Thursday, November 6, 2008

Time For A Change--Declare Defeat

For some time now the US has been waging a war. We have fought long and hard. It has always been a war without a real strategic purpose or goal. And, it is a war we have lost. Get a grip on this: The time has come for a real change. Reality demands the US admit defeat.

No. The Geek isn't talking about Afghanistan, let alone Iraq.

Nor is he referring to one of those metaphorical wars like the War on Poverty.

The Geek is favoring an admission of defeat in a real war. A war where guns are shot. Lives are lost. Landscape is devastated. He is referring to the longest war in American history. One of the most expensive, perhaps even the most expensive ever. It has been a pointless war. An unnecessary war. A war which was lost on the day it was declared.

The war?

The "War on Drugs, of course. Declared by President Richard Nixon with the wide support of Congress and We the People some thirty-nine years ago, this particular war has been waged globally from the streets of American cities, towns and rural counties to countries as far from us as Afghanistan, Thailand and Burma and as close to us as Columbia, Bolivia and Mexico.

The Nixon war was embraced eagerly by each and every one of his successors. Congress after congress has appropriated dollars in numbers so large as to be appreciated only by those of a Carl Sagan orientation. POW camps on the order of that at Gitmo have been built by the score. Lives have been left blasted ruins along with entire communities. The take-no-prisoners mentality of the anti-drug warriors and their political enablers have ripped the guts out of more than a few American civil liberties.

Beyond that, and arguably (at least from the Geek's perspective) the ever-distorting monster of the "War on Drugs" has warped American foreign relations, alienated foreign governments, harmed core US national and strategic interests, and fostered insurgent and pseudo-insurgent combat in various countries. The "War on Drugs" has fed our enemies and is currently prolonging and complicating our nasty little war in Afghanistan.

So what have we won for nearly two generations of waging war on the desire of people, American people in particular, to alter their state of consciousness?

Nada. Nothing. Zip. The big zero. Using a combination of purity and price in constant dollars, drugs ranging from pot to smack are cheaper per effective dose today than they were at the Nixon giddy-up. While the number of people arrested for pot possession has climbed to nearly one hundred per hour, the potency of marijuana has increased while its constant dollar price has dropped. The same sort of dreary numbers can be offered with respect to other drugs.

According to free market theory--and, make no mistake about it, black markets are free markets where supply, demand and risk set the price--the enormous effort by the US police forces and military services should have raised the effective price. Even after well neigh onto forty years of trying, perfecting technology, arresting, convicting, imprisoning, propagandizing, limiting freedoms, disrupting foreign governments and societies, the US has failed. Miserably failed.

All we have succeeded in doing is ending a lot of lives, ruining a lot more, and making the controllers of the drug trade both more wealthy and powerful. That, my friends, is a hell of a piss poor way to fight, let alone win, a war.

The next question is why are we fighting this counterproductive war, this exercise in recurrent and recurrently obvious failure?

A number of reasons for keeping Americans drug-free whether they want to be or not have been advanced. Not surprisingly one of the favorites is the health consequences of usage.

There are two objections to this.

The first is the historical record of drug usage both here and in other countries. With the exception of a few drugs of recent vintage such as injectable methamphetamine, PCP and crack cocaine, the impact of drugs upon the human mind and body is not dramatic in its ill-effects. This is not to imply that drug usage is without negative effects but rather to assert that the record over time suggests powerfully that they are neither more dramatic nor greater in morbidity than exposure to a multitude of environmental risks.

The second objection zeros in on the impact of drug use on the collective health care costs of a community. The health care cost containment argument overlooks the reason that we live in communities or obtain health insurance. Communal life, like the purchasing of insurance is a means of reducing risk to the individual by distributing it widely. To single out drugs as a target for cost containment is no more legitimate than singling out any other behavior, or all behaviors for that matter.

The second popular argument supporting the continuation of the lost war is a false equation: drugs equal crime. The equation is correct only so far as the illegality of drugs raises costs far above those of normal supply and distribution costs. Beyond that, the equation does not apply as any crime committed in whole or in part because of drug use is a crime whether any demon drug runs through the veins of the criminal. You shoot someone while stoned thinking that someone is the devil or Dick Nixon reincarnate, you get tried for homicide with the drug use being either an aggravating or mitigating factor.

