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The War on Terror vs. the War on Drugs:

Washington Post military correspondent Thomas Ricks reports on a crucial way in which the War on Drugs is undermining US efforts in the War on Terror in Afghanistan. According to Ricks, the US-sponsored campaign to eradicate opium poppy crops in Afghanistan is "resulting in an alliance between wealthy drug traders and anti government Taliban forces," thereby strengthing the Taliban insurgency against Coalition forces and the government of Hamid Karzai.

It is not just "wealthy drug traders" whom we might be driving into the Taliban's arms. Some 3.5 million Afghans (10 percent of the population), participate in the opium trade, which accounts for an estimated one third of Afghan GDP. Forcible poppy eradication campaigns are likely to "push the small farmer[s who grow poppy] into the arms of the Taliban." If I were an Afghan peasant and raising poppy was my main (or perhaps only) source of income, I might well be tempted to back the Taliban myself if the only alternative government is one that takes away my livelihood. At the very least, I would think twice before providing any intelligence on Taliban movements in my area to US or Afghan government forces.

In addition to the loss of crucial support from the Afghan population, the War on Drugs also undermines the War on Terror in Afghanistan through its substantial opportunity costs. According to the second article linked above, the British government has committed $55 million to poppy eradication efforts in Afghanistan. The US is also devoting substantial resources to the effort. These funds could be far more profitably devoted to strengthening the Afghan government, building up the Afghan Army, repairing infrastructure, and other purposes that advance the War on Terror rather than retard it.

To be fair, part of the US-backed anti-poppy campaign involves efforts to give Afghan farmers incentives to voluntarily switch to other crops. However,US policy also promotes forcible "interdiction" and "elimination/eradication," in the words of a State Department briefing on the subject. While I am skeptical about the value of even the voluntary crop-switching program, the coercive one creates a particularly serious danger to our broader purposes in Afghanistan.

As a libertarian, I would oppose the War on Drugs even if it didn't interfere with the War on Terror. But I don't want to argue the broader issue of drug legalization here. Instead I want to ask those who support the War on Drugs or are ambivalent about it whether you think it important enough to pursue even at the cost of seriously undermining the War on Terror.

Eliminating this contradiction in our policy would not require abandoning the War on Drugs in its entirety. It will, however, require us to eliminate or at least drastically curtail the ill-advised campaign to eradicate Afghan poppy farming. As between those Afghans who want to kill us and those who just want to sell us drugs, I think it's vastly more important to defeat the former. I hope that the Bush Administration comes around to this point of view as well.

UPDATE: Yes, it is true, as some commenters argue, that the Taliban cracked down on opium production themselves when they were in power. But as the Ricks article indicates, today they are willing to subordinate the goal of eradicating poppy to the more important objective of winning the war. The Taliban seems to have learned from its mistakes in this area at least. We should learn from ours.

jvarisco (www):
I think this would only make sense if one already opposed (or at least felt no need for) the War on Drugs in the first place. One can easily argue that our support for Israel undermines the War on Terror, probably a lot more so. Should we also abandon Israel then? The fact is that the War on Drugs is itself an important policy goal (such as supporting Israel) and unless one does not share that goal (the current administration does) abandoning it would not make sense.

I would also be surprised if the Taliban made much of an alliance with drug lords - after all, it eradicated opium while it was in power, and will likely do the same again if it regains power.
6.18.2006 11:40am
Humble Law Student:
If I remember correctly, much of the Taliban's money came through the opuim sales in Afghanistan. The US is trying to "convince" the Afghans to switch away from such cash crops to more conventional agriculture. While our actions may drive some away on the margins, the point is to fundamentally change the Afghan economy to made it more amenable to development and prosperity for the long haul. Basically, we are willing to sacrifice some efficiency now in the war on terror in the hopes that we produce a better Afghanstan for the future. Therefore, our war on drugs in Afghanistan and our war on terror go hand in hand (or at least more so than you argue).
6.18.2006 11:48am
JGR (mail):
There are a hundred areas where the War on Drugs contributes to terrorism and it is good to popularize these. Unfortunately, I don't think opponents of the War on Drugs should try to capitalize on this particular example for reasons already noted above. The fact is that the Taliban did crack down on opium production during its power. In fact, one of the chief criticisms of US power during that time was that the US government was actively praising the Taliban and holding up its drug eradicization program as a model, so punch-drunk was the US government with anti-drug rhetoric that it didn't seem to realize that there were more important issues in assessing a regime.
6.18.2006 11:54am
Humble Law Student:
JGR,

Yes, supposedly the Taliban did "crack down", but from what I understood it was nominally at best and that much of their funding came directly or indirectly from opium.
6.18.2006 11:56am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Opium production in Afghanistan is corrosive of democracy as it funds warlords. It is not a question of laying of on opium eradication and defeating the Taliban and thus strengthening the regime in Kabul. If we don't curb opium production we are going to trade narco-terrorism for islamo-terrorism. That is what led to the rise of the Taliban in the first place.

This was, and is, all very predictable and why George Bush and his neocon buddies in the Pentagon and PNAC (and apparently you Ilya--oops sorry, last thing I need is another email from a blogging law professor chastising me for being mean to them) are such idiots. Because the president and the pentagon decided to oust the Taliban with minimal U.S. and coalition troops (for reasons known only to them) and instead relied heavily on the Northern Alliance (a ragtag alliance of warlords and drug kingpings), Hamad Karzai was never able to exert much control beyond Kabul. Now the warlords, flush with opium money, are once again funding private armies and control their own private fiefdoms effectively outside the control of the central government in Kabul.

In the same sad cycle of violence that occurred after the Soviets left, the country will descend into violence as the warlords fight for territory while the government in Kabul is unable to exert any control. All because we went in with too few troops and left too early to invade Iraq, which posed no threat to us.
6.18.2006 12:11pm
Jason Bontrager (mail) (www):
From what I've read/heard in re the War on Some Drugs, the preferred tactic is to go after suppliers (ala Afghanistan). This does absolutely nothing to curb demand, and as long as there is a demand there will be a supply. Hence, if the Feds are serious about the WoSD, they should change tactics. Ignore the foreign suppliers and start throwing Johnny B. Goode and Sally Cheerleader in jail for drug use.

Of course Johnny and Sally's parents, important political contributors that they are, probably wouldn't like that.
6.18.2006 12:24pm
Questioner:
jvarisco: "The fact is that the War on Drugs is itself an important policy goal (such as supporting Israel) and unless one does not share that goal (the current administration does) abandoning it would not make sense."

This argument assumes that "important policy goal[s]" never conflict, when in fact they frequently do. So choices have to be made. That's the very point of Professor Somin's post.

However, Somin's argument neglects the fact that the War on Drugs has supply as well as demand effects. Abroad, the US government eradicates Afghan poppy crops to limit supply. But at home, draconian laws are used to limit demand. As economists virtually universally acknowledge, the result is to dramatically raise prices. So if the US really ended its War on Drugs, either the opium trade would no longer account for one-third of the Afghan GDP or the Afghan GDP would take a precipitous drop. Profit-maximizing Afghan drug lords want the War on Drugs to end about as much as Al Capone wanted Prohibition to end.

You also assume Afghanistan is the absolute best place in the world to produce opium poppies. I doubt that. If the war on drugs ended, competition among producers, most outside of Afghanistan, would lower the world price of opium.

So Somin's argument looks at a cost of the War on Drugs to Afghanisan but ignores the benefits of the War to the same group.

I personally think the link between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, much like all wars, is that they both restrict and retard the liberties of the American people by expanding (in ways previous generations would have found impossible to believe) the power and authority of the government. Imagine for a moment explaining to Americans in 1906 that their government 100 years later would be able to routinely search individuals as they moved (in those new-fangled planes) from place to place, and that they could put you in prison for life if you sold what was then able to be purchased through the Sears Robuck catalog. (And, in part to pay for these efforts, that their government would routinely take one-third or more of their income.... You would have been thought mad!)
6.18.2006 12:34pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
The obvious solution is to pay the Afgan farmers for not growing wheat, adding them to the US farm subsidy program.
6.18.2006 12:41pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I personally think the link between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, much like all wars, is that they both restrict and retard the liberties of the American people by expanding (in ways previous generations would have found impossible to believe) the power and authority of the government.

