marijuana


The most interesting question for me about how Washington and Colorado’s new marijuana laws will interact with contradictory federal laws is what conservatives will say about it. I’d love to hear a Fox News pundit say, “This is a states’ rights issue. If people in these states want legal marijuana, we can’t have our bloated federal government telling them what to do or, God forbid, stepping in to police them.”

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I’ve listened to 247 podcasts of Planet Money over the last several years–about 80 hours. This show is the best way I’ve found way to learn about economics in fun, thought-provoking, 20-minute bursts.

I just finished a show called “The No-Brainer Economic Platform,” about six economic reforms that apparently almost all economists agree on, regardless of ideology. The major point of the show was that even though there is agreement, political candidates will not consider running on them. And if they did, they would stand no chance of winning.

One of the major points (though probably unintended) of my 80-hour economics education has been that economists are much closer to political pundits than scientists. The “facts” vary widely depending on their political stance. That’s why this show was so exciting: There actually are six things that economists agree on across the political spectrum!

1) Eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction. It is extremely regressive and distorts the housing market in bad ways. They make it sound here like almost all economists are in favor of eliminating all tax loopholes and deductions, though the point is less clear. Read on, though, and you’ll see that loopholes and deductions would become mostly obsolete under this platform.

2) Eliminate the deduction for employer-provided health insurance. It’s one of the main reasons for high healthcare costs in the US.

3) Eliminate taxes on corporations. If you want to tax rich people, do it directly. The idea is that tax rates serve as incentives/disincentives. Don’t tax things we like. We like American businesses making money.

4) Eliminate the individual income tax and payroll tax. We also like individuals making money and we like businesses creating jobs. Make up for the loss by taxing consumption, I think especially on luxury items–make it progressive in some way.

5) Tax things we don’t like. Use taxes as disincentives for things like cigarettes and pollution.

6) Legalize drugs, or at least marijuana. The war on drugs is basically a massive waste of money that makes drug cartels rich. Without it, we’d have another kind of consumption that we don’t like to tax.

Again, the major point of this show was that these ideas are political non-starters, but I wonder if that is true. Each plank on its own would have entrenched detractors, but as a system of reforms it’s more appealing. Pay more for your mortgage and gasoline, but pay no income tax. You would have to show people a model of it working.

Here’s a challenge for any math-oriented readers: Give us some examples. How much would we need to charge for cigarettes, pot, gambling, fossil fuels, yachts, and mansions to make up for the loss of all income taxes?

I know people who happily smoke pot, drink beer, and use other recreational drugs with no apparent concern, but who would not take an Ibuprofen because it’s bad for your liver. This confuses me. Yes, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are bad for your liver. So are many, many other mainstream drugs, like antidepressants and birth-control pills. (Here’s a list.)

But what is the reasoning that lets hippy-friendly drugs off the hepatotoxicity hook? It seems to be that these drugs are “natural” and so they are trustworthy, as if God wouldn’t make such righteous substances poisonous. This is not rational.

It’s true that there isn’t as much research on the hippy-friendly drugs as there is on medical drugs. The FDA makes pharmaceutical companies do a bunch of expensive research on the drugs trying to go the legitimate route, but they don’t get involved in the illegal stuff. There is some research, though, and we do know that even hippy drugs are made out of chemical compounds that the liver has to metabolize before we can pee them out. It is safe to assume that pot, acid, mushrooms, ecstasy, cocaine, and the rest of your recreational drug list are bad for your liver. (And alcohol, duh.)

I will happily support you in not taking over-the-counter pain meds, but if an Ibuprofin is a drop in the hepatotoxic-lifestyle bucket, your priorities confuse me. If you are willing to ingest any number of chemicals in order to feel good, why not ingest one or two more to feel a little less pain?

My parents forwarded me an email from a family friend, Lauren (musician and poet), who is going off email for six months. She’s concerned about distraction (including in her email the quote “It’s commonly believed and understood that it takes about 4 minutes to recover from any interruption. If the computer dings at you and you look 30 times, that’s 120 minutes of recovery time. That’s the crisis.” —Marsha Egan, Author of Inbox Detox), concern over what seems like addictive behavior, valuing face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice communication, and this article about a study which found that emailing reduced productivity more than pot.

She had a series of questions about it email and her project, which I answered. By email. I think she’s starting on April 14, but if she’s already started,she can read my answers in six months.

1.     How many times a day do you check your email?
I don’t know. It varies between one and many–20?–depending on the style of my day. There have been days that I don’t check–camping, procrastinating. If I need to concentrate, I do not check email or even keep a browser open until I’m done.
 
2.     How many times a day do you send or receive a text?
Zero. I sent one text in my life, just to try it out, and I strongly encourage my friends not to text me. It doesn’t appeal to me. I’m also vaguely offended by the use of “text” as a verb.
 
3.     Have you ever had a miscommunication via email or text?
Yep, at least a few. It took a while to realize that the pragmatic (i.e. non-verbal) context of communication really does not come across in email.
 
4.     Do you feel anxious over the thought of not having email for
six months? Do you feel anything negative at all? Happy? Just tell me
how you think you would feel.
Hmm. It would be tough. First of all, I’m in grad school and email is how all of my profs and peers communicate important info. We often get our reading over email, and turn in our papers, too. Second, I’m in a long distance relationship, and email is helpful in keeping a sense of connection. We depend mostly on Skype, which is allowed in your plan, but I wouldn’t want to give up email before Reanna and I are living in the same house. Plus, she emails me mp3s of her reading articles I’ve been assigned, so I can “read” while cleaning my kitchen. Plus, she edits my writing over email. Third, I’m so busy that losing the super quick, no-strings-attached communication ability would mean isolating myself even more from my geographically dispersed family and community. Last, as I understand it you are going off of Facebook, blogging, texting, messaging, and chatting as well as email. That all sounds fine except for blogging. I’m pretty attached to my blog. It’s my most consistent form of creative expression these days.
 
On the other hand, I feel relieved and relaxed when the power goes out, and a big part of that is losing the computer. I went to a lecture years ago by a woman whose name I can’t remember who said “You’re not ‘connected,’ you’re ‘tethered.’ She recommended taking vacations from the leash–phone included. That appeals to me. When I climbed Mt. Whitney, ten years ago, two behaviors really confused me, seeming to miss the point: At the summit, a few people lit up a cigarette and many people immediately called home. It seemed like in sharing their moment they were also missing it. At least they weren’t texting, I guess.
 
 5.     Do you think there is anything important to be learned/gained
by not having email for six months?
Yes.
 
6.     Do you use email more for work related messages or for
family/friend correspondence?
Mostly school. Family and friends second. Work a distant third.
 
7.     How do you feel about me not emailing you for 6 months?
Well, we haven’t communicated in years, so I don’t feel much about it. If we were close I might have feelings.
 
8.     Are you sitting with a Bluetooth in your ear, reading and
sending a text with one hand, eating soup with the other, glancing
frequently at your To Do list, all on your twenty minute lunch break?
Don’t feel bad. While writing this letter I checked my email 3 times,
ate handfuls of dry Panda Puff cereal, and listened to my sweetheart
talk about his online class.
No, actually, I’m sitting at my first shift on the University of Oregon Crisis Line, waiting for someone with a crisis to call me. I do have my cell phone with me (and will almost certainly use it at least once), I am (obviously) using email, and have a to-do list that you wouldn’t believe, but I doubt that I’ll check my email more than three times today. Mostly I’ll be reading about counseling gifted children, assessing families, and conducting group therapy.