A Philosopher's Blog

Getting High for Higher Education

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 19, 2014
English: A domestic US propaganda poster circa...

English: A domestic US propaganda poster circa 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two major problems faced by the United States are the war on drugs and the problems of higher education. I will make an immodest proposal intended to address both problems.

In the case of higher education, one major problem is that the cost of education is exceeding the resources of an ever-growing number of Americans. One reason for this is that the decisions of America’s political and economic elites damaged the economy and contributed to the unrelenting extermination of the middle class. Another reason is a changing view of higher education: it has been cast as a private (rather than public) good and is seen by many of the elites as a realm to exploited for profit. Because of this, funding to public schools has been reduced and funding has been diverted from public schools to costly and ineffective for-profit schools. Yet another reason is that public universities have an ever-expanding administrative burden. Even the darling of academics, STEM, has seen significant cuts in support and public funding.

The war on drugs has imposed a massive cost on the United States. First, there is the cost of the resources devoted to policing citizens, trying them and incarcerating them for drug crimes. Second, there is the cost of the social and personal damage done to individuals and communities. Despite these huge costs, the war on drugs is being lost—mainly because “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Fortunately, I have a solution to both problems. After speaking with an engineering student about Florida State’s various programs aimed at creating businesses, I heard a piece on NPR about the financial woes of schools and how faculty and staff were being pushed to be fund-raisers for schools. This got be thinking about ways universities could generate funding and I remembered a running joke from years ago. Back when universities started to get into the “businessification” mode, I joked with a running friend (hence a running joke) that we faculty members should become drug lords to fund our research and classes. While I do not think that I should actually become a drug lord, I propose that public universities in Florida (and elsewhere) get into the drug business.

To be specific, Florida should begin by legalizing marijuana and pass a general law allowing recreational drugs that can be shown to be as safe as tobacco and alcohol (that sets the bar nicely low). The main restriction will be that the drugs can only be produced and sold by public universities. All the profits will go directly to the universities, to be used as decided by boards composed of students and faculty.

To implement this plan, faculty and students will be actively involved. Business faculty and students will develop the models, plans and proposals. Design and marketing students and faculty will handle those aspects. Faculty and students in chemistry, biology and medicine will develop the drugs and endeavor to make them safer. Faculty and students in agriculture will see to the growing of the organic crops, starting with marijuana. Engineering students and faculty will develop hydroponics and other technology.

Once the marijuana and other drugs are available, the universities will sell the products to the public with all profits being used to fund the educational and research aspects of the universities. Since the schools are public universities, the drugs will be tax-free—there is no sense in incurring the extra cost of collecting taxes when the money is going to the schools already. Since schools already have brand marketing, this can be easily tied in. For example, Florida State can sell Seminole Gold and Seminole Garnet marijuana, while my own Florida A&M University can have Rattler Green and Rattler Orange.

One practical objection is that the operation might not be profitable. While this is obviously a reasonable concern, the drug trade seems to be massively profitable. Also, by making such drugs legal, the cost of the war on drugs will drop dramatically, thus freeing up resources for education and reducing the harms done to individuals and the community. So, I am not too worried about this.

One health objection is that drugs are unhealthy. The easy reply is that while this is true, we already tolerate very unhealthy products such as tobacco, alcohol, cars and firearms. If these are tolerable, then the drugs sold by the schools (which must be at least as safe as tobacco and alcohol) would also be tolerable. The war on drugs is also very unhealthy for individuals and society—so ending at least part of the war would be good for public health.

One moral objection is that drugs are immoral. There are three easy replies. The first is that the drugs in question are no more immoral than alcohol and tobacco. If these can be morally tolerated, then so can the university drugs. Second, there is the consequentialist argument: if drugs are going to be used anyway by Americans, it is better that the money go to education rather than ending up in the coffers of criminals, gangs, terrorists and the prison-industrial complex. Third, there is also the consequentialist argument that university produced drugs will be safer and of higher quality than drugs produced by drug lords, gangs, terrorists and criminal dealers. Given the good consequences of legalizing university-manufactured drugs, this plan is clearly morally commendable.