So you really think the world would be a better place if no one was searched and baggage was not screened prior to boarding aircraft? That everyone could get on board packing an AK-47 or suicide bomb belt if they wanted to, because to stop them would be an affront to personal liberty.

Of course, if it is perfectly legal to shoot heroin during the flight, the gun battles in the aisles aren't going to bother you much. You will be, as Pink Floyd put it, "comfortably numb".
6.18.2006 12:44pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Profit-maximizing Afghan drug lords want the War on Drugs to end about as much as Al Capone wanted Prohibition to end.

Prohibition merely offered an opportunity to provide more profits to organized crime, it neither created it nor did the end of Prohibition eliminate it. Organized crime is a symptom of ineffective and weak government, not caused by lack of freedom as so many libertarians would have us believe.

When people don't trust the government to protect them or the government refuses to provide services or is corrupt or weak, that is when organized crime moves in. The history of the Mafia in this country is a case in point. Conventional law enforcement just wasn't interested in providing law enforcement services to immigrant communities, so the Mafia did. Of course if you didn't pay for the services they provided, then they guaranteed you would be a victim of crime. Expansion into other criminal enterprises like gambling, prositution, and bootlegging came later.
6.18.2006 12:56pm
Enoch:
Because the president and the pentagon decided to oust the Taliban with minimal U.S. and coalition troops (for reasons known only to them) and instead relied heavily on the Northern Alliance (a ragtag alliance of warlords and drug kingpings), Hamad Karzai was never able to exert much control beyond Kabul.

Yeah, we should have sent 120,000 troops, like the Soviets did. With their help, Soviet puppet Babrak Karmal exerted total control of the countryside.

One even wonders if it would be possible to send "enough" troops to create "order" in Afghanistan. How would they get there? How would they be sustained? I'm sure Pakistan and Iran would have loooooved to let us move a few hundred thousand troops (if that would be "enough") overland from their ports to Afghanistan.
6.18.2006 1:29pm
Questioner:
Me: Profit-maximizing Afghan drug lords want the War on Drugs to end about as much as Al Capone wanted Prohibition to end.

Freder: Prohibition merely offered an opportunity to provide more profits to organized crime, it neither created it nor did the end of Prohibition eliminate it. Organized crime is a symptom of ineffective and weak government, not caused by lack of freedom as so many libertarians would have us believe.

This is an example of Freder not reading terribly well. Who said Prohibition caused organized crime? I merely implied by the above statement that organized crime profited from the effects of Prohibition, and therefore "the head" of organized crime wouldn't want it to end.

As to Freder's fantasy that organized crime is "a symptom of ineffective and weak government," it would follow both that organized crime was rampant in ante-bellum America, when people, the historians tell us, could live their entire lives without running into a federal government official save the postman, and also that it is virtually non-existent in places like Cuba, North Korea, and, historically, the Soviet Union. This, Freder, is highly naive. Organized crime occurs when there are black markets and underground economies. That virtually by definition requires governments powerful enough to prohibit capitalist acts between consenting adults. There was a time our government wasn't that powerful. It was a long, long time ago.
6.18.2006 1:57pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder Frederson: "Opium production in Afghanistan is corrosive of democracy as it funds warlords. It is not a question of laying of on opium eradication and defeating the Taliban and thus strengthening the regime in Kabul. If we don't curb opium production we are going to trade narco-terrorism for islamo-terrorism. That is what led to the rise of the Taliban in the first place."

Why is opium any more "corrosive of democracy" or linked to terrorism than any other profitable crop? I can't think of a single reason...except, perhaps, that it's illegal in much of the world.
6.18.2006 2:03pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Opium production in Afghanistan is corrosive of democracy as it funds warlords.

Prohibition merely offered an opportunity to provide more profits to organized crime, it neither created it nor did the end of Prohibition eliminate it.

Then wouldn't legalizing it fund said warlords less? You can't even be internally consistent and you're accusing other people of being stupid?

Moreover, your criticism about Capone's wanting prohibition to end and drug lords wanting the drug war to end is non-responsive. If, as you yourself state, repeal lowers profitability, then a remotely rational person would want the prohibition to continue and thus maximize profitability. It's just another form of rent-seeking.

So, what kind of caricature are you trying to be?
6.18.2006 2:03pm
JGR (mail):
It isn't true that the Taliban crackdown on opium was largely ceremonial. As the Ricks article referenced by Somin states:
"By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 percent of the worlds opium. In 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, which led to a 96 percent reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in last years growing season, according to UN and US drug agencies."
Somin addresses this in his update, where he states that the Taliban has learned from its mistake and we should learn from ours. This is a valid point. As someone who believes that ending the War on Drugs is one of the best things America could do for a very large number of reasons, I was looking at the issue in perhaps simplistic terms of debating points - One talking head on TV saying that our war against opium was viewed by
Afghanis as American Imperialism, with the other talking head noting that the Taliban itself outlawed opium. If the Taliban has now changed their position, that obviously puts things in a different light.
The connection between the War on Drugs and terrorism is implicitly noted by the government in their TV ads that have a drug user cheerfully stating "I helped blow up people" (or however they word it). I would like to see libertarian groups make the ads with people cheerfully stating they helped blow up buildings and then say "I support the criminalization of drugs!!" No prohibition, no black market.
Terrorists are only one of numerous shady groups being effectively subsidized by the government creation of the black market. Organized crime is another, and the Russian mob is almost as frightening as Islamofascist groups, particularly since organized crime and terrorism are increasingly becoming entwined.
6.18.2006 2:12pm
Questioner:
Freder asks me (but, perhaps, it was merely a rhetorical question): "So you really think the world would be a better place if no one was searched and baggage was not screened prior to boarding aircraft? That everyone could get on board packing an AK-47 or suicide bomb belt if they wanted to, because to stop them would be an affront to personal liberty."

Well, some people have never met a violation of civil liberties they didn't like. Perhaps Freder is one such person. He doesn't mind our current level of search, it seems. If tomorrow the head of Homeland Security and our President announce that strip searching will be implemented to make us even safer, will he object then? If random searching of our houses is next (why wait until we get to the airport?), will he continue to remain silent? Many of us never understood how the German people--the people of Beethovan and Gerte--would allow the rise of Hitler. I understand it. It's because he raised their fears, and then claimed to protect them. In this regard, most Americans, like Freder, are good Germans.

But perhaps Freder is not interested in seeing which of us can manage more hyperbole, his suggesting that those objecting to massive violations of 4th amendment rights must want to shoot up heroin as terrorists take over their planes or my noting how easily he and others who think like him allow the rise of another Hitler. Perhaps instead he would like to talk about the efficiency, honesty, and dependability of the government bureaucrats who search our luggage. The millions of dollars of theft of valuables that occur now that we can no longer lock up our belongings, the ability of college students who forewarn the government of their intent still being able to smuggle weapons past the scanners, the peer-reviewed studies showing no evidence that we are any safer despite spending billions of dollars and eviscerating personal liberties. For the shame of it is--and Americans should be ashamed of this--we have given up liberty for the illusion of safety. But Freder no doubt thinks it a good trade.
6.18.2006 2:18pm
Questioner:
Goethe...[hit the send button before spell checking]
6.18.2006 2:20pm
kdonovan:
Of course if Jason's "Johnny B. Goode and Sally Cheerleader" were strung out on legal heroin their parents would exactly be happy about it either. I think that given the allure but destructive nature of many drugs that it is inevitable that any policy along the permissive to prohibition continuum will produce casualties. Ideology aside, a desirable policy would seek to minimize the suffering – though presumably libertarian leaning voters would prefer to err on the permissive side while communitarian or traditional conservatives might choose to err on the prohibitionist side. Of course who suffers is of great concern to voters – I assume they will usually choose to have some other group bear the inevitable costs of any drug policy (even if f this increases the total cost) rather than their families or neighborhoods which may explain why current policy is to push the costs as much as possible onto foreigners or political marginalized groups like the underclass. Whatever else the current drug policy does I suspect that most middle class voters feel that it reduces the costs in their communities and families as compared to total legalization – what these voters most want out of a drug policy is for their own children not to have easy access to drugs. Like school choice, drug policy is unlikely to change if suburban voters think the current arrangement serves them better than the alternative.
6.18.2006 2:23pm
Rush (mail):
A substantial portion of the Opium grown in Afghanistan is sold in Iran, which I think is a good thing. Its a thorn in the Ayatollahs panties, as well as continuing the indoctrination of Iranian kids into American values, another good thing. Iranian heroin addicts won't be flying airplanes into buildings, or working on hydrogen bombs, they'll be trading bootleg Nirvanna and Pink Floyd albums. The dedication of these Iranian junkies is incredible when you consider the penalties they face.
6.18.2006 2:30pm
JGR (mail):
As a follow-up to my last post, a good source of information on the web about terrorism, organized crime, and the drug war is WindsofChange.net - they have archives by subject that are user-friendly. Concerning the increasing inter-relationship between terrorism and organized crime, see their widely-discussed article 'Terror, Inc.'
http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/002430.php

