From Grass Valley to Chico: party culture and noise ordinances

A professor at Chico recently asked his critical thinking class about noise ordinances: “Why should a few people get to shut down a few hundred people having fun?” The question is about our intuitive response to questions of utility. However, it goes beyond that.

Recently, students at Chico State tried to organize support for shutting down noise ordinances (after the penalties became harsher), which would mean more loud parties. It’s unlikely to go anywhere since there are thousands of non-collegiate adults living in the immediate vicinity who have to put up with noise on a regular basis and need police power to shut down public disturbances.

Nevertheless, the college was established in 1887, and everyone who chooses to live in the city has been here a much shorter time than the campus. Its reputation precedes itself. Chico State came in 59th place out of 1,426 colleges for its party scene for 2017. In 1987, Chico came in first place in a Playboy ranking, and since then, its status has been for general excess.

With a population of 90,000 when school is in session, that’s a lot of partying hard. President Paul Zingg, who resided over Chico from 2004 to 2016, made a crack-down on partying central in his mission statement. Zingg, 70, entered Chico administration after a fraternity hazing death and sought to reduce the school’s notoriety for binge drinking. Since his arrival Chico dropped another twenty or so notches in partying prestige.

There are many programs on campus to discourage binge drinking and equip students with the knowledge of how to proceed if alcohol poisoning does occur. Further, the local fines for minor-in-possession charges are exceedingly costly. However, policing parties harder – both academically and politically – might have some unintended consequences. Driving out parties means young people will have to entertain themselves in other ways, and, barring 20 year olds spending their nights at the science museum, different drugs may show up to occupy them.

There are many Californian cities where there are no parties but recurrent drug abuse. My hometown is one such place. Nevada County, composed of Grass Valley, Nevada City, Penn Valley, Alta Sierra, and, sort of, Truckee, has a problem with homelessness, youth homelessness and youth drug abuse; all misdemeanor offenses, however, so Nevada County has a low felony rate per capita compared to neighboring counties and the state as a whole.

When I went to middle and high school in Nevada City and Grass Valley, there was an impressive issue with teen drug abuse and recidivism. I knew many students without stable living conditions. Many graduates lacked any occupational motivation, while the area offered an extensive and encompassing drug culture. Narcotics and experienced vagrants provided a rubric against which a hopeless mentality prospered. (The Nevada County Sheriff’s activity website boasts largely of public disorder or drug-related arrests.)

The city of Chico, meanwhile, is adjacent to methamphetamine giants like Oroville and Marysville. The city itself has eleven suspected clandestine drug laboratories as of 2014, compared to Oroville’s twenty. (Residents know there are more.) The governance of Chico, in terms of partisanship, is not unique; nor is its relative adolescent-adult ratio peculiar for a college town. Yet it manages to get by without excessive hardcore drug use or addiction rates like its neighbors. I think it’s plausible that, among other factors, Chico’s party scene helps keeps out the harder drugs.

Parties mean marijuana, alcohol and cocaine. These are staples in any festive town. However, without parties, there are less party drugs, and instead a window opens for more deadly drugs. People don’t party on deadly drugs, like those that slow heart rate, so when there’s parties, more designer drugs appear rather than lounge-around, do-nothing narcotics, like opioids or barbiturates. (I think this effect holds for towns of a certain population, but once that population and acreage is large enough, the effect may begin to work in the opposite direction.)

Grass Valley and Nevada City have a large proportion of young adults but a microscopic party scene. They are sister towns where the borders are relatively undefined, and have a combined population of about 16,000, made up of mostly middle-aged adults and a subsection of retired elderly folk. Nevada City came in eighth place for most dangerous city in California in a Telegraph Today poll. This is partially explainable in terms of population – the total amount of people is so small that any violence means, per 1,000 people, the likelihood of being a target of violence grows heavily. Like I said, violent crime appears relatively absent. Nonetheless there is an inordinate amount of drug use, from harmless depressants like marijuana to titans like methamphetamine.

