Being of an age where I can recall things back into the 1940’s, along with having had an interest in history that goes back much further, I can see without any doubt that overall there has been a decline in personal freedom here in the USA over time since its founding back in 1789. It has been argued that the situation is different for minorities thanks to the passage of Civil Rights laws since the Supreme Court decision in Brown versus The Board of Education effectively eliminated legal racial discrimination in the public school system. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 adding additional protections against legal discrimination against minorities. All of these provided protection against discrimination upon the basis of race, sex, religious belief, or country of origin over a broad spectrum of life, work, housing, and so forth. With Roe versus Wade effectively “legalizing” abortion.
While all of this is well worthwhile, certain other “freedoms” Americans once enjoyed are now gone. Our drug laws date back to 1914 when Congress passed a law against the sale of narcotics. Prior to this, narcotics were available in drugstores like any other drug. The idea behind this law was the same as for the prohibition of alcohol a few years later. That is, the idea that these items were subject to abuse and caused harm to the general public. I might note here that we are speaking of the “Progressive Era” when it was believed that for the good of society that government had to take control of these things because people were not competent to manage their own lives. You will note today that Democratic politicians often refer to themselves as “progressives” and share the same basic ideology as that of that era where it was believed that it was the task of government to take charge of things. Besides drugs and alcohol, there was also the ideology that certain groups of people should be rendered incapable of reproduction for the good of society. Eugenics became the science of the day in this “New Order” that was supposed to make us all “better off” with the role of government becoming a sort of “Big Brother” watching over all of us. There were also changes in our immigration laws that reflected the thinking of our “progressives” towards the “improvement” of the human race. All of this had at least some popular support, especially among the “better educated” who thought it all to be a great idea…*
* One of these consequences was the rise of the Nazis and their idea of a “master race”. With Jews (and some other groups) being considered “sub humans” to be exterminated.
While the outlawing of the open sale of narcotics wasn’t a major problem, the outlawing of alcoholic beverages certainly was. Very soon organized crime moved into the picture with the supply of bootleg alcohol and with enough popular support that it was soon almost impossible to stop the flow of now “illegal” alcohol into the supposedly “dry” United States. And the violence that came about because of Prohibition gave us the era known as “The Roaring Twenties” with bootleg alcohol, “speakeasies”, and “bathtub gin”. Proof if any was needed that Prohibition was indeed a mistake and lacked the popular support so needed to make it “work”. Parallels of course with what later happened with “drugs”.
The Great Depression created a massive demand for “government” to “do something”! The first efforts by the Roosevelt administration were “shot down” by the Supreme Court on the basis of being “unconstitutional”. This was an attempt to hold prices and wages up in a time when the free market demanded the opposite occur. The consequence was that instead of a recovery, the depression continued year after year in an economic “death spiral”. Taxes were raised because the growing government deficit, and that made things worse. Unions were given government “protection” which also served to “discourage” economic investment and hiring. The economy limped along until the start of production of armaments in preparation to the increasing risk of another “world war” also started sufficient hiring of workers to start bringing down the double digit unemployment that had existed before. It was also during the Great Depression that the minimum wage was established, along with new legislation establishing a standard 40 hour work week and “time and a half” for overtime. The payroll tax came into play with the passage of Social Security. There was “interest” in the creation of a system of national health insurance, but this never got anywhere. But the New Deal did usher in the idea of government provided “welfare” which dates from this era. Medicare and Medicaid came in under the LBJ administration after the Republicans lost so many seats in Congress that they were powerless to prevent the passage of these. This same era however also introduced a number of regulations and so such that made it more difficult for a person to use their own knowledge and talents to support themselves. That is a problem we have today, and it appears to be getting even worse now as time goes on… The necessary permits and licenses needed to work in an increasing number of field can destroy a person’s hope of a better life. Unfortunately only libertarians seem to understand this issue and what to do!
In 1938, under the “progressivism” of the “New Deal”, the FDA was founded and medical drugs could only be purchased if one had a prescription from a medical doctor to do so. It being felt that people (and even druggists apparently) were incompetent to make these decisions for themselves. Of course the medical profession was delighted by this, as it now meant that anyone who needed medicine first had to get a doctor to prescribe it for them. The obvious economic “protectionism” of prescription laws is more and more apparent today. Government regulation as usual benefits the “few” at the expense of the rest of us. Our drug laws in general are opposed by a sizable minority of people, some of whom are willing to violate our laws in order to obtain drugs that were “legal” until 1914. We also do have some “traces” left of Prohibition here and there, proof if any is needed that the ideals of “progressivism” still exist even if the term itself is unfamiliar to many today. And it is the ideology of progressivism that underlies much of what the Democratic Party stands for today. The ideas of “gun control”, control of more and more of people’s lives is part and parcel of what “progressivism” once was. I will grant that the “progressives” at one time may have resolved problems that society faced early in the 20th Century, but the flawed thinking of that era is unfortunately still with us today in rules and regulations passed by those who consider the rest of us “incompetent” to make decisions for ourselves today.