"Terrorist groups are currently interacting with transnational organized crime syndicates, especially narcotics cartels... In return, these terrorist groups receive enormous amounts of money, more so than in “traditional” fund-raising operations such as kidnapping and bank robbery—operations that are far riskier than supporting narcotics trafficking. Furthermore, this interaction offers smuggling routes long established and tested by crime syndicates for drug and arms running, potentially providing terrorists with logistical infrastructure to clandestinely move people, arms and materiel.

Taken to its logical end, there might be a natural partnership between some terrorist groups and transnational organized crime syndicates. Organized crime syndicates frequently have access to and influence with political leaders, making such syndicates beneficial to terrorist groups that would seek to influence and intimidate, rather than destroy, a government. In return, organized crime syndicates can exploit terrorist campaigns, for the power vacuum present in regional instability, as a paramilitary wing of the syndicate, or to further coerce a weak government to "look the other way." As offshore banks and inner city laundromats were once notorious mob fronts, so may terrorist campaigns become operational fronts for organized crime.... Indeed, we may see the rise of superficial terrorist campaigns serving as “fronts” for regional organized crime syndicates, campaigns which do not truly seek a political objective save that of creating a climate of anarchy and fear in which it is impossible for local law enforcement to prosecute or even hinder organized crime operations."
6.18.2006 2:35pm
Cornellian (mail):
UPDATE: Yes, it is true, as some commenters argue, that the Taliban cracked down on opium production themselves when they were in power. But as the Ricks article indicates, today they are willing to subordinate the goal of eradicating poppy to the more important objective of winning the war.


Well so much for that strict, divinely mandated, unchanging moral code. Apparently even hard core theocrats are not above a little pragmatism when it gets them something they want.
6.18.2006 2:37pm
Malvolio:
So you really think the world would be a better place if no one was searched and baggage was not screened prior to boarding aircraft? That everyone could get on board packing an AK-47 or suicide bomb belt if they wanted to, because to stop them would be an affront to personal liberty.
The world would be the same place. Everyone, or at least anyone, can in fact get on board commercial aircraft packing an AK-47 or suicide bomb belt -- not because searches are forbidden, but because searches are ineffective. Field tests using simulated explosives and firearms are routinely 60% - 70% successful.

But say we did live in a parallel universe where TSA focussed on suicide bombers and not grandmothers with nail clippers and veterans with Medals of Honor. Ask yourself: what would have happened on September 11th if it were policy that any passenger who carried a handgun onto a flight received a complimentary headset? 19 well-perforated hijackers would be my guess.

Forget about "morality" and "liberty" and all the rest; freedom works and government doesn't.
6.18.2006 2:44pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Organized crime occurs when there are black markets and underground economies. That virtually by definition requires governments powerful enough to prohibit capitalist acts between consenting adults.

Alternatively, organized crime may thrive on the existence of groupt too marginal (e.g., immigrants-- legal or illegal) or weak and remote from government protection (think laborers, or restaurant owners and other small entrepreneurs) to fight extortion.

Perhaps you have a theory on how members of certain labor unions, or owners of non-chain restaurants, or small general contractors, are part of an underground economy, but i doubt it. The problem with drug dealers is they cant run to the police. The problem with union members and owners of pizza parlors is that the police won't help them.
6.18.2006 3:17pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Rush says,

Iranian heroin addicts won't be flying airplanes into buildings, or working on hydrogen bombs, they'll be trading bootleg Nirvanna and Pink Floyd albums. The dedication of these Iranian junkies is incredible when you consider the penalties they face.

The British felt the same about the Chinese-- that widespread use of opiates in China served their purposes. They fought wars to ensure that the Chinese man in the street had ready access to opium. The Chinese are still put out by this.
6.18.2006 3:25pm
TJIT (mail):
Feder said,

"This was, and is, all very predictable and why George Bush and his neocon buddies in the Pentagon and PNAC (and apparently you Ilya--oops sorry, last thing I need is another email from a blogging law professor chastising me for being mean to them) are such idiots."

I know PNAC, and neocon, and George Bush act as powerful conversationl totems to some people but the topic being discussed is the impact of US drug policy on the Afghan political situation. With regard to that matter the democrats support the war on drugs just as ardently as the republicans do. There is zero difference between the two parties on this issue.

Furthermore, drugs are obtainable within prisons in the US. If drugs can't be controlled in that environment the idea that more troops on the ground would prevent opium production in geographically complex, wide open, Afghanistan is laughable.
6.18.2006 3:32pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Ask yourself: what would have happened on September 11th if it were policy that any passenger who carried a handgun onto a flight received a complimentary headset? 19 well-perforated hijackers would be my guess.

Considering it is a really bad idea to discharge a firearm in the pressurized confines of a commercial airline, I kind of like the idea that no passengers are allowed to have them and only highly trained professionals are permitted to carry firearms on planes.

But back to the issue that legalizing drugs will somehow make the people in Afghanistan stop growing opium and the Warlords suddenly starved for cash. Even if such a libertarian Nirvana were to occur in the United States, the trade in illicit drugs is of course an international problem, and although our appetite for illegal drugs is voracious, the legalization of the American market would probably have a minimal effect on the worldwide market for illicit drugs. And I doubt that much of rest of the world is so libertarian minded, especially as someone pointed out, it may be in many country's interest to keep drug prices high and illegal as their governments are corrupted by the very illicit drug trade they publicly decry.

As to Freder's fantasy that organized crime is "a symptom of ineffective and weak government," it would follow both that organized crime was rampant in ante-bellum America, when people, the historians tell us, could live their entire lives without running into a federal government official save the postman, and also that it is virtually non-existent in places like Cuba, North Korea, and, historically, the Soviet Union.

Nice use of selective quotes to misrepresent my point. I also pointed out that organized crime develops where government is ineffective or corrupt.

It is odd that you use ante-bellum America as an example of weak government. It was a government that forcibly evicted the native population the eastern United States to territories west of Missouri. The Southern States held 1/3 of their population in a state of chattel slavery, in a society that had practically become a recreation of feudalism. And as for organized crime, it may not have been very well organized, but in the large cities of the northeast, gang wars between recent immigrants, sometimes even involving artillery, were a common occurence. On the western frontier, random acts of genocide, lynchings of religious minorities (e.g., Joseph Smith), and general lawlessness were rampant.
6.18.2006 3:38pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
"Ask yourself: what would have happened on September 11th if it were policy that any passenger who carried a handgun onto a flight received a complimentary headset? 19 well-perforated hijackers would be my guess. "

Probably also a well-perforated cabin, not to mention well-perforated passengers, and likely a well-perforated fuel tank or two. There are very good reasons firearms are not allowed on airplanes. Anyone who thinks that the "principles of freedom" and civil liberty requires that people be subjected to routine loss of cabin pressure at 30,000 feet needs to re-examine their priorities.

The astonishing argument that airplane safety would be the same without safety checks or prohibited carry-on items completely ignores the fact that safety checks and a prohibited items list were in force long before terrorism became a concern.
6.18.2006 3:38pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Afghanistan is a poor country with little to sell the outside world. Countries like Afghanistan-- and Burma (Myanmar), and Bolivia, are going to sell drugs because its a cash crop and the fact that they are illegal gives them a comparative advantage in their production. The laws of economics are hard to override even by military control of a country.

