is rare, which makes this all the more impressive.
There are several organizations joining the fight against these laws as well. A group called Families Against Mandatory Minimums is leading the battle against unjust sentencing under these laws.
Are there reasons for optimism? Professor Kreit believes so, and you should too.
Our three most recent presidents have admitted to committing drug offenses in their youth, though they didn’t pay for their indiscretions with jail time. But most people caught up in our criminal justice system aren’t so lucky. Perhaps the worst aspect of the flawed system is mandatory minimum sentences. Consider Weldon Angelos, one victim — a former record producer who won’t get out of jail until he’s eighty and has served a sentence of more than twice what the hijacker of a plane would face. His crime? Selling marijuana twice.
Alex Kreit, criminal law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, explains three reasons why mandatory minimums are really, really, really bad. For one thing, the sentences can be longer than those for more serious crimes. Second, they get the wrong people, despite the intentions of lawmakers. Third, if the goal is to reduce drug use, they fail on their own terms. Among their targets in practice are people who have been convicted of such minor offenses as possession for personal use. Drugs are as plentiful as ever.
A single mother addicted to drugs. A man so desperate to pay for medical treatment that he tried unsuccessfully to sell methamphetamines. A guy busted for selling LSD and another who got in trouble for selling marijuana. One thing all four of these victims of the drug war have in common is that they’ve been sentenced to spend many years in jail, regardless of whether the judges of their cases even wanted that outcome. Listen to Alex Kreit, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, explain why people like these can face jail time more than twice as long as if they’d hijacked an airplane, detonated a bomb in public, or even committed second-degree murder.
Tired of the corruption, high crime, and poor state of the economy in Venezuela, students and other citizens are taking to the streets to protest. What kind of ideas inspire regular citizens to risk so much in the face of a tyrannical government?
The anti-government protests and demonstrations in Ukraine have been flooding the news lately. But what is it all about? What ideas inspire these people to stand tall against their oppressive government?
Disclaimer: Learn Liberty is an educational project and does not endorse any policy, politician, or political party. Learn Liberty does not endorse violence of any kind.
“I mean let anyone do anything he pleases that’s peaceful or creative; let there be no organized restraint against anything but fraud, violence, misrepresentation, predation; let anyone deliver mail or educate or preach his religion or whatever, so long as it’s peaceful.” – Leonard Read
The United States has laws in place to limit the number of immigrants granted entry. How many immigrants should be allowed to call America home? Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that the United States should have open borders. Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, argues that there need to be limits on the number of immigrants.
In this clip, Prof. Ting argues that open borders would result in an enormous increase in the number of immigrants to the United States. He points out that there are so many opportunities here that people would come in huge numbers from less developed countries. The strain on the United States infrastructure and environment could be enormous.
In his response, Prof. Caplan argues that the fact people would want to come in such great numbers is, in his mind, an argument favoring open borders. People should be living in places where they can achieve their potential. For many people around the world, this means they need to move. Would this have effects on the U.S. economy? Absolutely. Prof. Caplan argues that in the short run, housing prices would probably increase, for example. In addition, we may see a move to having personal servants, as many of the low-skilled workers in the world have skill sets that fall below the lowest-skilled workers in the United States. To offset pressures on the environment, Prof. Caplan recommends increasing costs for pollution and other environmental hazards.
What do you think? Do you think the fact that many people would want to immigrate to the United States is an argument in favor or against opening the borders?
The question of how to address poverty in the United States is complicated. Steven Horwitz, chair of the department of economics at St. Lawrence University, and Jeffrey Reiman, professor of philosophy and religion at American University, debate the level of government assistance that should be given to help the poor.
In this clip, Prof. Horwitz suggests that the least amount of government necessary should be involved in alleviating U.S. inequality. He discusses the use, for example, of charitable donations from private entities as a way to help the poor without government involvement.
Prof. Reiman, in contrast, suggests that poverty and inequality is a matter of justice. That is, everyone is entitled to a certain standard of living, a certain level of equality in outcome. He argues that charity hurts the dignity of the recipient. When it is a gift, the recipient is made to feel that he does not deserve the charity, that he is made lower than the giver. Instead, he argues, assistance given to the poor should be something they receive because they have a right to it. They should not have to feel that it is undeserved. This is an interesting philosophical question tucked inside a larger debate about the role of government in helping the poor. What do you think?
This LearnLiberty debate presents arguments for and against more government assistance to help the poor in the United States. Prof. Steven Horwitz argues that the government has created too many problems and that lifting government-imposed barriers to the poor will go a long way toward solving the problems of inequality in the United States. Prof. Jeffrey Reiman takes the view that government, while not perfect, will have a key role to play in creating better programs to help the poor. What do you think?
Literature and legend often reflect their culture. Some themes, like that of rulers imposing coercive power, or of individuals rising up against tyrants, are as relevant today as they were in antiquity. Suzanne Collins drew on Greek mythology’s story of the Minotaur and on the legend of Spartacus in ancient Rome as she created the Hunger Games series. Her hero, like the heroes in these stories, does not seek her own power or profit but is standing up against a violent and tyrannical government. “People everywhere yearn for the freedom to pursue their own goals and dreams,” says Prof. Amy Sturgis. Even though the themes are ancient, stories like the Hunger Games resonate with readers because the anxieties and fears they portray are real and relevant. “These stories aren’t just entertainment,” Sturgis says. “They are reflections of who and what we are.” Do the themes in these stories resonate with you? Why?
Is it possible the war on drugs is to blame for increased potency in marijuana and for how crack ravaged inner cities in the 1980s? Prof. Adam Martin explains how the drug war has altered incentives for both drug buyers and sellers, leading them to favor higher potency drugs. This is what economists call the potency effect. As penalties for purchasing marijuana go up, for example, the cost difference between high- and low-potency marijuana decreases and people may think that if they’re risking a fine or jail time anyway they may as well buy the stronger drugs. Similarly, cartels and dealers have shifted their focus to high-value, high-potency drugs like cocaine as a result of the steeper fines and penalties for drug trafficking. The potency effect is just one of many economic forces that make markets so complex. Public policies that alter the incentives people face—as the war on drugs does—can lead to unintended and even dangerous consequences.
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