Given the above arguments, having universities as legal drug sellers would clearly help solve two of America’s most serious problems: the high cost of education and the higher cost of the ineffective and destructive war on drugs. As my contribution to the brand, I offer the slogan “get high for higher ed.”

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9 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on September 19, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Mike, have you given any thought to the question of which party benefits from the destruction of the middle class? Cui bono?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Do you mean who benefits in terms of getting votes, in terms of achieving political goals, or something else?

      I’d say the destruction of the middle class is not a goal of either party, but is an effect of the laws, policies, practices and procedures. In general, the Republicans seem to have contributed more to the decline of the middle class in recent years, although the Republicans used to be the defenders of the American middle class, back in Teddy Roosevelt’s day. These days, most politicians seem to willing serve the interests of the wealthiest to the detriment of the lower classes. Again, not to intentionally crush the middle class-this is an effect but not a goal.

      Interestingly, some of the TEA party folks make this argument and are critical of crony capitalism and the harms it inflicts on the middle class and the economy in general.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 19, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        Mike, the Democratic party clearly benefits by the elimination of the middle class.

        Now you need to explain why the Republicans would want to eliminate their base voters.

        My thesis is that the Dems are primarily responsible for the erosion of the middle class, and since the Dems benefit by having people poor and dependent on the government it perfectly explains their motivation.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 20, 2014 at 5:05 pm

          Here is the breakdown of voters, according to CNN http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2010/results/polls/#val=USH00p1

          The Democrats get more votes (54% to 43%) from those making under $50K per year and the Republicans get more (55% to 42% for those making more than $50K). But, it would be rather too quick to claim that the Democrats created the poor because more poor people vote for them. An alternative explanation is that more poor people vote for Democrats because they believe the Democrats will do things to help them in their poverty and to make them less poor.

          This would be like saying that doctors must cause disease because they benefit from there being sick people or that the police cause crime because without crime they would be unemployed.

          Now, if you can provide an analysis of Democratic polices and actions that have caused middle class people to make less (for example, proof that the reasons that incomes have been stagnant since about the 1970s) and hence fall from the middle class, then you would have a case.

          Now, I would agree that the Democrats have contributed to the decline of the middle class in the sense that they have not fought very well to protect it. But failing to act and acting to make people fail are different things.

  2. magus71 said, on September 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Why is it that the US is the only country that takes heat for its war on drugs? Essentially the same war is fought throughout the world. Are all these governments misguided, too?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 19, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Largely, yes. If recreational drugs were legalized and produced by corporations, this would involve problems similar to those caused by tobacco, alcohol, and junk food. But, it would significantly reduce the violence. After all, we don’t see the tobacco companies machine-gunning each other. They fight it out economically which is generally better for the bystanders.

      The war on drugs largely creates the war-it cuts into supply and the distribution cost, thus resulting in a lucrative trade that terrorists, criminals and such are happy to utilize. By keeping drug prices high and keeping drugs illegal, we help create the economy that funds crime and terror.

      • magus71 said, on September 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

        The pro-legalization crowd hurts their cause when they argue conspiratorial reasons for keeping drugs illegal in the US. Assuming that drug legalization would not harm the US (yet as Phillip Q Wilson wrote, no one really knows what would happen if most hard drugs were legalized), the most plausible reason for drugs remaining illegal is System Justification, not reasons of corporate or government conspiracy.

        “System justification theory (SJT) is a theory within social psychology that proposes people have a motivation to defend and justify the status quo, even when it may be disadvantageous to certain people. People have a psychological need to maintain stability and order in their lives. As such, they are motivated to see the status quo (or prevailing social, economic, and political norms) as good, legitimate, and desirable.”


        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 20, 2014 at 5:06 pm

          I don’t argue for any conspiracy-that makes a person look crazy. Even if it is true. 🙂

          The status quo is that most people use intoxicants, often in direct violation of the law (kids drinking, people misusing prescription medications, etc.). So, the universities can help by creating and selling safer, legal drugs. We can even end the charade that the companies that make and push pain medicines are not drug dealers. Heck, they can even partner with us in this new venture, as they have done so many times before. Plenty of profits for everyone, if the market decides that way.

          So, free market competition without that damn government regulation. Get government off our backs! 🙂

  3. magus71 said, on September 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    TJ, what do you think of this post on middle class values?


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