Grass Valley teenagers don’t have many all-night ragers to shotgun cans of Pabst at. This means they don’t have an environment to learn how to party hard safely, and also that they become dependent on drugs that can fit any occasion.

There’s a reason why alcohol is the most popular drug for people under 21: it’s illegal until you turn 21. Similarly, I think crackdowns on drug use – common and relatively harmless drugs like alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and cocaine – may lead to backfires and encourage kids to move into more unexplored narcotic territory. (I also wrote a paper last year illustrating that several non-profit efforts to quell methamphetamine use across the nation had a negligible effect or the reverse effect.)

The drugs of today are a new type of foe. The lost war on drugs is getting the tar kicked out of it by Vicodin and OxyContin in the age of the highest recorded overdoses of all time. Smart drug policy would investigate the positive effects that parties have in the broader neighborhood, like tourism, promotion of social behavior, and promotion of drugs that are better understood by medical professionals and users alike.

The hazing overdose death that President Zingg came to office on was not from alcohol, nor any party drug, but from excessive water intake. The mistake is to infer a causal connection between dangerous partying and deaths like these, when there are causal events underlying both. Loud, boisterous parties are preferable, any day, to equally illicit, but infinitely more dangerous, covert drug use.

So, to answer the original question, “Why should a few people get to shut down a few hundred people having fun?” They shouldn’t. Screw them.

HARD Summer: autonomy within a prohibitive legal system

I want to elaborate on an earlier post of mine, that received some backlash on Reddit. I said “it is [not] an altogether correct judgment to blame drug consumers for their deaths.” I stated that I don’t believe drug users are entirely to blame for the occasionally-lethal consequences of their willful intoxication; a point I didn’t elaborate on sufficiently, and something that, at first glance, seems wholly incorrect or contrary to many principles espoused on this site. Not so. Illegal drugs (and to an extent, legalized drugs, and to a small extent, anything illegal) face a special status in the realm of human action.

Imagine if I, an undergrad who studies law and philosophy, took on a business venture. I haven’t studied finance or business. Not only have I avoided all theory, but I have no real-world knowledge about the stock market or fluctuating national trends. If I go out on a limb, and buy shares in a company doomed to fail, at that precise moment I exercise my will, make a poor judgment and the inevitable consequences fall on my own shoulders. The responsibility is on me, the same as it would if I were highly educated on the subject and took a promising gamble. Why? Clearly, because I could have easily educated myself – the information, and the means to obtain it, is out there.

Drugs, such as methamphetamine, are different. Legal authorities have specifically prevented me from obtaining information, which would have been collected and condensed naturally, that is requisite for forming a knowledgeable, and thereby autonomous, judgment. In the same way that a child cannot be blamed for removing a firearm from its safe and mistakenly pulling the trigger, I cannot be entirely blamed for making decisions the consequences for which I had an incomplete understanding. It’s part of the reason the crime of homicide is nowhere in law so general: it is divided into murder, manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary, and so on, based on degrees of competence. Now, in the case of a hard drug, I did go of my own accord into the black market to purchase the substance. To some degree, no matter what, I was aware of the risks attached to it. Regardless, the government has, through its force, removed sources of information which would be central to my evaluative performance: scientists cannot perform tests because of enforced ethical standards or threatened jail time for proximity to a drug; there is a lack in direct testimony from acquaintances because the ability to acquire the drug has been drastically altered (in some circumstances, removed; in others, just made more seedy); in addition, police officers often do not know how to handle someone on certain drugs (even when they are required to), they know only how to make the arrest: occasionally life-threatening situations are stalled medical care. State paternalism actually has an infantilizing effect, which shifts some of the responsibility from my hands into those of my helicopter caregiver.