Get a grip on it. A crime is a crime is a crime with or without a chemical presence. And, drug caused crime per se is the result of the market distorting effects of illegality.

The Geek's favorite justification for continuing the shock-and-awe, give-no-quarter war is the fiction of "lost productivity." Whenever some crusader is pushed hard on why keep on keeping on in the endless war, the crusader will more often than not fall back on some enormous dollar figure caused by "lost productivity," which somehow translates into an American economic death through some sort of production anemia.

"Lost productivity" is even more of a fiction than Marx's notion of "surplus value." It is apparently based on the curious concept that we owe the national economy a set amount of labor value per day. As far as the Geek sees the matter, that odd idea transforms each and every one of us into slaves of, if not the state, then the economy. Bah. Humbug!

In any event the concept of lost productivity is not borne out historically. In the Very Bad Old Days when heroin was available over-the-counter and Coca-Cola was well and truly the "pause that refreshes," there were no outcries that drugs were making American workers less productive or somehow inefficient on the job. The complaint was made about drinking booze with some very real justification, but never about drug use.

While hard data do not exist so it is impossible to say with certainty what percentage of Americans used drugs historically, the highest order probability puts the percentage larger, perhaps much larger than is the case today. Ironically, way back then, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, in a time when Americans were stoned a good percentage of the time, drunk almost all the time, our economy cruised by those of England and Germany, becoming in 1885 the world's largest. We've only been threatened in that position as we became a nation of pure-in-mind-and-body health Nazis.

But, the Geek digresses

There is and always has been only one authentic, accept-no-substitutes reason for the "War on Drugs." That reason is morality. Drug use is seen as immoral. Period.

That posture is recent in its origin. Go back to the famed seaport of Nantucket in the early and mid portions of the 19th Century. It was a time and place where most men spent most of their time at sea. The ladies of the town ran the businesses, took care of the families, handled financial matters. The town also imported truly awesome numbers of one kilogram "chests" of opium. The records show the opium arrived but never left for destinations further afield. The Ladies of Nantucket smoked a heck of a lot of opium but no one ever accused these fine descendants of the Puritans of lacking morals.

Not until drug use was tied to non-Caucasian races in the opening days of the 20th Century was a linkage made between drug use and the absence of a stern, Christian morality. The linkage was strengthened by Nixon and his famed "Silent Majority," as they looked disdainfully at the anti-war protesters, the hippies, and similar outrageous totems of an eventful decade.

More recently the statist oriented members of both parties, but particularly the Republican social conservatives, have dilated at length about the immoral roots of drug usage. Since the counter-drug war aggregates power to the government and no government has ever discovered an increase in its authority not to its liking, governing elites and statist politics have stroked each other for mutual benefit.

Since Nixon declared war on drugs (which, when you think of it is as out-to-lunch as the much more recent declaration of a war on terrorism) combating drugs has become a major industry in the US. Not just the cops, the judges, the prison guards, but the therapists, the educators and the researchers have found long-term, very remunerative employment. The line from Blazing Saddles comes to mind. Mel Brooks gave it in his role as governor.

"You realise, this could mean our phony baloney jobs!"

It sure could. The Geek hopes it does. He wants to declare defeat in the preposterous "War on Drugs." The foreign policy benefits alone will be well worth capitulating to reality.

It's time for a change.


Anonymous said...

Geek, having had the opportunity to deal (in the recent past) with issues in the war of drugs (complements of an 18 month term on a federal grand jury). I'm not ready to just sign off and say "no harm, no foul" regarding the war on drugs.

I certainly don't like today's solution (which isn't one, and a winner, it's not), but going wide open the other way with an "anything goes" attitude certainly isn't going to be acceptable - it's just not going to sell in the political marketplace.

For example, I have a really serious problem with all the health care costs associated with illegal drug use. I mean, if you are going to make it legal, or at least remove the incarceration penalties, put money on the fact that society in general will demand (among other things) that emergency health care for drug addicts be provide on a tiered basis, with cases where drug use leads to hospital emergency visits are handled on a much lower priority basis, if a priority basis at all. If they live fine, if they die fine.

