Morality Loosens as Purse Strings Tighten

| by Reason Foundation

By Radley Balko

Poverty breeds immorality -- in government, that is. At the Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner observes that cash-strapped governments tend to loosen their morals once they realize the lucre in legalized vice.

-- Congress may overturn a four-year-old ban on Internet gambling in order to tax it. (One potential conflict: most states rely on proceeds from their own lotteries, which carry a comically huge vig of at least 30%.)
-- In California (and elsewhere), marijuana is becoming increasingly available, and is being taxed accordingly.
-- Hard-hit local governments are loosening alcohol restrictions in airports to raise tax revenue.

I'd add one more bullet point. Many states are also turning to treatment-based drug courts and doing away with mandatory minimum drug sentences in response to the growing costs of mass incarceration for consensual drug crimes.

Dubner is obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek, here. But these trends do show how quickly politicians' assessment of vice can soften from an existential threat to our way of life to something at least approximating reality once they see a revenue opportunity in said vices. Budget constraints force governments to prioritize. And that prioritization has shown that contrary to what some politicians would have us believe, the vigorous enforcement of the drug laws or the prohibition on Internet gambling aren't the delicate threads keeping our social fabric from splitting at the seams.

Of course, it would be nice if the government were moving toward a policy of letting people live their lives as they please out of a renewed respect for individual liberty rather than as an opportunity to fund more government.

But I suppose we'll have to take what we can get.