Imagine you’re a state governor. A consultant comes to your office and says:
“Here’s what you should do if you want people to see you as strong on law and order. First, you make it a crime for people to put stuff in their bodies that’s not good for them. Next you find people who put that stuff in their bodies and you convict them. Then you put them in prison.”
“A long time. That’s the beauty of it, once you’ve made them criminals, you can keep them in prison for just about as long as you like.”
Why would I want to do that?
“The more people you have in prison, the more you’re seen as a law and order man. Convict a lot of people and keep them in prison for a long time – you’ll have lots of people incarcerated. No shortage of criminals to fill your beds – no shortage of grateful voters on election day.”
Isn’t that expensive?
“Of course it is. You just point to your high corrections budget, and you have still more confirmation that you’re keeping law abiding citizens safe from drug pushers.”
“Those are the people who put unhealthy things in their bodies.”
They’re not criminals, though! They’re just self-destructive!
“Are we talking law and order here, or are we talking some wussy governor who doesn’t care about cleaning up crime in the state?”
Isn’t this backwards? Why would I go to so much trouble for a crime I just made up? Why wouldn’t I try to catch actual criminals?
“Actual criminals are way hard to catch. They’re professionals. You want to go after people who are easy to catch and convict. You just find someone with unhealthy stuff on him, and you’ve got him!”
But he’s not harming anyone but himself! Why should I care about that?
“He’s setting a bad example, and he might sell that stuff to children in the neighborhood. What you are you going to do about that?”
Put him in prison before he can sell it?
“That’s right! You have the idea now.”
Where do I get the money to build all these prisons? And run them?
“I have this great financing program here, specially set up for prison funding. You purchase these bonds that have an adjustable rate…”