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The US prison population is about 2.5 million. Of that, 20% are incarcerated due to drug related offenses. My guess is that just as many are in there due to violent criminal acts related to the prosecution of the drug war. I’ll count these for now, but it does not materially change my point.

So, we have about 1 million people in jail because of a silly and ineffective drug policy. Ignore how costly this is, and ignore the fact that recidivism rates are extremely high, and that many of us have little confidence that anything good happens in the current prison system (aside from lining the wallets of the people who administer them). It would seem to be a very good thing from both the standpoint of these human beings and for society at large to have them exit prison, and get into school or head right into the labor force. I would bet a lot of dough that my most Progressive (i.e. lefty) of friends and acquaintances would solidly get behind that idea.

Well, let’s think about this. Also according to the Progressives, we ought not have let the automakers fail (and hence, we have stolen billions of dollars from the productive working citizens to fund these non-productive enterprises) precisely because doing so (in their words) would have been devastating to the 800,000 or so parts suppliers and 1 million total employees in the automotive sector. See my analysis here for whether those scary numbers are actually so scary. So let me agree with them for the moment – allowing the automakers to fail would have been devastating because it would have unleashed a few hundred thousand unemployed people out into the economy.

Here is my question: can you hold both views? Can you believe that we need to free a million prisoners so that they can be productive members of society and also improve their material conditions and at the same time believe that we cannot “free” another million people (presumably more talented and hard-working than convicted criminals) from the unproductive auto-sector because that would destroy society? Do you want to argue that Detroit union workers are no better than common criminals? Do you want to argue that a common criminal could have a better time assimilating into the labor market than a Detroit auto worker? How can releasing 1 million criminals into the labor market pose no serious problem yet releasing 1 million auto workers portend the end of the economy as we know it?

If you believe that, it is a wonder why you would ever want to drive a car made by these same incompetent people.

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