Further, all the interdiction efforts in the world aren't going to do a thing as long as we have so many drug users in America. It will just raise the price somewhat, which means more profits for drug dealers and more crime to support drug habits.

The entire policy is stupid, doing tangible harm to some of the poorest countries in the world and making them hate the US, all so that we can make a purely symbolic point about how "bad" drugs are in the wealthiest country in the world. Then we wonder why they hate us.
6.18.2006 3:45pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I know PNAC, and neocon, and George Bush act as powerful conversationl totems to some people but the topic being discussed is the impact of US drug policy on the Afghan political situation.

No, the solution offered by Ilya is forget about trying to stop opium production in Afghanistan. This is a disasterous policy. The production of opium in Afghanistan is what funds the warlords and the Taliban. If it does not stop, the democratic government in Kabul is doomed and Afghanistan will descend back into civil war and chaos. Maybe the Taliban will win the next round, maybe they won't. But to pretend that we should just let the poppies grow and not worry about it is just stupid and dangerous.

My point was we should have known this would happen four and a half years ago. Anyone with half a brain knew this and plenty of people warned that if we didn't go in with enough troops and secured the countryside and got rid of the warlords involved in opium production we were headed for a heap of trouble down the road. We did just the opposite. We went in with minimal U.S. forces, armed people we knew were involved in drug trafficking before the Taliban took over, and now we are disappointed that they have returned to their old ways. But now they have been re-armed by us.

To say that, "oh if drugs were legal all over the world, organized crime wouldn't exist", is just as silly and not a solution--it is a libertarian pipe dream. Ain't gonna happen, so it's not even worth discussing.
6.18.2006 3:50pm
Chukuang:
Everyone, or at least anyone, can in fact get on board commercial aircraft packing an AK-47 or suicide bomb belt -- not because searches are forbidden, but because searches are ineffective.

Then I'd be one sad-ass terrorist, because I can't seem to get through the metal detectors with change in my pocket. I'm sure that it's still possible for people to bring weapons on board if they are quite clever about it, but I think you are greatly over-estimating how easy it would be to bring an AK-47 on a flight originating in a major US airport.
6.18.2006 3:56pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder--

What's to stop Karzai or other friendlies from being the beneficiaries of opium production? As far as I know, it's our policy of eradication, which drives the farmers into enemy camps.

You've yet to explain why opium's different from any other lucrative crop--except that the U.S. is foisting its prohibition upon Afghanistan.
6.18.2006 4:09pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
You've yet to explain why opium's different from any other lucrative crop--except that the U.S. is foisting its prohibition upon Afghanistan.

The legal production of opium (for legal pharmaceuticals) is a miniscule proportion of the whole and is strictly controlled. For Karzai to become involved in opium production means that he becomes an international criminal. I am sure George Bush wants his legacy to be one of becoming the sponsor of the first country that is openly a member of the international illicit heroin cartel.

Not to mention that Muslims are generally against the use of illicit drugs and alcohol and the penalties for such use in Islamic countries can be quite severe.

Sometimes you libertarians really do need to think about how people in the real world think about things.
6.18.2006 4:20pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder--

For Karzai to become involved in opium production means that he becomes an international criminal. I am sure George Bush wants his legacy to be one of becoming the sponsor of the first country that is openly a member of the international illicit heroin cartel.

The whole point of Prof. Somin's post was to argue that the Bush Administration should reconsider its current policy, so this is pretty irrelevant.

Not to mention that Muslims are generally against the use of illicit drugs and alcohol and the penalties for such use in Islamic countries can be quite severe.

Again, what's the relevance? The opium is being sold already. The question is simply, who will the farmers go to for protection?
6.18.2006 4:35pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
And by the way, when I said that Karzai could be a "beneficiary," I meant indirectly, in the same sense that governments indirectly benefit from any legal economic activity.
6.18.2006 4:40pm
JGR (mail):
"But back to the issue that legalizing drugs will somehow make the people in Afghanistan stop growing opium and the Warlords suddenly starved for cash. Even if such a libertarian Nirvana were to occur in the United States, the trade in illicit drugs is of course an international problem, and although our appetite for illegal drugs is voracious, the legalization of the American market would probably have a minimal effect on the worldwide market for illicit drugs. And I doubt that much of rest of the world is so libertarian minded, especially as someone pointed out, it may be in many country's interest to keep drug prices high and illegal as their governments are corrupted by the very illicit drug trade they publicly decry."


Everything about this paragraph is wrong. First, illegal drug users in the wealthy USA buy about half of the illegal drugs sold on the international black market, so legalizing drugs would automatically cut the market in half - this is "a minimal effect"?
Second, and perhaps even more important, the only reason that most other industrial nations haven't liberalized their drug laws is because of strong-arm pressure from the US government. This isn't some sort of conspiracy theory - Both Canada and Mexico have only recently tried to move towards legalization and were forced to abandon their attempts because of strong-arm tactics by the US. Brian Doherty, senior editor of Reason magazine, had an article on this only last month in the LA Times:



European nations have tried for decades to move away from prohibition and were prevented by strong-arm tactics by the US government. They finally just went ahead and did it anyway. Pot is now legal in many European countries, and nations like Britain have moved to government prescriptions for many hard drugs for addicts, which cuts out the black market element.

"To say that, "oh if drugs were legal all over the world, organized crime wouldn't exist", is just as silly and not a solution--it is a libertarian pipe dream."

I have never heard or read a single person say that legalizing drugs would ELIMINATE all organized crime. It would drastically reduce its income, since it is currently the primary source of its income. It is a matter of historical record that the profits of organized crime in America increased HUNDREDS OF PERCENT almost overnight because of prohibition.
You are engaging in one of the primary logical fallacies used in debate today, the all-or-nothing fallacy. It is like saying, "putting armed robbers in jail isn't going to eliminate criminals"; "having fire extinguishers in buildings aren't going to eliminate fires"
The best response to this sort of thing is "No shit."
6.18.2006 4:48pm
JGR (mail):
For some reason, my link to the LA times article didn't print. You can still find the article on the homepage of Reason magazine, about halfway down.
6.18.2006 4:52pm
eeyn524:

it is a really bad idea to discharge a firearm in the pressurized confines of a commercial airline,


people be subjected to routine loss of cabin pressure at 30,000 feet needs to re-examine their priorities.


Puncturing the fuselage isn't desirable, but there have been cases where large sections of the roof came off and the passengers who weren't sucked out survived. It would take quite some time to lose the cabin air through a bullet size hole, and all it would take to stop it is someone stuffing a napkin in.

The part about puncturing passengers is more serious, but that applies to buses, cars, schools, and pretty much anywhere there are people.

And anyway, what would be "routine" about it? I was around before there was aircraft security and believe it or not, despite dozens of flights (including one through Bagdad), I wasn't shot even once.
6.18.2006 4:54pm
Justin (mail):
A very large portion of our federal penetentiaries (the busiest, by far, in the world, amongst all states both free and repressive), are filled by Johnnie B. Goode and Sally Cheerleader - who are, I should also point out, disproportionately minorities.

This is also why an even larger portion of America, and a serious proportion of minorities, are under some form of judicial sanction - leading (and perhaps caused by the desire) to mass disenfranchisement of minorities as well as serious problems with poor people in America competing for human capital and jobs.
6.18.2006 5:09pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Some points.

First of all something like 90% or more of the opium in Afghanistan is sent to Europe or Asia. Almost none of this opium reaches the US. Unlike other commodities the cost of transportation for drugs overwhelm the costs of production so even supposing legalization in the US caused all the addicts here to switch to fentanyl or to synthetic opiates this would likely have minimal effect on demand for the Afghan product in Europe. Much more likely, however, is that diversion of the heroin in/entering the US to Europe would cut down the cost of poppies greatly reducing the reward for growing it in Afghanistan.

However, this entire discussion is all besides the point. Worries about whether growing poppies help fund terrorists or warlords are entirely irrelevant. There is no fundamental aspect of the poppy which makes it support warlords or terrorists. It's connection with crime and terrorism is a direct result of our efforts to wipe out poppy production. If we weren't trying to stop the Afghans from growing poppies it would be no different than any other valuable crop. I mean we are actively trying to encourage them to grow rare fruit and other expensive produce because they bring in a great deal of profit in a legal fashion.

