from the pages of ../


History's End: A Drug Den?!

Michael Albert


Bush is apoplectic. For him, the society that has successfully employed the free market to perfectly serve our human desires is becoming a drug-infested husk of humanity gone bad. How could this be? Bush says we must wage war on the drug scourge. He tells us he wants to lead the charge.

Bush has one thing right. Many people are being destroyed by addictive drugs that cause spiritual, mental, and material debilitation. Addictions do wreak havoc on friends, relatives, and workmates. They do induce criminal behavior to pay the piper.

However, determining just which drugs to wage war on presents more of a problem than Bush allows. For example, how about alcohol, which ruins tens of millions of lives, causes tens of thousands of auto deaths yearly, and disrupts millions of families at the hands of stupor-induced household violence? Did Bush mention martinis as bad stuff? Or how about cigarettes? They don't reduce competence or induce violence like alcohol, but if you add up all the smoke-induced cancers and cardiac arrests, they do plenty of harm. Has Bush turned in relatives for mainlining Marlboros? And how about TV, the nightly news, and sit-coms? In a serious discussion of addictions, certainly we ought to assess whether Peter Jennings or Alf belong in the drug category. Is two hours of TV a day enough to constitute addiction? Three, four, five, six?

And finally, what about advertising and consumerism? Does buying for the sake of the rush, regardless of the quality or usefulness of the product, indicate a psyche succumbing to addiction? Is Sears a den of drugged-out iniquity? Is there anything in this society not connected with "addiction"?

Between you and me, Bush is no dummy. And neither are his close advisers. Their drug policies are well thought out. Discovering what those policies will really do to society reveals much about the Bush administration's priorities.

First, Bush really does want people to be worked up about the threat of drugs to their end-of-history lifestyle.

Second, Bush increases police budgets, proposes new jails, and legitimates repressive laws. Obviously, he really does want to translate people's newly aggravated concerns and fears into a stronger police force.

Third, Bush portrays Colombian cartels as the prime purveyors of the drug scourge and thus the biggest current enemies of our national security. A reasonable deduction is that Bush wants a new excuse for Third World adventurism now that "anti-communism" is losing its appeal.

Fourth, despite an overflow of addicts unable to obtain desired medical help, Bush proposes only very moderate increases in funding for detox, prevention, and education. Apparently, Bush doesn't really care much about people who need help but can't afford to get it on their own.

And fifth, to pay for his drug war, Bush doesn't cut military expenditures, or tax corporations. He proposes slicing housing assistance by $50 million dollars. Clearly drugs are a scourge, but only when they cost corporations in lost productivity due to a doped workforce or when they threaten to infest suburban communities where little rich kids might get hooked before their time. Obviously, a solution to the drug problem can't be redistributive lest the solution has worse impact on Bush's friends than the drugs themselves. Bush doesn't want to give money or services to the poor. He wants to keep desirable deprivations of the poor from hurting the rich. Bush wants his cake (drug money). He wants to eat it (interventionism). And he wants to make sure that we get only crumbs (decreased social spending), even if he has to give us lung cancer (addiction) and false curatives (guns and jails) to keep us at bay.

Drugs are a national disaster because people abuse them, deal them, and fight over them. People abuse drugs because they suffer alienation, deprivation, abuse, and hopelessness. People deal drugs because they don't have a better way to make a living. People fight over drugs to get a piece of the action.

All this is not caused by Colombian drug-lords, or street-corner thugs, or even the Mafia. They only scavenge on the misery. The misery is caused by "legitimate" institutions that consign most of the population to deadening obedience and tiresome, often dangerous, and nearly always boring and undignified labor. It is caused by the poverty of unemployment. And it is caused by the indignity of racial and sexual abuse--all of which, remember--mark "the end of history" that is the triumph of capitalism.

But what about the availability of drugs, the supply problem, so to speak? Isn't the Medillín cartel the principal problem here?

No. Medillín is a means of widespread distribution, not its cause. Widespread distribution arises because drug-running is profitable enough to attract "entrepreneurs" out to make millions. Some, like the money launderers at the big banks, want the drug profits to finance their own haciendas in Columbia, Miami, or New York. Others, like Oliver North and George Bush, want the big bucks to surreptitiously finance gun-running, death-dealing, and general mayhem in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and other "hotspots."

Bush says he wants under $10 billion to shut down a market worth hundreds of billions. Does anyone believe he expects to succeed? It is common knowledge that cutting off external sources just increases production within the U.S and that reducing access to less dangerous drugs just increases the distribution of more dangerous ones. Worse, cutting housing subsidies fuels drug demand. Bush understands this. He is implicated both in getting funds for projects he likes from drug sales, and in using the trade's existence to justify Third World adventurism. Rhetoric aside, Bush is a drug kingpin.

As profoundly venal as it is, drug use in the U.S. helps disempower downtrodden constituencies. This benefits elites too much for them to let their desire to reduce drug losses in workplaces and drug dangers in suburbia overly reduce drug addiction in the ghettos.

What would be a good anti-drug program? First, we should legalize drugs and use incentives to regulate drug use by taxing their purchase in proportion to their dangers. Tax nonfilter cigarettes higher than filtered ones. Tax hard liquor heavily and beer barely at all. Tax heroin, cocaine, and cigarettes heavily. By these means the illegal and violent element of drug distribution would be eliminated just as the criminality surrounding drinking was wiped out with the end of prohibition. Moreover, just as alcoholism was reduced significantly as a problem in England when taxes there favored beer, so alcoholism and all dangerous drugs would drop in use here as tax policies push use toward more benign options.

Second, if we want to reduce demand for debilitating drugs we should reduce the reasons why people prefer drug-induced unreality to reality. This would require reducing military spending and other boondoggles for the rich and introducing in their place redistributive programs to reduce poverty, racism, sexism, and other oppressions.

In the long term, to fully win the war on dangerous drugs, we will need to eliminate the source of their appeal, not by bombing Third World poppy fields but by replacing profit with human dignity as a motive force in U.S. production, by replacing spectacle elections and economic dictatorship with collective self management, by replacing racism and ethnocentrism and religious bigotry in U.S. community life with a diversity of cultures respectful of diverse solutions to issues of identity and celebration, and by replacing U.S. reproductive, sexual, and socialization institutions that denigrate and repress women and homosexuals with alternative diverse and equitable ways of living and loving.

In the short run, we need radical reforms—legalization, taxes in proportion to the danger of drugs, and income redistribution to better the lives of society's worse off. In the long run, we need revolution to create new institutions that do not breed despair. These are serious programs for reducing drug decay in our society. Bush isn't even offering Band-Aids. He just wants to make sure that the drug cancer doesn't damage organs he benefits from while it wreaks useful havoc elsewhere.