Virginia GOP Wants Drug Testing for Poor: J.S. Mill Responds

Virginia Republicans are pushing a bill that would mandate drug “screening” for welfare recipients. The bill:
requires local departments of social services to screen each program participant to determine whether probable cause exists to believe the participant is engaged in the use of illegal substances. Any person who fails or refuses to participate in a screening or assessment without good cause or who tests positive for the use of illegal substances shall be ineligible to receive payments for a period of one year.

What “probable cause” is, or what measures these local departments may use to determine it is undefined. Can they strip welfare recipients? Or perform cavity searches? Or is it just an opportunity for racial profiling and discrimination? The bill’s sponsor Virginia State Sen. Richard Black has said“I don’t believe that taxpayers have an obligation to pay for recreational drug use.” Of course, by this logic, state senators should also be subject to the “screening” and subsequent testing as well. Naturally, Black doesn’t include himself in the legislation–even though he, as much as anyone else, lives off the taxpayer. 

Honestly, I don’t think that people should be forced to pay for other people’s drug use either, but then, I don’t think that the taxpayer should be forced to pay for anything other than those things he personally uses. These kinds of authoritarian attachments to welfare, whether explicit or implicit, are very old. The welfare state is used an excuse for drug war powers, immigration controls, marriage restrictions, eugenics, and other violations of human rights, but more importantly, these powers are actually extensions of the paternalistic state. As John Stuart Mill has explained, 

The relation sought to be established between the landed and manufacturing classes and the labourers is… [that] the former have been forced to maintain the latter, and to provide work for them, or support them in idleness. But this obligation never has existed, and never will exist, without, as a countervailing element, absolute power, or something approaching to it, in those who are bound to afford this support, over those entitled to receive. Such a relation has never existed between human beings, without ultimate degradation to the character of the dependent class.With paternal care is connected paternal authority.

The road to ultimate degradation continues unabated.


For a good book on the topic by a socialist, check out, Regulating the Poor: the Functions of Public Welfare.

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Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.

View all posts by Daniel Bier

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