The reason growing opium (and making drugs in general) tends to support criminal and terrorist activity is simply that it is a lucrative illegal venture. The people who grow poppies need protection just like other citizens but can't turn to the government for help to stop someone from stealing their crop or invading their field. Warlords, terrorists and drug cartels step in partially to fill this void. Additionally, as the drugs can't be sold openly it creates an opportunity for organizations groups to make massive amounts of money smuggling the drugs.

Thus if we stopped trying to suppress poppy growth in Afghanistan and encouraged the Afghani government to legalize the practice we would not only avoid the problems mentioned in the initial article but also cut the link between warlords, terrorism and poppies so we wouldn't need to worry about a counterbalancing effect. Of course the effect of this would be to substantially decrease the price and increase the amount of heroin available in the first world. You might reasonably believe this is a price worth paying but you can't deny that the cost of the war on drugs is not only gigantic in monetary terms but also in terms of security and foreign policy.

Also it isn't clear if reducing the price of drugs is really a bad thing. Economic studies have indicated that increasing the costs of drugs actually increases the total amount of money spend on drugs (posner and becker had this up on their blog awhile ago). Thus as drugs cost less we use less of our national resources to pay for drugs. Additionally, for drugs like heroin much of the harm comes from the addicts difficulty in purchasing the drug. The most effective treatments for heroin addiction just amount to giving the addict a regular supply of opiates, e.g., methadone. In Switzerland they even maintain the addicts on heroin which seems to work just as well. It is when the addict is jonesing for more of the drug and desperate for cash that the most harm to society is realized. As heroin is actually pretty cheap when you start ($10 from the guy on the street will keep you high for 8 or more hours) a decrease in price is unlikely to seduce more people into using the drug but it will decrease the harm for those who use it.
6.18.2006 6:16pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Again, what's the relevance? The opium is being sold already. The question is simply, who will the farmers go to for protection?

In case you hadn't noticed, Afghanistan is an Islamic country. The U.S. is not "foisting" opium eradication on the Karzai government. Karzai realizes he doesn't have a chance of surviving if he doesn't gain control over the warlords and the only way to do that is to stop their source of income, opium production.

To pretend that we, or democracy, can win in Afghanistan without addressing the opium problem is fantastical, irrational, and downright dishonest.
6.18.2006 6:18pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The most effective treatments for heroin addiction just amount to giving the addict a regular supply of opiates, e.g., methadone. In Switzerland they even maintain the addicts on heroin which seems to work just as well. It is when the addict is jonesing for more of the drug and desperate for cash that the most harm to society is realized. As heroin is actually pretty cheap when you start ($10 from the guy on the street will keep you high for 8 or more hours) a decrease in price is unlikely to seduce more people into using the drug but it will decrease the harm for those who use it.

You know its wonderful that all you libertarians point to Europe to show how wonderfully they have handled their problems with drug addiction. Of course in this country, you would be the first to object to anything that smacked of "socialized medicine" or government programs to care for addicts. The market would be the mechanism for solving drug addiction, and the law of supply and demand the best way for setting the market price, not some government program to take care of addicts. And for the Randians among you, you would be perfectly happy letting people choose to starve to death, neglect their children, or sell themselves rather than depend on charity to support their drug habits.

So don't trot out Europe's more relaxed and socially proactive response to drug addiction unless you are also willing to support the types of extensive government medical and social programs that are available to even the most destitute in society. This country's attitude towards drug addicition is appalling, but while you may want to remove the punitive aspects, I doubt you are willing to address the social costs in a comprehensive manner.
6.18.2006 6:30pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Well I am willing to support large subsidized government programs. I'm in favor of some type of national health coverage, though seeing some of the problems with the English system I think care must be taken with the details. In fact, while I do have strong libertarian impulses (justified consequentially) on social issues (sex, porn, drugs, prostitution etc..) I am all for a tax rate that asymptotically approaches 1. So no, I am not a libertarian. I'm a full on utilitarian who believes the government should be researching happy drugs to raise everyone's base level of happiness and once a safe, effective chemical has been found passing it out freely to the population (the problem in Brave New World was that the drug didn't really make the guy happy but just clouded his mind and left him filled with existential angst). True, I often criticize liberal policies but this is just because I think they get the utility calculus wrong, e.g., failing to consider the harm labour unions do to the even poorer non-unionized workers or people in the third world.

However, this is totally irrelevant to the point I was making. I was not arguing for a European style treatment program (though I do favor it). Rather I was just pointing out that much of the harm from opiates comes from the inconsistent supply rather than an essential property of the drug itself. The lesson from Europe is simply that providing an addict with more consistent access to opiates can actually improve his life and decrease the social harm. Thus reducing the price of opiates may not be as bad as most people would guess as it would give the addicts more consistent access to H without having to resort to theft or other anti-social behaviors. Certainly purchasing H on the street is not comparable to having a measured amount dispensed by medical practitioners but it is wrong to assume the effect of lower H prices is more harm.

More broadly though the fact that Europe dispenses drugs through its socialized medical program is totally irrelevant. The lesson that maintenance works very well and that a puritanical insistence that the only valid treatment breaks the dependence is applicable no matter who is providing the treatment. While I would certainly like the government to fund more methadone maintenance clinics in the US and offer quality treatment programs instead of prison for offenders merely repealing the law/rule which prevents doctors from prescribing opiates for addiction maintenance would go a long way to easing the harm of addiction.
6.18.2006 7:26pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Yeah Yeah the bullet through the hull thing is a myth, I saw it on "Mythbusters"on the discovery channel. Legalizing alcohol has worked pretty well, the only real moonshining going on is more for the tradition than anything else. Even with the confiscatory tax rate on alcohol its the cheapest buzz around, without the hassles of cops or drug dealers.
6.18.2006 7:29pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Feder said,


Karzai realizes he doesn't have a chance of surviving if he doesn't gain control over the warlords and the only way to do that is to stop their source of income, opium production.


Yes, but there is more than one way to do this. One could deny the warlords the money either by eradicating the opium which many years have taught us is very hard OR one could eliminate the warlords cut by effectively legalizing the practice so that opium farmers could recieve protection from the government like everyone else and sell their product on the market.

Frankly, I don't know enough about islamic countries to say whether they view opium as much worse than alcohol which they often allow in a restricted fashion. Additionally there is a big difference between making it illegal for people to use opium and making it illegal for people to produce it.

Besides, Afganistan doesn't need to legalize opium for this other strategy to work. Rather, they just need to make it clear that they aren't going to do anything about the opium trade so there is no need for the farmers not to turn to the government for protection and no need for a criminal organization to move the stuff around the country. They can still arrest people they catch doing H in Kaboul.

Countries make pragmatic comprimises with their moral/religious traditions all the time. For a long time the taliban themselves did exactly what I am suggesting with opium. If the religious government can make such a comprimise what prevents Karzai?
6.18.2006 7:35pm
Questioner:
More reading comprehension problems for Freder:

I indicate that Freder's claim that organized crime prospers when central governments are weak implies that organized crime should have been big in ante-bellum America. Freder responds to the effect that there were many problems in ante-bellum America (like, Duh...), and manages to imply--did you catch it--that I must be some sort of racist to say anything favorable about ante-bellum America. But one must neither condone nor sanction that historical period to simply note it was a period of very limited federal governmental power and NOT a period known for organized crime.

It would be nice if Freder could at least occasionally stay on point and respond substantively.
6.18.2006 8:28pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder:

In case you hadn't noticed, Afghanistan is an Islamic country. The U.S. is not "foisting" opium eradication on the Karzai government. Karzai realizes he doesn't have a chance of surviving if he doesn't gain control over the warlords and the only way to do that is to stop their source of income, opium production.

I'm no expert on Islam, but evidently neither are you. I can't find any evidence that all Muslims think opium is illicit. More importantly, we all acknowledge that Afghanistan has historically been a major opium producer. So as far as I can tell, you're just speculating as to what the Karzai government would do.