This disruption of responsibility does not imply the government now has the right to make my decisions for me: making decisions for me is what led to the disruption, not any innate immaturity on my part or the part of any user. Disruption cannot justify itself. Instead of knowing why methamphetamine is dangerous for so and so reasons, what I really know and understand, is that the market I can purchase it in is dangerous. Genuine knowledge, wisdom about a substance and its chemical make-up, is less commonplace than wisdom about the dangers of obtaining it: knowledge for which its existence is utterly contingent on an extensive state apparatus.

So, authorities that pass laws criminalizing drug use directly make the market more dangerous (by creating cartels, etc.), and indirectly prevent consumers from discovering information appropriate to making an informed (and thereby blameworthy) decision. The weight of many acute drug overdoses rests on the heads of lawmakers, and in every future drug experimentation the government plays an inhibitory role in the autonomy of the experimenter.

Politically-minded people who don’t want the government (or other people) making decisions for them – whether that’s conservatives hoping to direct their income how they see fit, or liberals fighting for marriage equality – usually employ the argument that people can be responsible for themselves. What I think is obvious, is that when government attempts to prohibit any substance, they impact the ability to even potentially be responsible when making decisions about the substance, by coercively limiting the information that would naturally develop.

A hidden cost of the war on drugs

AI just completed another paper (this time with my longtime partner in crime Vadim Kufenko) where we question an hypothesis advanced by Samuel Bowles regarding the cost of inequality. In the process, we proposed an alternative explanation which has implications for the evaluation of the war on drugs.

In recent years, Samuel Bowles (2012) has advanced a theory (well-embedded within neoclassical theoretical elements while remaining elegantly simple) whereby inequality increases distrust which in turn magnifies agency problems. This forces firms to expend more resources on supervision and protection which means an expansion of the “guard labor force” (or supervisory labor force). Basically, he argues there is an over-provision of security and supervision. That is the cost of inequality which Bowles presents as a coordination failure. We propose an alternative explanation for the size of the guard and supervisory labor forces.

Our alternative is that there can be over-provision of security and supervision, but this could also be the result of a government failure. We argue that the war on drugs leads to institutional decay and lower levels of trust which, in turn, force private actors to deploy resources to supervise workers and protect themselves. Basically, efforts at prohibiting illicit substances require that limited policing resources be spread more thinly which may force private actors to expend more resources on security for themselves (thus creating an overprovision of security). This represents a form of state failure, especially if the attempts at policing these illicit substances increase the level of crime to which populations are vulnerable. To counteract this, private actors invest more in protection and supervision.

Using some of the work of Jeffrey Miron and Katherine Waldock, we show that increases in the intensity of prohibition enforcement efforts (measured in dollars per capita) have significant effects on the demand for guard labor. Given that guards represent roughly 1 million individuals in the US labor market, that is not a negligible outcome. We find that a one standard deviation increase in the level of drug enforcement efforts increases the ratio of guards to the population by somewhere between 12.92% and 13.91% (which is the equivalent of roughly 100,000 workers).

While our paper concentrated on proposing an alternative to the argument advanced by Bowles regarding the cost of inequality, we (more or less accidentally) measured a hidden cost from the war on drugs. The insecurity (increased crime rates and spillovers from illegal markets into formal markets) brought forth by drug prohibition  forces an over-provision of security and supervision (our supervision measure which includes workers that supervise other workers were smaller than with the security guard measure).

Basically, a hidden (private cost) of the war on drugs is that we must reallocate resources that we could have used otherwise. Its a little like when I say that it is meaningless to compare healthcare expenditures to GDP in Canada and the United States because Canadians assume costs in a hidden manner through rationing. Waiting lists in Canada are longer than in the US. The cost is lost wages and enduring pain and that cost will not appear in measures of expenditures to GDP. The war on drugs works the same way. There is a fiscal cost (expenditures dedicated to it and the taxes that we must impose), there is a crime cost (destruction of lives and property) and there is a reallocation cost of privately providing security which is hard to measure.

*The paper is available here. 

