In his latest New York Times column, titled “Pot and Jackpots,” Ross Douthat argues that casino gambling and marijuana legalization have gained acceptance at an even faster rate than issues (presumably) like gay marriage. The implication is that this might all be part of the same trend, which Douthat describes as “the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism.”
Not content to merely observe the phenomenon, Douthat argues there is a social cost to this. [L]iberals especially,” he writes, “given their anxieties about inequality, should be attuned to the way that some liberties can grease the skids for exploitation, with a revenue-hungry state partnering with the private sector to profiteer off human weakness.”
There are always winners and losers, and, it seems, a motley crew of crony capitalists and libertines benefit from casino gambling.
As Douthat notes, the rise of gambling casinos has been “driven by states seeking revenue and an industry that’s free with campaign contributions.” The Institute for American Values, he continues, believes “the alliance of state governments and gambling interests is essentially exploitative, and the tax revenue casinos supply comes at the expense of long-term social welfare.”
(If the beneficiaries make for strange bedfellows, a coalition of bleeding-heart liberals and social conservatives could presumably unite in opposition. But — probably for the same reason feminists and Christian conservatives never really united against pornography — don’t hold your breath.)
The argument that today’s “live-and-let-live” zeitgeist isn’t entirely salutary is, of course, contrarian these days. But whether you’re a cultural conservative who wants a virtuous society — or a liberal “nanny stater” — there are valid reasons to worry the least among us won’t fare well in an “anything goes” society.
“This is one reason previous societies made distinctions between liberty and license that we have become loath to draw — because what seems like a harmless pleasure to the comfortable can devastate the poor and weak” Douthat writes. At the very least, this is a debate worth having.