But even if you're right, frankly, he's under the thumb of the U.S. Even if he wouldn't voluntarily overlook opium production, the U.S. could compel him to do so. And even if the U.S. didn't, the point is that the U.S. military is actively engaged in opium eradication. At the very least, the U.S. could unilaterally discontinue that mission. How many troops does Karzai have to take on opium farmers of his own initiative? Obviously, the farmers wouldn't have as great a need for protection by our enemies.

The alternative is the current policy: alienate Afghanis, drive them into the arms of our enemies, and for what? The effort to eradicate opium production is unsuccessful and distracts us from far more important war aims.
6.18.2006 8:54pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder--

One last question--why is Karzai less able to turn opium production to his advantage than the warlords?
6.18.2006 8:58pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder--

Ha, I hate not being able to edit.

What I mean with respect to opium and Islam is this: Whatever the religious authorities may say (and I'd like to know what that is), apparently the farmers, warlords, and even the Taliban can at least tolerate opium. These are all Muslims, presumably. Are you arguing that only the Karzai government is incapable of the same tolerance? Why?
6.18.2006 9:18pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
that I must be some sort of racist to say anything favorable about ante-bellum America. But one must neither condone nor sanction that historical period to simply note it was a period of very limited federal governmental power and NOT a period known for organized crime.

Now you must be overly sensitive if you think that I was implying that you were racist when you were singing the praises of ante-bellum America. I was merely pointing out that it was not the libertarian utopia you seem to think it was and that there are worse things than a powerful federal government (like being lynched in Navoo, Illinois because you invented a bizarre new religion that includes plural marriage and a belief that the lost tribe of Israel somehow ended up in the New World).

Likewise, it may be wonderful to imagine a world where heroin is sold openly and R.J. Reynolds can sell it just like Marlboro (which of course "The Man" already regulates too much anyway) and executives of all the heroin manufacturers can sit in front of congress and swear under oath that heroin isn't addictive and nobody has ever died from an overdose, but come on, lets face reality here. Heroin, and opium derivatives are among the most addictive and destructive drugs ever discovered by man. It is reasonable for governments to strictly control access to them because they will destroy people's lives. Afghanistan can grow all the opium it wants, but if it wants to sell that opium on the world market, it is going to associate itself with some of the worst criminals in the world. Democracies fail when they become criminal enterprises. If Afghanistan legitimizes the production of opium they necessarily become a state dependent on the furtherance of a criminal enterprise and no longer can claim to be a functioning democracy.

Maybe one day, when libertarians rule the world and there is a perfect market, drugs will flow freely, nobody will be an addict, nobody will take advantage of anybody else, everybody will have a pony, and all the monkeys flying out of my ass will combine in a heavenly chorus. Until that day I will live in the real world and realize that as long as drug money is flowing into Afghanistan our efforts at democratization are doomed.
6.18.2006 10:17pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Afghanistan can grow all the opium it wants, but if it wants to sell that opium on the world market, it is going to associate itself with some of the worst criminals in the world. Democracies fail when they become criminal enterprises. If Afghanistan legitimizes the production of opium they necessarily become a state dependent on the furtherance of a criminal enterprise and no longer can claim to be a functioning democracy.

I'm not sure what your logic is. Why does a country that concentrates in exporting a good that's illegal in most of the rest of the world necessarily fail as a democracy? (Obviously, it's far from ideal. But choosing an Afghanistan policy is all about finding the least bad option.)
6.18.2006 11:40pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
(Obviously, it's far from ideal. But choosing an Afghanistan policy is all about finding the least bad option.)

Granted, the least bad option would have been making the right decision with the initial invasion and not taking our eyes off the ball and invading Iraq. But I didn't vote for this idiot--twice. Now we are stuck with no good options, 130,000 troops tied down in Iraq and we are apparently fucked in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too. You have got us into this mess and you blame us (the left, the MSM and the Democrats) because we don't have a solution to get us out. Well, guess what, you screwed it up, and it is probably no good way to fix it. This isn't Harken Energy. This really matters. No mysterious friend of George's dad is going to swoop in and make it all better. It just goes to show you what happens when you elect a bunch of incompetent boobs who are completely incapable of running a country or a foreign policy.
6.19.2006 1:17am
Questioner:
Freder to me: Now you must be overly sensitive if you think that I was implying that you were racist when you were singing the praises of ante-bellum America

Freder, are you really that dense or simply malicious? I was using ante-bellum America as a counterexample to your rather absurd claim about organized crime. That requires NO normative judgment, praise or otherwise, about ante-bellum America. It's as if you said totalitarianism requires a society with no past experience in liberal values, and I replied that Hitler's Germany arose despite a flourishing of liberalism in nineteenth century Germany, and you took that as an example of praising Nazi Germany. You really should take one of those reading comprehension courses. I hear Kaplan's is quite good.
6.19.2006 1:54am
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Granted, the least bad option would have been making the right decision with the initial invasion and not taking our eyes off the ball and invading Iraq. But I didn't vote for this idiot--twice. Now we are stuck with no good options, 130,000 troops tied down in Iraq and we are apparently fucked in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too. You have got us into this mess and you blame us (the left, the MSM and the Democrats) because we don't have a solution to get us out.

Uh...what in the world are you talking about? Like you, I never voted for Bush and I opposed invading Iraq. Why would you assume otherwise? For heaven's sake, I'm the one who's criticizing a Bush administration policy here, whereas you're supporting it. You're very confused.

You also dropped the subject (opium eradication) entirely in order to go off on an anti-Bush tirade. I'm not sure if that's because you're trying to hide the fact that you have no argument or because you're totally consumed by hatred for Bush. Either way, I feel kind of sorry for you.
6.19.2006 2:20am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The Taliban cracked down on opium production as a price support mechanism. There was an over supply.
6.19.2006 3:18am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Freder Frederson says:

the government refuses to provide services or is corrupt or weak, that is when organized crime moves in.

So you are saying that the prohibition law weakened government and repeal strengthened it? I'd agree with that.

BTW the new head of the NIDA says addictin is 50% genetic and 50% environmental. i.e. drugs do not cause addiction. I agree:

Is Addiction Real?

It would be nice to have science based policies instead of basing them on superstition.
6.19.2006 3:30am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Freder,

Heroin used to be an over the counter medicine.

Ten year olds could buy it.

How did the republic survive?
6.19.2006 3:36am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Freder,

You live in a world of superstition.

To live in reality (at this time) you would have to have a theory of addiction that matches current science. You have no such thing.

And you are not alone. Most anti-prohibitionists do not get it either.
6.19.2006 3:42am
Enoch:
Granted, the least bad option would have been making the right decision with the initial invasion and not taking our eyes off the ball and invading Iraq.

If we did not have 130,000 troops in Iraq, we still wouldn't have sent many more troops to Afghanistan, and we would have been right not to do so.

Now we are stuck with no good options, 130,000 troops tied down in Iraq and we are apparently fucked in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too.

No amount of troops could unfuck Afghanistan. It's been tried, more than once, the track record isn't good.

You have got us into this mess and you blame us (the left, the MSM and the Democrats) because we don't have a solution to get us out.

As if history began in January 2001...

It just goes to show you what happens when you elect a bunch of incompetent boobs who are completely incapable of running a country or a foreign policy.

Yeah, if only we could go back to the Golden Age of Triumphs we had under Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright.
6.19.2006 8:58am
Freder Frederson (mail):
You also dropped the subject (opium eradication) entirely in order to go off on an anti-Bush tirade. I'm not sure if that's because you're trying to hide the fact that you have no argument or because you're totally consumed by hatred for Bush. Either way, I feel kind of sorry for you.

Sorry about the anti-Bush tirade. But it is kind to argue rationally with people who just won't deal with real world facts. And these are the real world facts:

1) Opium production in Afghanistan funds terrorists, whether they are islamic terrorists like the Taliban or just narco terrorists like the warlords.

2) If we don't stop opium production in Afghanistan, our hopes for a functioning central government that somewhat resembles a democracy is doomed.

3) By initially backing the warlords who produced much of the opium before the Taliban took over, the Bush administration has created the problem in Afghanistan.