The Enforcement Costs of Immigration Laws are Greater than Alleged Welfare Costs

As I mentioned in my note yesterday, the common argument that immigration is significantly costly through welfare is mostly empirically falsified. The fact of the matter is immigrants usually aren’t qualified for such programs, illegal immigrants mostly cannot and do not receive them, and immigrants as a whole wind up contributing more to the government’s balance sheet through economic growth and tax receipts than they take through welfare transfer payments.

However, there is one fact I neglected to mention yesterday worthy of its own post: if those opposed to immigration on the grounds of welfare costs were really sincere in that argument, they also need to consider the fiscal costs of enforcing their beloved immigration laws. As the New York Times editorial board pointed out yesterday, these costs are not insignificant:

The Migration Policy Institute reported in 2013 that the federal government spends more each year on immigration enforcement–through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol–then on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The total has risen to more than $19 billion a year, and more than $306 billion in all since 1986, measured in 2016 dollars. This exceeds the sum of all spending for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Secret Service; the Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

These fiscal costs get worse when you consider that Donald Trump wants to expand ICE’s budget even further and, of course, the $8-$12 billion dollar wall.

Further, if you are a civil liberties type concerned with the social and fiscal costs of mass incarceration, immigration enforcement looks even bleaker:

ICE and the Border Patrol already refer more cases for federal prosecution than the entire Justice Department, and the number of people they detain each year (more than 400,000) is greater than the number of inmates being held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for all other federal crimes.

The war on immigrants makes the war on drugs look tame.

Of course, these costs are pretty small when compared to the welfare state, but immigrants are not the ones driving up those welfare costs and they might even reduce it with more tax receipts. The truth is that furthering immigration restrictions and enforcement is truly fiscally irresponsible, not respecting the right to freedom of movement and contract.

So, something that makes me smile for a change.

It’s a fact that I feel pain in several parts of my body, including in parts I did not know I had. One of the sources of pain is permanent shingles. I only mention this in the hope that it will trigger some of you to get vaccinated or to get their aging parents vaccinated.

So, anyway, recently, someone who ought to know (if you know what I mean) convinced me to try cannabis for my pains. So, I went to the specialized doctor (at least, I think he is a doctor). I gave him $100 and I came out with a medical marijuana card.

I went straight to the dispensary and purchased some cookies, of the kind my adviser had previously let me taste. The effect on my pain was almost miraculous. I felt none from about five pm until I went to bed around 10 pm.

Several things sill trouble me. First, I can’t find a dose small enough to avoid getting a little high, which I would like to avoid. Second, it makes me hungry (surprise!). Third, what if frequent use re-ignites my passions, what then? Fourth, I am really, really pissed off about the $100 because it looks like Californians just passed a recreational cannabis law.

My sage adviser is an excellent auto mechanic in his spare time. You write me, I will give you his name. That would be for mechanical services, of course.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Smuggling Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs out of the USSR
  2. Are memes disrupting American politics? So asks a Leftist
  3. The 4th Amendment, policing, and pedagogy
  4. At least the end of the War on Drugs is nigh
  5. A new (old) strategy for a polycentric world (but why not federation?)
  6. A simple map of Brazil and its states

Another Race Riot

Note: This is written for my overseas readers mainly. If you live in the US, you will probably find that you already know most of what I am writing about.

A couple of days ago, a police officer shot to death a black man in full daylight in Charlotte, North Carolina, very much the Old South, former home of abject slavery.

This is happening in the last months of the second administration of the first black American president, after more than seven years of his being in charge. “Being in charge” is an exaggeration of sorts though. The President of the United States exercises no constitutional authority over local police forces (or state police forces). His federal Department of Justice only has jurisdiction when a violation of civil rights is at stake and only over that specific putative violation. Homicide is not in itself a civil rights violation. It’s true that Pres. Obama cannot pick up the phone and tell the Charlotte police what to do or how. Yet, Mr Obama is responsible to some extent although indirectly for the violence, an idea I will develop below.

Cop kills black man: familiar story, right?

