The Simple Summit

Cartagena, Columbia

The recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena ended on a down note. There were two issues of contention: the simple possibility of decriminalizing the illicit drug trade—as suggested by Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Columbia—and Cuba’s  representation at the summit, advocated by the Latin American constituency.

So contentious were these points that the usual closing statement could not be issued. The US and Canada, represented respectively by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, were united in opposition, effectively exercising a North American “veto”.

The position on Cuba is clear enough. Cuba has not been involved in the Organization of American States (OAS) events since the 1960s. The communist regime is precluded from participation in OAS events by provisions that stipulate members be some simple sort of democracy. The left-wing Bolivarian republics of Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua were the most vehement advocates for the inclusion of Cuba—no real surprises there.

Simple Drug Policy

The US and Canadian position on drug policy on the other hand is just dumb, possibly simple minded.

In response to the reasonable calls by Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and Columbia to consider decriminalization, Harper went on record dismissing it as among the “simple answers” to an apparently complex problem. But then, he put the problem in his own “simple” terms by saying the law made no difference. The problem he said was that it was a trade in which some people were trying to get rich by selling drugs to destroy people’s lives.

That is poppycock. Criminals are trying to get rich because they are the only ones willing to use violent force and take criminal risks in the black market. They compete with physical force against other criminals, causing collateral damage in the process. Ordinary entrepreneurs are generally content to compete against one another by producing the best product at the lowest price. That’s both simple and true.

If provided by the open market instead of the black market, drugs would be cheaper, safer and of better quality. Less destruction and criminality would characterize the industry. In the last 4 years approximately 50,000 people have been killed in Mexico as a consequence of the “war on drugs”. The perpetrators of this death and destruction would be driven out of business by open competition.

The people whose lives are being destroyed are largely self-destructive souls who would still do it whether or not the drugs were legal. That’s both simple and true. The educational campaigns against drug use can continue, just as they do for smoking and alcohol. (I would not recommend government involvement in the process, but that is another matter.)

Simply Ugly

Perhaps the real problem comes from vested interests outside of the criminal world.

 “War is the health of the State,” wrote Randolph Bourne, by which he meant that the State thrived as an institution during times of war. By declaring war, the full force of government coercion comes into play to control people and to mete out punishment to transgressors.

In the “war on drugs” it takes large powerful bureaucracies to administer the major institutions needed, not to mention the expansion of the formal justice and prison systems.

That is the ugly side of politics. People in a Society grant their government a monopoly on the use of physical force. Government is established to protect Society against those who would initiate force or fraud. A government that abuses this monopoly and will not admit mistaken policy becomes a criminal institution.

©Copyright 2012 Edward Podritske

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