It is just ridiculous to talk about legitimizing opium production in Afghanistan because there is simply no legitimate market for the product. Once Hamad Karzai (and you still haven't offered a good reason why the drug lords in Afghanistan would give up their crops to Karzai) had his tons of raw opium, who would he sell it to? The Mafia and other organized crime syndicates? A world where there is a open market for opium doesn't exist and will not anytime in the near future.
6.19.2006 10:07am
SeaDrive (mail):

Yeah Yeah the bullet through the hull thing is a myth, I saw it on "Mythbusters"on the discovery channel. Legalizing alcohol has worked pretty well, the only real moonshining going on is more for the tradition than anything else. Even with the confiscatory tax rate on alcohol its the cheapest buzz around, without the hassles of cops or drug dealers.


It's my understanding that alcoholism rose sharply (tripled?) at the end of prohibition.

It seems clear to me that we should try a demand-side approach to drug addiction. The supply-side approach has been a failure. How much cheaper would it be to offer free treatment to every addict than to try to seal our porous borders?
6.19.2006 10:37am
SeaDrive (mail):

Yeah Yeah the bullet through the hull thing is a myth, I saw it on "Mythbusters"on the discovery channel. Legalizing alcohol has worked pretty well, the only real moonshining going on is more for the tradition than anything else. Even with the confiscatory tax rate on alcohol its the cheapest buzz around, without the hassles of cops or drug dealers.


It's my understanding that alcoholism rose sharply (tripled?) at the end of prohibition.

It seems clear to me that we should try a demand-side approach to drug addiction. The supply-side approach has been a failure. How much cheaper would it be to offer free treatment to every addict than to try to seal our porous borders?
6.19.2006 10:37am
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Freder--

It is just ridiculous to talk about legitimizing opium production in Afghanistan because there is simply no legitimate market for the product. Once Hamad Karzai (and you still haven't offered a good reason why the drug lords in Afghanistan would give up their crops to Karzai) had his tons of raw opium, who would he sell it to? The Mafia and other organized crime syndicates? A world where there is a open market for opium doesn't exist and will not anytime in the near future.

As I clarified in a follow-up post, I didn't mean to say that the Karzai government could or should go into business with opium growers. But there is a range of options that falls between U.S. unilaterally stopping its eradication program; the U.S. allowing or pressuring the Karzai government to treat opium the way it treats wheat.

To put it simply, you seem to be arguing that 1)warlords dominate the opium trade, and 2)even if opium production were allowed by the U.S./Karzai, Afghanis would have to sell to criminals in other nations. But the current policy exacerbates problem #1, and you've yet to explain how #2 poses a problem to Afghani democracy.
6.19.2006 10:59am
Public_Defender (mail):
We don't need to end the drug war, but we need to fight it far more intelligently. People who question the destructive and addictive power of drugs haven't worked with my client base.

By fighting more intelligently, I mean stop wasting so much time, money and lives on marijuana (which tends to make people lazy, not dangerous) and instead concentrate on heroine, cocaine and meth. Treat users and low-level sellers (who are often just financing their own use) as medical, not legal, problems.

When the criminal justice system must get involved, the goal should be to get the offenders off of the drugs, not to punish. Some of the stupid restrictions on ex-users (like a ban on driving and student loans) make it harder for them to become self-sufficient, honest citizens. There is a movement to establish drug courts across the country to do pretty much what I have suggested in this paragraph.

I understand that defeating the Taliban is more important than a field of poppies, but that field of poppies can wreak enormous amounts of damage.
6.19.2006 11:05am
Public_Defender (mail):
I'd like to add one thing. I recently had a client who was nearing the end of a prison term for meth production thank the judge for sentencing him to prison. He said the conviction saved his life. He meant it. And he was right.
6.19.2006 11:23am
jimbino (mail):
As a libertarian, I have long recognized the US government to be the greatest threat to my personal freedom, not the Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese or Taliban. I have long held the Mafia, for example, in high regard for risking their lives in delivering pornography, cigarettes, alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, firearms, passports, green cards, and so on that our nanny-state wants to keep from hoi polloi. Down with the fascist state and long live contrabanders of all kinds! As a potential juror, I would gladly feign political correctness in order to nullify a verdict condemning any contrabander.
6.19.2006 12:17pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
Freder-

In case you hadn't noticed, Afghanistan is an Islamic country. The U.S. is not "foisting" opium eradication on the Karzai government. Karzai realizes he doesn't have a chance of surviving if he doesn't gain control over the warlords

Hmm, aren't those warlords Muslim too? Maybe this fiction that Islam is opposed to (at least for infidels) doesn't hold water.

I see that your approach to is about like your approach to guns.
6.19.2006 12:33pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
Freder trots out a strawman (and a gallon of gas, just to be sure)

Maybe one day, when libertarians rule the world and there is a perfect market,

This is of course nothing but the statist cariacture of the libertarian position. Libertarians know that problems, some that we have today, will still exist in "liber-topia" (or anything even remotely similar). Funny how these will be such HUGE problems under a libertarian scheme due to LACK of govt - when we hear the complaints about what HUGE problems they are today with plenty of govt.
6.19.2006 12:41pm
juris_imprudent (mail):

It's my understanding that alcoholism rose sharply (tripled?) at the end of prohibition.

Given the starting point (for the rate to triple) is that really such a surprise? Since all consumption of alcohol rose, enormously, at the end of prohibition it would be kinda silly to expect the rate of alcoholism to stay low.

The question of any prohibition is, is the suppression of the vice worth the overall cost? The argument against the War on is that the answer to that question is resoundingly no.
6.19.2006 12:47pm
Mark F. (mail):
Ilya, I really hate the terms "war on terror" and "war on drugs."
Both are wars on people, not on inanimate chemicals and a feeling.
6.19.2006 2:38pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Freder trots out a strawman (and a gallon of gas, just to be sure)

I am just baffled why libertarians are so prevalent, so many people take them seriously, and that so many apparently are law professors at public universities. Most anarchists (which is nothing but left wing libertarianism) grow out of it by the time they have to get a real job. Same with true Marxists (as opposed to the corrupted communists) and all the other utopians. What is it about Libertarianism that convinces people that it will really work?
6.19.2006 5:43pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Why is meth such a danger when we push stimulants equally as powerful on children?

The War On Unpatented Drugs.
6.19.2006 6:10pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Freder asks why so many law profs. like libertarianism.

1. It is logical
2. It is internally consistient
3. It accords with other disciplines such as economics
4. It is a founding philosophy (Jefferson)

The question then is why more law profs don't like it.
6.19.2006 6:16pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Public Defender,

Is it possible your clients are taking medications because they need them? Nothing like turning an underserved medical population into criminals.

Is Addiction Real?
6.19.2006 6:23pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
BTW the new head of the NIDA is closer to my estimate of the cause of addiction than any of the theories propounded here (other than mine).

What do we know? Chronic drug use is a two factor problem

1. Genetics
2. Trauma

So our drug laws punish the traumatized for self-medicating.

You think this will sell well once it becomes better known?
6.19.2006 6:29pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
Poor Freder really is baffled if he thinks that 1) Marxists "out grow it" and 2) they aren't found in the halls of academe (usually with tenure), and 3) that anarachism is left-wing libertarianism.

Freder, a libertarian used to be plain ol' liberal - at least as the term had meaning throughout the 19th century. It was only after progressives/socialists co-opted "liberal" that libertarian came into usage.

"...and all the other utopians."

Well, I can't speak for all libertarians (small-l let alone big-l), but I certainly don't believe in a libertarian utopia any moreso then a liberal-utopia or a conservative-utopia (whatever those might be). I just don't see the all-powerful, all-knowing, always beneficent govt/society as being any less mythical a creature.
6.19.2006 10:43pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Public Defender,

Is it possible your clients are taking medications because they need them? Nothing like turning an underserved medical population into criminals.


Who "takes" meth or crack as a "medication"? I agree that the "drug war" is harmful in many ways, and that marijuana should probably be legalized (it's less harmful than alcohol, but that's not a great compliment), but to deny the destructive power of many of the banned drugs is to deny reality.

Libertarians lose credibility when they argue that addiction isn't real and when they deny the destructive power of the more hard-core drugs. Libertarians often make sense when they argue that even though drugs are bad, people generally have a right to do bad things to their bodies.
6.20.2006 9:44am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Public defender,

Good question. I have anticipated it and have an answer. Short version. The same people we give stimulants to for mental or behavioral problems.