I forgot to give you important information. The police officer who did the shooting is black and a woman. She answers to a black police chief. He is squarely in charge of training officers and making rules for their behavior, including their use of firearms. The Chief of Police is appointed and answers to the mayor of Charlotte. The mayor is a white woman and a prominent Democrat. She is assisted by a city council of eleven, four or whom are black. As far as I can tell, there are zero, or one, or two Republican city councilors. The rest are Democrats.

The police says the victim had a gun. His family says in was sitting in his car reading a book while waiting for his child to come out of school. Disturbingly different stories, for sure.

There have been three nights or protests in Charlotte, that quickly became riots, with demonstrators throwing heavy objects at police officers and much destruction of property. One demonstrator was shot, apparently not by a police officer. And, of course, there was much looting of stores. It’s nearly always like this: One young black man dies, fifteen young black men acquire brand new mountain bikes.

Watching the riots on TV, I notice something that television channels and printed press journalist don’t comment on: Some of the most aggressive rioters are young white men who seem to me to know what they are doing and who are not distracted by broken store windows. I should use the word cautiously but they seem to me almost professional in their approach to rioting. The white young rioters are not mentioned I think because they cannot be fitted in the prevailing liberal narrative: It’s a race riot, it’s a demonstration against racial injustice by black people who have just had enough. How about the young white guys? Irrelevant, they are just lovers of justice who happen to be there. Yet, I can’t claim that I recognize any of them on TV but there are young white men just like them in every race riot I have watched in the past two years. If they are absent the first day, they are plainly present the second day and the next few days.

The show on my TV looks a bit like a movie because it’s not well connected to reality, the reality that everyone knows: On the whole, young black men don’t die because cops shoot them, they die because other young black men kill them. They also kill the occasional child and lately, even a young mother pushing her baby carriage. The percentage of violent deaths of black men at police hands that are legally unjustified, must be minuscule. No one in Chicago demonstrates against this continuing mass killing by African-Americans. I think blacks and whites alike don’t because it would contradict the main, tired old liberal narrative: Injustice and racial oppression are the source of all evils in American society.

Young black men kill one another in gang wars for turf (for possession of a piece of ground.) The turf, the ground, is an important asset in the retail sale of illegal drugs. I would be curious of what would happen if Congress decriminalized all drug sales to adults and if a rational president signed the bill into law. I would bet that young black men’s death rate would plummet by 90% in a few weeks. I have no explanation as to why this is not done. It’s not as if the 40-year old so-called “War on Drugs” were working in reducing drug use!

After seven+ years of Obama, the economic gap between whites and blacks – however you measure it – has increased. African-Americans are worse off in relative terms than they were under Pres. Bush. This is no surprise to me. It’s a Democratic administration. The worst place for a black man to live in America is in Democratic-ruled big cities. It begins with Chicago, a Democratic city for 85 years. And then, there is Detroit, a war zone with no war. All this being said, we must not forget that most African-Americans lead lives that are both normal and peaceful, in crying contradiction to the narrative of continued racial oppression. There is a large minority of young black men however who have never had a job, who don’t look for one, who may have never known a person with a job except teachers and cops.

Democratic politicians have been promising salvation in the form of “social programs” paid for by those who do work. They have done so for fifty years. They have not implemented them, or the programs have done little good, or even worse. It’s time for a revolutionary new idea, one that’s very old, in fact. When there is rapid economic growth, employers compete for labor, even for the labor of the inexperienced, even for the labor of those usually seen as unemployable. Black Americans in ghettos need the same thing that all Americans need: vigorous and fast economic growth. This may be hard to believe but the United States has few problems that could not be solved by ten years of 3.5% annual GDP growth.

There is no sign of a search for economic development in the Democratic presidential candidate’s program. Donald Trump, by contrast, promises to reduce taxes and to rid business of many regulations. Historically, it’s usually enough to produce growth. Black Americans need less abstract “justice” and more of a fair chance. The left wing of the Democratic Party hates the very idea.