I argue that the War on Drugs has created a huge problem for the Americas. In the United States it has led to the creation of a large prison population, social conflicts, violence, a flood wave of illegal immigration, and lately a threat to national security. In Latin America it has led to the destruction of a normal economy, corruption, rampant crime, nations on the point of becoming failed states, the highest murder rates on the planet, and a decrease of the standard of living. How has this happened?
It seems clear that the drug trade just follows supply-and-demand economics. As long as there is demand at a given price point, the market will assure that there is supply. The U.S. policy is targeted at destroying the supply, which obviously is not going to work, ever. When the drug prices rise due to the war on drugs, the calculus for the farmer in the jungle changes in the wrong direction. Cultivating coca becomes more attractive, not less, compared to the alternative crops. To understand this we can look at the economical geography.
The center of the economy is USA, and to be precise, the central business district of New York: Wall Street. There are also second, third, forth level centers, and so on. The farther away from the center we go, the lower is the land value, and the higher is the cost of transportation to the center where the consumers and the demand is. This means that people live in the first ring outside the center, and commute to work. Farther outside, in the Midwest, is farmland for cultivating grains and potatoes, crops that are relatively bulky and expensive to transport long distances. Still farther away are the cattle ranches. Their goods have a higher value per pound, and can support the longer transport routes, while at the same time requiring large, low-value farmland for their production. That is, the farthest away we will find the crop with the largest land requirement, the lowest weight, or the highest price per unit weight, and that is capable of surviving the transport. Pepper from India is a good example. Cocaine from South America fits the same bill, and it means that coca is just about the only crop that a South American farmer can grow that will earn him hard cash from the high-rollers on Wall Street!
The more the DEA cracks down on the drug trade, the more the price rises, and the more attractive it becomes to grow and smuggle it. More money is brought in for protecting the business, which means more corruption, more weapons, more violence, all of which are costs of doing business for the narcos. The amount of money involved makes the GDP of many Latin American countries look like petty cash, which means that the narcos often can buy the police, the military, and even the presidency. With control over nations they can change international policy as well, and use the tools of sovereign states to challenge the national security of the USA. They have set up terrorist training camps, and they have most likely infiltrated terrorists into the United States already. All with money that American drug users willingly have given to them in exchange for chemicals that do damage to their brains. Incredible but true.
If cracking down on supply does not work, then what? It’s elementary, my dear Watson. It’s already been implemented in Sweden, for instance: All one has to do to kill a business is to remove the demand. In this case it’s all about treating the drug addicts so that they get over their addiction. Once their addiction is gone they will not buy drugs, and the cartels will eventually go bankrupt for lack of income. It’s so simple in theory, and it has succeeded in Sweden, so why hasn’t the U.S. implemented this policy?
Good question. Maybe it’s because of lobbyists who prefer solutions that generate violence without end, so that their clients can continue to sell weapons for ever and ever? Maybe it’s because the treatment has to be paid for by someone, and obviously the drug addicts are not going to want the treatment, much less want to pay for it. In Sweden health care is universal, paid for by taxes, so it makes economical sense for the insurer (the State) to treat a drug addict for his addiction now, at a lower cost, than have to treat him in the future for probably more serious things, plus have to spend large amounts on policing, legal system, prisons, and losses to crime, if he is not treated. Let me rephrase that.
In Sweden the cost of treatment and the cost of non-treatment are absorbed by the same entity, the State, which makes the cost-benefit of treatment attractive. In the U.S. the cost of treatment and the cost of non-treatment are absorbed by different entities, so there is no clear incentive for prevention. However, there may be no other choice left.
With floods of immigrants coming to the U.S. fleeing rampant drug violence in Latin America, with Venezuela at the threshold of becoming a failed state and risking a humanitarian catastrophe, with between a half dozen and a dozen democracies in Latin America having been turned into dictatorships by narcos, with infiltration of all the worst enemies of the U.S. in Latin America through these nations, with the risk of terrorism and nuclear proliferation in drug dictatorships, the national security threat is so great that I am postulating that compulsory treatment of drug addicts might be a matter of U.S. national security.