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Should Drunk Driving be Legal?

It doesn't seem like it should be an open question. Who would possibly advocate for legalizing drunk driving? But in an article titled Legalize Drunk Driving, Lew Rockwell, founder and Chairman of the Board of the Mises Institute, tries to make the case.

The Mises Institute is named for 20th century Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, a proponent of what is now known as the Austrian School of Economics. The Austrian School is grounded in a concept known as praxeology. According to the Mises Institute:

Praxeology rests on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals. This concept of action contrasts to purely reflexive, or knee-jerk, behavior, which is not directed toward goals. The praxeological method spins out by verbal deduction the logical implications of that primordial fact. In short, praxeological economics is the structure of logical implications of the fact that individuals act. This structure is built on the fundamental axiom of action, and has a few subsidiary axioms, such as that individuals vary and that human beings regard leisure as a valuable good.

In other words, we shouldn't need empirical research or statistical analysis to tell us that drunk driving is dangerous. The individual knows it is, and since individuals "engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals," they won't drive with dangerous levels of alcohol in their blood. And because individuals know themselves better than a government bureaucrat ever could, it's better to let the individual determine what is a dangerous level, rather than impose a one-size-fits-all legal limit.

What have we done by permitting government to criminalize the content of our blood instead of actions themselves? We have given it power to make the application of the law arbitrary, capricious, and contingent on the judgment of cops and cop technicians. Indeed, without the government's "Breathalyzer," there is no way to tell for sure if we are breaking the law.

Sure, we can do informal calculations in our head, based on our weight and the amount of alcohol we have had over some period of time. But at best these will be estimates. We have to wait for the government to administer a test to tell us whether or not we are criminals. That's not the way law is supposed to work. Indeed, this is a form of tyranny.

It's hard to follow Rockwell's logic here. Having a clearly defined, objective legal blood alcohol limit is "arbitrary and capricious," but letting individuals make their own decisions about their level of intoxication is not? Keeping unsafe drivers off the road is tyranny? But Rockwell doubles down.

What's more, some people drive more safely after a few drinks, precisely because they know their reaction time has been slowed and they must pay more attention to safety. We all know drunks who have an amazing ability to drive perfectly after being liquored up. They should be liberated from the force of the law, and only punished if they actually do something wrong.

Personally, I don't know any "drunks who have an amazing ability to drive perfectly after being liquored up." But let's suppose Lew Rockwell does know such an individual. Does this acquaintance prove Rockwell's point? Are drunk driving laws therefore "arbitrary and capricious"? Or is the increased probability of drunk drivers causing fatal accidents a sufficient reason to keep them off the streets?

Rockwell is aware of the counterargument, and thinks he has an answer.

Now, the immediate response goes this way: drunk driving has to be illegal because the probability of causing an accident rises dramatically when you drink. The answer is just as simple: government in a free society should not deal in probabilities. The law should deal in actions and actions alone, and only insofar as they damage person or property. Probabilities are something for insurance companies to assess on a competitive and voluntary basis.

And while that may sound nice (in theory) to those who don't like statistics, it doesn't address the real problem of drunk driving: it is the leading cause of highway death. It has been so for a long time. Too many people still do it, even designated drivers. The risks are high and the consequences are devastating. Only someone with a twisted, morally degenerate ideology could defend drunk driving. If even one life full of vitality and promise is prematurely snuffed out by an individual too inebriated to determine whether his conscious actions will achieve his chosen goals, it is enough to discredit the entire Austrian School of Economics.

But Rockwell thinks he has an answer even to this.

And please don't write me to say: "I am offended by your insensitivity because my mother was killed by a drunk driver." Any person responsible for killing someone else is guilty of manslaughter or murder and should be punished accordingly.

But the point of drunk driving laws is to get these people off the road before they commit manslaugher. The goal is to keep your mother alive, not to punish her killer. Rockwell, on the other hand, comes across as a sociopath eager to sacrifice your mother to advance his repugnant economic theory. If that's the best case for striking our drunk driving laws, we're better off keeping those laws in place. But who, other than an economist of the Austrian School, hasn't already figured that out?

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