You can read more here:

The War On Unpatented Drugs.

BTW though I'm a libertarian my analisis is not based on some theory of rights. It is based on biology and medicine. The science is fairly new (about 4 years old) and has not been well reported. I might also note the new NIDA head is in fundamental agreement with my analysis.

Science is changing what we know about addiction. So far it has been unable to touch what people believe.
6.20.2006 10:01am
Public_Defender (mail):
My question remains, how many people actually take meth or crack as "medicine"?

I agree that the government has been too stingy about permitting research into the health risks and benefits of banned drugs, but just because meth and crack are stimulants and ADHD drugs are stimulants does not mean that meth and crack are "treatments" for ADHD.

Someone with a boat full of cocaine from Columbia (or heroine from Afganistan) isn't bring medicine to the sick Americans. Someone selling crack in Washington D.C. is not just a street-pharmacist.

Libertarians have very good points about how the drug war infringes on liberty and hurts the "war on terror." But when you start talking about adiction not being adiction and crack being a form of "medicine," you start to sound like the creationists.
6.20.2006 11:18am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
PD asks,

My question remains, how many people actually take meth or crack as "medicine"?

Good question. We do know that the drug companies sell a lot of stimulants as strong as meth. So the market is there.

In addition ADD/ADHD was once thought to be a child hood problem. We now know it also affects adults.

The thing is no one has any interest in doing the research. The drug companies don't want to be seen as being in a business that is roughly equivalent to to selling street drugs to "addicts". The government has no intererst. Catching and jailing "addicts" and their suppliers is way too lucrative. And the public can't shovel enough into fighting the drug menace. You can always get more money for police, prisons, and jails. Even money for PDs. Not too much though. Good defences just slow up the machinery.

So far all I have been able to do is stich together pieces of the puzzle. My work is on firm ground re: cannabis and heroin. There are still pieces missing on the stimulant front.

Still I would think that for most people stimulants are pretty unpleasant drugs. Like ten cups of coffee in one sitting. So I would think that most people would avoid the stuff unless it helped.

Let me go back to the drug companies. They sell a lot of stimulants. Why wouldn't they want to keep competition off the market? Look at who donates to "the Partnership for a Drug Free America". Could this be a sly form of rent seeking? Not a chance. The drug companies only have your best interests at heart.
6.20.2006 2:43pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
PD,

Addiction is real. Just as phlogiston is real. However, neither is the best answer to the questions it is supposed to answer.

1. If drugs are addictive why doesn't everyone get addicted?
2. If you bring up the "addictive personality" could you please tell me what that is exactly? I have been asking that question for four years. No answer yet. You could get a Nobel prize for that one.

BTW the answer to question #1 is that you don't become an "addict" without two factors genetics and trauma. Now if you are taking doctor approved medicine for your trauma relief are you an addict? Suppose you don't go to a doctor for your problem? Does that make you an addict?

And my answer to question #2 is the same as my answer to question #1.

Here is my definition of "addict" - people in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers.

Might I add that the NIDA is in agreement with me. They however prefer the term "environmental factors" to "trauma".

As I keep saying: the public and medical professions are almost totally ignorant of this line of research and discovery. No surprise that a PD would not know it.

BTW as the term is currently used diabetics would be insulin addicts. Absurd, huh?
6.20.2006 4:30pm
Public_Defender (mail):
I'm an addict to caffeine--I suffer significant adverse consequences without it. If I had never used caffeine, I would not suffer those consequences. Fortunately, they are mild and worth the benefits.

That's the key trade off. For many some drugs, the negative consequences outweigh the positive (meth, for example). For others, the positive outweighs the negative (Advil, for example).

Call it "addiction." Call it "toadstool." But the negative consequences of some drugs are horrible, and they far outweigh any benefits in any rational calculation.

But honest libertarianism still has something to offer. Take cigarettes, for example. It's one thing to say that people should have the freedom to enjoy smoking. That's a perfectly defensible libertarian perspective. It's quite another to say that smoking isn't harmful. That's
what you're doing.

I was wrong to say that you sounded liek a creationist. You sound more like a tobacco executive circa 1985.

If you think that meth is OK, tell me if this concerns you--a client once told me the client's kids were in the custody of someone who was still using meth. Do you think those kids were safe? Or was it the same as if their caretaker was taking Advil? (The information came from a client, so I couldn't report it. I never found out what happened to the kids.)
6.20.2006 4:53pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
So PD why do "meth addicts" do so poorly on stimulants do so poorly and yet we give drugs of similar strength to children and they seem to be OK.

Could the quality of manufacture rather than the stimulant nature of the drug be at fault?

Or perhaps it is the cost of the drug on the illegal market that makes the life style difference.

No way to tell. It is illegal to give addicts their drug of choice or a similar drug. So there is no way to do the experiment.

But I see your point. Police and prisons are way more likely to prevent and cure addiction than doctors. And putting criminals in charge of meth distribution is a brilliant move. That will keep it from the addicts. The financing of criminal gangs is a small price to pay for such a useful program.
6.20.2006 10:17pm
JGR (mail):
Addictive basically means habit-forming. The reason we keep getting new "addictions" - gambling, the internet - is because the often-repeated statement "x can be addicting" is essentially a trivial statement. Any activity that people can even moderately enjoy can be an actitivity that they have a hard time giving up. It depends on a whole host of other factors, including their character, will power, whether the activity is worth giving up in the first place.

I myself am addicted to reading. My addiction frequently interferes with other activities that I should be doing - working, cleaning my house, you name it. The average pot smoker could probably give up pot easier than I could give up reading.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that addiction at some point began to be widely but incorrectly used as a synonym for PHYSICAL addiction, so the word conjures an image of a withdrawing heroin addict. Theodore Dalrymple recently had a good article on how misinterpreted the phenomenon is.

http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/_wsj-poppycock.htm

"In 1822, Thomas De Quincey published a short book, "The Confessions of an English Opium Eater." The nature of addiction to opiates has been misunderstood ever since.

De Quincey took opiates in the form of laudanum, which was tincture of opium in alcohol. He claimed that special philosophical insights and emotional states were available to opium-eaters, as they were then called, that were not available to abstainers; but he also claimed that the effort to stop taking opium involved a titanic struggle of almost superhuman misery. Thus, those who wanted to know the heights had also to plumb the depths.

This romantic nonsense has been accepted wholesale by doctors and litterateurs for nearly two centuries. It has given rise to an orthodoxy about opiate addiction, including heroin addiction, that the general public likewise takes for granted: To wit, a person takes a little of a drug, and is hooked; the drug renders him incapable of work, but since withdrawal from the drug is such a terrible experience, and since the drug is expensive, the addict is virtually forced into criminal activity to fund his habit. He cannot abandon the habit except under medical supervision, often by means of a substitute drug.

In each and every particular, this picture is not only mistaken, but obviously mistaken. It actually takes some considerable effort to addict oneself to opiates: The average heroin addict has been taking it for a year before he develops an addiction. Like many people who are able to take opiates intermittently, De Quincey took opium every week for several years before becoming habituated to it. William Burroughs, who lied about many things, admitted truthfully that you may take heroin many times, and for quite a long period, before becoming addicted.

Heroin doesn't hook people; rather, people hook heroin. It is quite untrue that withdrawal from heroin or other opiates is a serious business, so serious that it would justify or at least mitigate the commission of crimes such as mugging. Withdrawal effects from opiates are trivial, medically speaking (unlike those from alcohol, barbiturates or even, on occasion, benzodiazepines such as valium), and experiment demonstrates that they are largely, though not entirely, psychological in origin. Lurid descriptions in books and depictions in films exaggerate them à la De Quincey (and also Coleridge, who was a chronic self-dramatizer)."

For one of the few bold statements supporting taking drugs themselves, see Jacob Sullum's book 'Saying Yes'

http://www.reason.com/sayingyes/about.shtml

First paragraph of description:
After decades of a futile war on drugs, Saying Yes makes public what many Americans discuss only in private: Drug use as it is described by politicians and propagandists is dramatically different from drug use as it is experienced by the silent majority of users--the decent people who, despite their politically incorrect choice of intoxicants, lead productive and fulfilling lives.
6.21.2006 2:57pm