Barnum's Law, by Andy Turnbul

If it were not tragic it would be amusing to compare the drug problem in United States, where tens of thousands of the policemen and civil servants owe their jobs to the drug trade, with The Netherlands, where marijuana is tolerated.

A pamphlet published in 2002 by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs compares figures from the United States National Household Survey of 1997 with a study of drug use in Holland.

In 1997 32.9% of Americans 12 years old and older but only 15.6% of Dutch citizens in the same age group had used cannabis at least once. Nine percent of Americans but only 4.5% of Dutch citizens had used cannabis in the year before the survey. More than 5% of Americans but only 2.5% of Dutch citizens had used cannabis within a month before the survey.

More than 10% of Americans but just over 2% of Dutch citizens have tried cocaine at least once. Within the month before the survey 0.7% of Americans but only 0.2% of Dutch had used cocaine. More than three times as many Americans as Dutch have used heroin at least once.

The dismal failure of the War on Drugs illustrates the phenomenon I call 'Barnum's Law.' Circus impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum was famous for his willingness to cooperate with the press, even on stories that made him look bad. When asked why he said "there is no such thing as bad publicity."

Barnum knew that whatever the story and whatever the public reaction to it, people would soon forget the story but they would remember the name.

New York real estate developer Donald Trump discovered that when he tore down the old Tiffany Building to build the Trump Tower. He had some famous art deco sculptures destroyed and, next day, the New York Times ran a front-page picture of the destruction. For several days the media and public figures criticized Trump for his decision.

"Even though the publicity was almost entirely negative," he wrote in ®PI4¯The Art of the Deal®PI5¯, "there was a great deal of it, and that drew a tremendous amount of attention to Trump Tower. Almost immediately we saw an upsurge in the sales of apartments."

Trump learned that "good publicity is preferable to bad but, from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all."

In the War on Drugs, Barnum's Law is reinforced by the principle that I call "Spencer's Law." In 1884 English Philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote, in {The Man Versus the State}, that when a government project does not work, the usual reaction is to expand it.

The War on Drugs was enlarged and sustained by the development of what I call a 'metasystem' -- which is a metaphysical entity that acts like a system but has no formal organization or management. The Military Industrial complex is one example of a metasystem.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Random Contributor
Gábor G. Gyukics