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Quote 853

Judgment is given to men that they may use it. Because it may be used erroneously, are men to be told that they ought not to use it at all?

   --  John Stuart Mill

What is a ban?

An official or legal prohibition:

Types of bans

You can ban...
  • Activities people do
  • Things people ingest
  • How people express themselves
  • Things people possess

Why are things banned?

Look at the moral atmosphere today. Every-thing enjoyable, from cigarettes to sex to ambition to the profit motive, is considered depraved or sinful.. Just to prove that a thing makes men happy- and you have dammed it.

   --  Ayn Rand

The reason why things are banned. People in power can't tell who will use them responsibly.
"I'm not Santa Claus. I can't figure out who's naughty and who's nice," he said. "So we went ahead and banned all of them."
Responsible users
  • If no-one uses a banned item, there is no need to ban
  • If everyone is responsible with the banned item, there is no need to ban
  • If everyone uses the banned item the ban will be repealed ban, or not enforced
Of those users that use the banned item, and are irreponsible
Harm and effects

  • If the banned item is harmless, why is it banned??????
  • If the banned item is voluntarily taken and only harms the user that should be the users choice
  • If the banned item harms others then there will be laws that do/should reflect that.
Banning is an archaic Victorian attitude, that has very little relevance in the 21st century


Quote 1119

Prohibition does not eliminate the demand for recreational drugs. People who want recreational drugs have access to illegal drugs as well as legal recreational drugs and inferior substitutes such as sniffing volatile solvents. Therefore one cannot sustain a claim that consumers are beneficiaries of prohibition.

   --  IEA

Paternalism implies an individuals choices for ones made by others.
Prohibitions on child labour or maximum hours of work are based on the premise some people can not be expected to correctly judge their own welfare unaided.
Instead of prohibition, it would be better to inform and dispel ignorance.

Quote 1106

The case for a prohibition must ultimately involve a degree of paternalism (an assertion that people do not understand where their own ‘true’ interests lie – even before succumbing to addiction); an implicit claim that people are not well informed about consequences or probabilities; or an assertion that the costs of addiction are not truly ‘private’.

   --  IEA


"Public misunderstanding, ignorance and possibly contempt for liberty play into the hands of people who want to control our lives."
"One of the least-understood functions of private property rights is that of determining who may harm whom in what ways."
"If we banned or restricted all activities that affect, harm or have the possibility of harming other people, it wouldn't be a very nice life."

Has banning ever worked?

Quote 1095

Just because the manufacture, distribution and sale of a product have been prohibited it does not necessarily follow that its manufacture, distribution and sale will cease.

   --  IEA

Prohibition doesn't work
Clearly not every kind of act that causes harm to others can be rightly prohibited.

Banning fails for the following reasons
  1. Offsetting behaviour
    Examples of offsetting behaviour are: Bricked up windows to avoid 18th Century window tax, High tobacco tax leading to smuggling, illegal recreational drugs leading to illegal manufacture and distribution.
  2. Intrusion
    For prohibition to be effective requires a level of government spending and interference in people’s day-to-day lives which is unacceptable in a free society.
  3. It addresses the symptoms rather than the causes of social problems.
    Gun control is not a solution to violent crime or a high murder rate because violent criminals are perfectly capable of illegally acquiring firearms or finding other means of killing people, for example with knives or fists. 
  4. It promotes the very behaviour it is intended to eliminate
    ‘forbidden fruit effect’ – whereby activities that are forbidden become more attractive, especially to young people

What is wrong with Banning

The US Constitution ‘valued liberty both as an end and as a means
  • Prohibition places markets into the hands of criminal enterprises
  • Prohibition increases the risks of already risky activities
  • Prohibition criminalises people who would not otherwise be criminals (victim-less crimes)
  • Prohibition diverts law enforcement resources away from conduct that harms third parties
  • Prohibition increases public ignorance
  • Organised interest groups are crucial to the introduction of prohibitions
  • Prohibition almost never works and is almost always counter-productive
  • It violates "Consumer sovereignty"
Any centralised prohibition introduced to protect one class of people from making a ‘mistake’ and acting against their interests will simultaneously prevent another class from taking advantage of their greater local knowledge to improve their own welfare. 

legalising and taxing the money goes to government. Prohibiting pushes up prices and money goes to criminals.
Companies like Toyota do not sell cars to minors. But these constraints do not apply in the black markets.

Quite often banning a is a proxy, such as banning chewing gum instead of banning littering. Ban the 'wrong', not the product

Costs of banning

Enforcing prohibition involves a substantial direct financial cost. 
To detect, arrest, prosecute and finally punish those engaging in prohibited activities requires substantial resources for the police, the courts and other government agencies. 
This in no way counts the indirect costs, such as administration costs for compliance, or waste of resources to try to avoid detection, arrest, prosecution and punishment.

Banning imposes significant costs on individuals and society as a whole and produces few benefits in return.

Alternatives to banning

Ban the 'wrong', not the product. For example if there are heroin needles lying about, don't ban heroin, ban the needles.
Quote 1102

It is possible to simultaneously believe that people should not consume a particular good or service and that that good or service should be legal; one simply believes that abstinence should be the result of individual choice, not government diktat.

   --  IEA

It is possible to believe that some thing should not be done, but do not wish to ban it. This can be a consistent position. You merely beleive that the activity such as smoking should be performed, but that people should make the choice not to smoke, rather than be co-erced not to make it.

Banning things is a growth industry