Now I'm not sure how you accomplish that, but the first couple of times where heavy drug use (which was previously illegal) leads to those individuals getting emergency care ahead of non-drug use patients, and this leads to bad outcomes for the non-drug use patients, well, it's going to be an issue that will end up making the entire abortion rights mess look like a walk in the park by comparison. Now, throw that one into the whole health-care debate.

You know, we just went through a national election where a major issue (still up for debate, and not nearly resolved) was over the increasing application of additional 'penalties' (taxes, etc.) to the most successful within our society.

Well, if that's the case, with drug use, we're probably going to have to apply the same logic, only in reverse to individuals with heavy drug use. Honestly, why should I (or you), or our non drug using family members have to carry the additional burden of such erratic drug-impaired performers in the marketplace? My days of being charitable in such an environment are long past if all I'm doing is rewarding more recreational drug use.

On a different topic, what do you see as the Over/Under spread on the varied and different campaign promises of "The Anointed One".

Couple of issues to think about:

1) Over [more likely]/Under [less likely] on:

(a) Iran extends invite to Obama, and Obama visits Iran within first year in office.
(b) Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the UN, and Obama arranges to meets with him within first 6 months in office.
(c) No SOFA with Iraq by 01.2009, and within first 60 days in office, POTUS issues orders to within all US forces from Iraq within 16 months.
(d) The DJI (DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE), starting from 11.04.2008 drops down to below 7400 by 01.20.2009
(e) Nationwide unemployment rises to 8.1%/8.3% levels by 09.30.2009
(f) Where will the biggest foreign affairs 'surprise' come from within the first 9 months in the new term (after 01.19.2009):
(f.1) Venezuela/Columbia
(f.2) Mexico/out-of-control violence)
(f.3) Bolivia/Separatist/Argentina movement
(f.4) Russia and.... (specify, plenty of choices)
(f.5) Horn of Africa
(f.6) Central Africa
(f.7) SE Asia (Vietnam, PRC, Japan, both Koreas, pick your poison)
(f.8) EU
(f.9) ME
(f.10) Iran and.... (specify, again, plenty of choices).

What do you think about the above as a topic?

History Geek said...

The Geek always appreciates and enjoys your thoughtful, well written comments, even when we are in disagreement. You add much to the totality of addressing complex issues.

(The Geek calls them issues and not problems as they are often far more susceptible to being talked to death rather than being solved by thoughtful action.)

On declaring defeat in the already lost war on drugs, the Geek did not mean to imply an "anything goes" approach. Some drugs are demonstrably far worse in their personal and societal effects than others. From the experience of history, if the less harmful but still desirable drugs are available most potential users will opt for the former. The Geek believes this tendency will be enhanced with the availability of accurate information rather than "this is your brain on drugs" propaganda.

Beyond that the Geek is of the view that society has the right and the obligation to continue prohibition on the most disastrous drugs such as crack and PCP. That coupled with accurate information and most importantly the availability of desirable less harmful substances will have the overall effect of limiting the damage of the drug war while protecting legitimate interests of society.

The Geek suggests that life is risky and no matter how much many may whine about the failure of institutions to protect absolutely against all risks--including elevated costs of medical care because other people do stupid things or hikes in auto insurance because there are so many idiots on the road--risks will continue and have to be accepted as an inevitable consequence of being alive.

While the Geek is all in favor of reducing risk in a rational manner,he has concluded from history (personal as well as vicarious) that allowing individuals to live their lives free of the nanny state's well intentioned(?) interference. Beyond that the Geek views the nanny state's enveloping presence protects not the individual from himself but the aggregation of power to the state and statists.

The "war on drugs" has been an excellent example of this contention. Frankly, much as the Geek is concerned about war and foreign policy, etc, the impact of the progressive interventionist agenda on the quality of domestic life and the relation between individual and state has been the area most evil effect.

(And, the dependence of the state on bogus wars to legitimise and facilitate the aggregation of yet more direct power over the individual is the ultimate reason why the "War on Drugs" will not be ended.)

Your over and unders are, to use a British expression, "quite the poser." But, the Geek may well take up your challenge(s) secure in his belief that you have already worked out answers you find both satisfactory and readily arguable.