…The international drug war ought to be of enormous meta-interest to students of policy, political science, and philosophy because it reveals better than almost any other issue the essentially unreasonable nature of our rulers—and our populace. There are few other huge policy matters in which the reason for pursuing a goal is more obviously ludicrous, archaic, and disconnected from any reasonable conception of a larger public good (and yet never questioned), and where the effort is more obviously utterly futile and wasted.
And yet the vast majority of documents studying, chronicling, and counting what’s countable about the drug war, even supposedly ameliorist ones that suggest a switch from, say, military means to medical ones in fighting the drug scourge, refuse to question the root of the absurdity. It is generally assumed (without even an attempt at proof) that stopping people from using the drugs they choose to use is as unquestioned a good as increasing human wealth or preserving human life.
In this era of stunning government debt, of the alleged need for domestic stimulus, and with frequent lip-service dedication paid to spending cuts, the U.S. is still planning to spend $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2009 on international drug war efforts (and those figures from the State Department don’t seem to include the full costs of the multi-year $1.4 billion “Merida Initiative” for drug war waging in Mexico). Those efforts include violent interdiction, corrupting the courts and police departments of our allies, and destroying small farmers’ livelihoods (while also throwing in some development aid to allegedly help them). Our 1986 “Anti-Drug Abuse Act” makes everything from trade to aid policy dependent on how well we think our allies are helping us destroy themselves in the name of our drug war. The U.N.’s dispirited drug warrior Costa even talks of how, “We must have the courage to look at the dramatic, unintended consequences of drug control: the emergence of a criminal market of staggering proportions.” But he won’t take that next, short, simple mental step towards abolishing his own job.
One might think that the first place a reasonable politician would look to save a billion or so bucks a year is the category of efforts clearly marked “utterly ridiculous and proven completely futile”—such as the international drug war. But that will almost certainly not happen. If anything should make one hopeless about the future of sensible governance, it’s the ongoing, apparently never-ending international war on drugs.