22 Nov 2006

Anent that 92 Year Old Lady

An Open Letter to Drug Czar William Bennett from the late Milton Friedman.

92 Year Old Lady Shot By Police

One Feedback on "Anent that 92 Year Old Lady"

Dominique R. Poirier

This article raises quite an interesting debate, I think. I didn’t know Milton Freedman stood in favor of legalising drugs. It surprises me.
I got interested to the matter some years ago, and I read many books and articles on the matter and, in the end, my opinion is that hard drugs shouldn’t be legalized. That’s why my contribution, here, consists in explaining why.

In the year 2000, all specialized agencies, judges, police officers and scholars agreed upon a rough estimate of what represents the economy of illegal drugs in the world. From recollection, this estimate said that the drug market averaged about 3.5 percent of the world GNP, that is to say, more than what represent the aeronautic industry (both civilian and military), or the paper industry.
This 3.5 percent, in 2000, represented about $400 billions, and it includes drug production per se as much as chemistry and all intermediaries down the sale force, from exporters to the independent retailer.

Now, the same experts explained that the economy of narcotics generated important financial and “legal” by-products which encompass mainly money laundering and drug enforcement. It is understood that money laundering involves things as varied as lawyers’ fees; cover activities such as night clubs, bars, restaurants, means of transportation, and more.
Seen under this angle, the total drug market would amount this time to an impressive 6 to 7 percent of the world GDP.

So, at some point, we cannot but notice that the drug market contributes, to a sizeable extent, to the legal economy; and that it does have influence even upon the stock market. That’s why some experts reached to the surprising conclusion that should the drug market be definitively eradicated overnight, if it were possible, the whole world economy would certainly know a subsequent downturn. This fact does not morally justify that this form of criminality is highly expected and profitable to our society, of course. But why in the hell a man such as Milton Friedman didn’t present things under this angle at some point?

Now, legalizing drugs everywhere on earth overnight would certainly put a blow on criminality in general. But, prior considering seriously such seducing alternative, one has to take a careful look at what criminality is, how it works, and whence it comes.

In fact, while studying history of criminality, and patterns commonly encountered in the criminal society, we may notice that the organized criminality, which is responsible of the drug market as we know it today, is made up of quite down-to-earth people.
It does not chooses to steal cars, robs banks, organizes prostitution, counterfeits money, or sales drugs as the honest layman would specialize in a given branch for the sake of a personal passion or in order to find a professional activity that suits a peculiar aptitude. Instead, criminals behave exactly like businessmen do. They are constantly looking for better, easier, and safer ways to make profit in a society that does not offer them an honest way to do it so. They are usually smart, ambitious, and missed to borne in a sane social middle likely to provide them a suitable education. They usually have a perfect understanding of the notions of supply and demand, and even of marketing. The greater the profit is, the higher will be the risks they are ready to run.

In the history of criminality, there have been times when criminals preferred to make profits in robbing banks. Why? Because electronics and technology in general were not advanced enough to make banks safe; and also because electronic means of payment, credit cards and checks scarcely, or not at all, existed. So there were plenty of cash in banks that a gang with good nerves, some guns and a car could steal, relatively easily. Beside, the rate of criminality was not as high as it is today and criminals were much less skilled. There have been times during which engraving and printing were not as advanced as they are today; and so it was relatively easy to counterfeit money. There have been times during which alcohol was prohibited on the U.S. soil, despite a huge demand for this product; and so importing alcohol from Canada constituted an excellent and relatively easy way of doing business.

We may notice several factors that invite criminals to shift from one activity to another: safer means of protecting goods and currencies, harsher punishments, changes in consumer behaviour, growing demand for a given good, etc.

In the case of narcotics, we may spot this concern for harsher punishment. Synthesis drugs makers got used to constantly change the chemical formulas of the drugs they produced in order to evade drug categories laws and regulations forbid. So, as long as they set up new formulas, they escaped law and punishment.
In the case of the “usual” hard drugs, that’s the exact opposite. The riskier it is to import and sale cocaine, heroin, and hashish, the higher will be the cost of transportation, cost of money laundering, etc. So, retail prices rise, and so do profits.

If, tomorrow, cigarettes got prohibited on the U.S. soil and that punishments for illegally importing cigarettes were not as harsh as they are in the case of heroin or crack, you would see many criminals abandoning drug trafficking in favor of cigarettes trafficking.
If, tomorrow, demand for illegal drugs suddenly plummeted, many narco traffickers would immediately look for something else, illegal of course. Criminality wouldn’t know any decrease.

Demand for drugs knew a steady rise after WWII, before it literally skyrocketed from the 60’s on. It accompanied new social trends such as the hippy movement, the peace movement during the Vietnam War, and new styles in music and literature. It characterized also a way to escape a world that became more complex and faster. That’s why I am no far from saying that drugs became a component of the modern world in which we live. At this regard, it is noteworthy to say that the latest evolution of computers and Internet are offering today an alternative to drugs as way to escape the complexity of our modern society. I am especially making allusion to virtual worlds or video games that are offering an increasing realism likely to challenge the real world. Virtual reality is already a drug substitute, I think.

Now, we have to bear in mind that illegal drugs belong to a larger family in which there are caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, and anti-depressors; and we may notice that when drug consumers cannot find usual illegal drugs, they often set their heart on substitutes available in pharmacy, or worse, drugstores.

So, there is inescapably a demand for drugs which we cannot get rid of.

On another plane, and as way of finishing this lengthy comment, I will talk a little bit about drugs as mean of warfare. We know that hard drugs – made illegal in most developed countries – are responsible of serious social troubles in some third world countries in which they are less or more legal and available for cheap. In America, today, alcohol consumption alone gives rise to much concern. On the basis of such facts, what if hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and hashish were legalized tomorrow?
Doubtless, legalizing hard drugs in America would be inescapably accompanied by incentive performed by hostile countries too happy to find so an unexpected opportunity to weaken the social fabric of their enemy.

All this does not question my sincere disappointment for the old lady, but, in the light of all the facts I reported above, I find it is still a better price to pay.


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