Policy Priorities in 2018: Practical Liberalism

Beyond increasing productivity and incentivising innovation, we advance the cause of individual liberty by promoting practical, evidence-based, liberal solutions to pressing social issues. Regulatory prohibitions often restrict liberty, and can also backfire creating dangerous black markets. We will make the evidence-based case for expanding consumer choice, ending counterproductive prohibitions, and reducing harm. Innovation, not greater regulation, can improve public health as consumers demand healthier, safer products.

The UK has become a world-leader in tobacco harm reduction. Smoking rates are falling as smokers switch to safer e-cigarettes. Fears that e-cigarettes would increase tobacco use by making smoking ‘cool’ were unfounded; in fact, the recent decline in smoking has been strongest among 18-24 year olds. But we can do better. European regulation is slowing take-up. Manufacturers and public health campaigners are restricted from advertising the fact that e-cigarettes are safer. This is a huge problem when 19% of smokers haven’t tried an e-cigarette because they were concerned about safety. Worse still, regulating tank sizes, nicotine strength and bottle sizes may make e-cigarettes less desirable for some users. This is a serious problem as evidence suggests bans on e-cigarette flavours led to higher smoking rates. The sheer number of lives that could be saved if smokers switched to e-cigarettes is staggering. This is why we are prioritising harm reduction in 2018. Repealing EU vaping restrictions, stopping indoor vaping bans in public buildings (the ASI now allows considerate vaping in the office), and making it easier to bring the next generation of e-cigarettes to market will all be key in saving lives by expanding choice.

We may be leading the way on e-cigarettes, but we’re falling behind on cannabis. By July 1st, Canada will have legalised cannabis nationwide. Rising evidence from across the US has proven doomsday predictions of cannabis legalisation have fallen flat. The case for cannabis legalisation is powerful. Criminalisation has increased organised crime, created stronger strains, and led to undesirable street dealing. Drug dealers don’t check for ID and they don’t label the strength of their products. It’s led to a nationwide street lottery where strains vary massively in strength and safety. More of the same simply won’t work. We can stamp out street cannabis by taking supply out of the control of criminals and creating a legal, regulated market. In 2018, we will ensure evidence, not hyperbole, guides the debate around cannabis legalisation.

When prices are artificially capped, shortages occur. This is not only the case for housing. Every year hundreds die waiting for a kidney transplant, while thousands sit on dialysis spending nearly 12 hours a week in a hospital. The situation for bone marrow is similar – 140 patients fail to find a donor each year, with the situation especially bad for ethnic minorities. Financial incentives can solve this problem. Compensation for blood and plasma donors in the US has effectively ended the seasonal shortages that affect other countries, with fears about exploitation or safety being unfounded. As a result of campaigning by think tanks, ethicists and economists, compensation for bone marrow donors is now allowed in the USA as of last year. In New Zealand, new laws will compensate organ donors for lost wages. Both parties recognise there’s a problem, with Theresa May announcing an opt-out system for organ donation. That will help, but not solve, the problem. And it’s not a long-term solution. Autonomous vehicles will save lives, but leave fewer organs available for donation. Financial incentives provide our best bet to cut waiting lists and save lives, and in 2018 we will team up with international think tanks to make the case.

Criminalization fuels violence in illegal drug markets, and the same is true for sex work. The UK’s current approach to regulating sex work is failing, putting the safety and wellbeing of over 70,000 (predominantly female) sex workers at risk. Street sex workers face fines and criminal records at the moment rather than access to social and healthcare interventions or protection against client violence, while indoor sex workers must break the law if they want to band together for safety. Some advocates believe that adopting the Nordic Model, which criminalizes clients alone, is the way forward, but a wealth of evidence shows that attempting to ‘end demand’ harms sex workers in a myriad of different ways. The best solution is full decriminalization, which has been the policy of New Zealand since 2003. Research shows that this liberal approach will reduce violence against sex workers, improve relations with police (assisting in anti-trafficking efforts), give them the best chance to assert their legal rights, and assist public health efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. As well as advocating for full decriminalization, we’ll be debunking flawed arguments in favour of the Nordic Model and encouraging local authorities to experiment with managed street sex work zones.

This is the third part of our Policy Priorities in 2018 series. Check out how we're tackling Britain's productivity crisis and encourage permissionless innovation

Addendum: Oh, and we'll also continue to make the best memes of any think-tank.