post yesterday on drug testing politicians. His point was that from the perspective of harm reduction it would do society more good to make sure the lawmakers aren't stoned than it would to go after some poor sap applying for food stamps. That was, after all, the original argument for drug testing: harm reduction. Protect the public by keeping stoned long-haul truckers off the highways, chemically impaired pilots out of cockpits, and so on. I don't think most people have much of an objection to trying to ensure that someone flying a 747 or driving a school bus isn't high.
Of course, the rationale now for piss testing isn't to protect the public -- it's ostensibly to save taxpayer dollars by making sure lowlifes aren't swapping their food stamps (or the equivalent thereof) for doobies or meth. The folks peddling this particular brand of snake oil (criminalizing poverty and punishing the poor for being poor) always make it sound like huge savings are going to accrue to the taxpayers, which is bull. I couldn't find any recent data, but in 2006 the average welfare benefit per household in the United States was under $400 a month. Somehow I doubt that the potential savings from booting a tiny percentage of applicants out of the system is going to offset the cost of administering the tests. So the question what's the real motivation behind the push for drug testing? Cui bono? Who benefits?
Well, it's not the American public. The underlying motivation isn't austerity or saving the public money. It's to create more customers for the companies that manufacture and/or administer the drug tests. If you look at the history of drug testing -- from a few persons in sensitive jobs to company-wide or agency-wide pre-employment testing of everyone and anyone on the payroll, regardless of type of work done -- you see the sad history of products and processes in search of a market. People poor enough to qualify for welfare or unlucky enough to need to apply for unemployment compensation don't hire high dollar Washington lobbyists; the drug testing industry does.
Even more interestingly, quite a few politicians have financial interests in the testing companies. Why am I not surprised? With almost any social problem, when some politician proposes a solution, ask yourself "Who benefits?" and then follow the money. You won't have to flip over many rocks to find corruption oozing out. Classic example: Rick Scott, governor of Florida, pushed hard for drug testing people applying for welfare. Rick Scott, millionaire, had a major financial interest in the urgent care clinics that would perform that testing.
Of course, demonizing the poor and suggesting that anyone who is unlucky enough to need welfare is probably some drug-sucking lowlife also plays nicely into the right-wing's goal of keeping lower-income voters divided and marginalized, but I'm never quite sure which comes first: the political strategy or seeing a fresh opportunity for graft.