One of the themes of this blog is that we should evaluate our legal system by looking at what it does rather than examining the words its judges use or their protestations of good intentions. That approach can be applied more broadly, too.
Take Richard Nixon's War on Drugs. If one were to reason from effects backwards to intent, one would have to conclude that Nixon was not motivated to reduce the consumption of illegal drugs. We're wrapping up the fourth decade of "war" and while there's some evidence that fewer people are passing around joints today than when the Grateful Dead was doing 10-minute versions of "Peggy-O," more are using methamphetamine, prescription painkillers, crack cocaine and ecstasy.
Here's Brian Bennett's huge selection of government data presented graphically - lots of flat lines. And here's a chart suggesting marijuana is as readily available to teenagers today as in 1975. If the intent of the "War on Drugs" is measured by effects, and its effects don't include decreasing drug use, or even limiting drug availability, we can only conclude its intent was/is something else.
Reasoning back from effect to intent, the intent of the "War on Drugs" must have been to:
- Destroy the economies and destabilize the polities of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
- Simultaneously encourage police corruption.
- Vastly increase the number of children growing up without their fathers, and teach them that it's normal to have family members in jail.
- Vastly increase the number of people under "correctional control" - in jail or prison, on probation or parole. In 1980, which was already nine years into the "War," 1,842,100 Americans were under correctional control. In 2005 the number was 7,056,000. That's an increase of about 383%. Over the same period, the national population increased by 23%. (Here's the 1980 population figure, here's 2005.)
I'm quite capable of thinking ill of Nixon, but even I can't really believe he intended effects 1, 3 and 4. (He might not have cared, but he probably didn't intend them.) I can, however, easily believe he intended # 5, not for its own sake but - again reasoning backwards from effect to intent - because it represented the disenfranchisement of so many people who were highly unlikely to vote Republican. The high percentage of Black prisoners can be seen as just one aspect of the Republican Party's extremely successful Southern Strategy.