The two-soprano rule

In judging a two-person singing contest,

never award the prize to the second soprano

having heard only the first.

via The Reality-Based Community.


Mark Kleiman is an expert on drug policy.  When he wrote the two-soprano rule, he had in mind existing laws outlawing marijuana (the soprano we’ve heard) and the future laws that will legalize marijuana (the soprano we haven’t heard).

The present laws have ruined the lives of millions of people, especially but not exclusively young black men who live in poor neighborhoods of big American cities.   Michelle Alexander reported on this in her book The New Jim Crow.  Why would you hesitate to take this soprano off the stage?

But I can think of a possibility that might be worse.  What if marijuana were marketed by the big tobacco companies, and what if their scientists learned to maximize its addictive powers by increasing the concentration of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in the same way they increased the concentration of nicotine in tobacco?   I still  favor repealing marijuana prohibition, but in a way that doesn’t make marijuana the new tobacco.

Click on How race discrmination became legal again for my review of The New Jim Crow.

Click on The Acceleration of Addictiveness by Paul Graham for thoughts on addictiveness and economic incentives.

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