Vote to legalize marijuana is a vote to further reduce labor force participation rate?

During America’s period of highest per capita GDP growth, recreational drugs were entirely legal. On the other hand the government wouldn’t give you a free house, free health care, free food, and a free smartphone. My entire lifetime has coincided with a War on Drugs and also a War on Poverty that has made being a jobless drug addict more comfortable. While the War on Poverty continues unabated (and Hillary proposes to expand it substantially; see Book Review: The Redistribution Recession for the effects of the Obama Administration expansion of this war), there are some ballot questions in various states this year proposing to end at least the state-run war on marijuana. There haven’t been any explicit arguments against marijuana legalization in the New York Times, but I’m wondering if “Millions of Men Are Missing From the Job Market” is an implicit argument against ending the war. The Times editorial says, essentially, that Americans are too busy taking prescription opioids to be bothered with a job. If this is indeed the source of the U.S.’s shrinking labor force participation rate compared to, e.g., Singapore, then wouldn’t legal and readily available marijuana further shrink the number of Americans who want to work?

One good thing about the proposed Massachusetts law is that citizens can “grow up to six marijuana plants in their residences”. A citizen who has been blessed with free public housing can thus sit on the sofa playing Xbox while taxpayers pay for the electricity supply to the grow lamps.

Milton Friedman said that we couldn’t have a welfare state and open borders at the same time. I’m wondering if he were alive whether he would say that we couldn’t have, simultaneously, (1) a welfare state, (2) legal recreational drugs, and (3) a high rate of labor force participation.

[Note that, other than paying taxes to support prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and the prison industry, I don’t have a personal dog in this fight. See my 2011 post regarding random drug testing for pilots.]

4 thoughts on “Vote to legalize marijuana is a vote to further reduce labor force participation rate?

  1. The government’s “war on pot” supposedly costs a lot of money so may be it’s a wash? Also there is a chance that alcohol addiction may drop slightly in favor of weed, with possibly less devastating/costly effects.

  2. “The Times editorial says, essentially, that Americans are too busy taking prescription opioids to be bothered with a job.”

    Very interesting article, although my read of the Times article is that we don’t know precisely how health problems and chronic unemployment are related (which came first?). Another take, from Bloomberg, including support for one of your favorite topics:

    A large share of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 who aren’t in the labor force may suffer from serious health conditions that are “a barrier to work” and suffer physical pain, sadness, and stress in their daily lives, according to research being presented next week by Princeton University labor economist Alan Krueger. …

    Polls show that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has strong support among lower-income men without a college education, who are among the most likely to be out of the labor force because of a job-related disability. …

    While prime-age men seem quite unhappy to be out of the labor force, young men tend to be less perturbed by the idea, Krueger found. He even found some support for the theory that improvements in video games have made leisure more attractive as an alternative to work to this demographic.

    I expect the Canadian federal government will legalize marijuana in the next three years, so you might want to keep an eye on what’s happening up here.

    Unemployment has a lot of negative social effects. (See William Julius Wilson’s When Work Disappears for a discussion of the difference between poverty and unemployment; there’s a difference between a poor neighborhood and once where most adults aren’t working.) A key objective of public policy in Canada (monetary policy, fiscal policy, tax policy, etc.) is to support full employment. So if it turns out there’s a big impact, I expect you’d see us back off from marijuana legalization.

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with leisure, or maximizing it. As long as people don’t expect a handout from fellow taxpayers to pay for their leisure. Paying someone an unemployment check to play 99 weeks of X-box is not money well spent using the public’s purse.

    In the case of the young men hanging out in their parents’ home playing video games, if their parents are fine subsidizing that lifestyle, then all the more power to them.

    Criminalizing victimless vices just to force these people into ‘productive lives’ for the state just doesn’t seem right to me. Of course, we need to reduce the welfare component so we don’t subsidize their vices.

    But even a libertarian type like me is beginning to accept the fact that there is always going to be a fraction of society , say 20%, that will forever need a caretaker/nanny in their life. The question we need to ask then is how much taxing of our incomes is acceptable to maintain this 20%? 10% of my income? 30% ? 50% ?

  4. The end of your last paragraph has the words “…who want to work”. In which periods of history, and in which places on earth has the concept of work been something one “wants” to do?

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