Jay Reding.com

How The War On Drugs Hurts Afghanistan

Anne Applebaum notes that efforts to eradicate the opium crop in Afghanistan is feeding the Taliban as poor farmers lose their livelihood thanks to US eradication efforts. Applebaum wonders why this has to be: already in Turkey the opium poppy crop has been used to make legal painkillers – of which there is a major shortage in both the developing and the developed world.

The opium eradication program in Afghanistan is an incredibly poor policy choice. Applebaum’s proposed alternative is one that US policymakers should embrace: adding Afghanistan to the already-existent poppy production program in India and Turkey and buying Afghan poppies to make legal painkillers. There can be local oversight to make sure that the product isn’t diverted, and the money can go towards fighting the Taliban rather than enriching them.

There’s no doubt that the drug trade is the Taliban’s most lucrative venture, allowing them to purchase weapons and ammunition and kill American and coalition soldiers. We can’t simply eradicate the Afghan poppy crop — it’s too lucrative and each time we do we alienate the Afghan people more. We have to provide them with a safe and legal alternative — and using Afghan poppies to create legal narcotics that can alleviate pain rather than cause it is the smart policy option. Sadly, smart policies are decidedly lacking when it comes to drug control these days. Even when these crops can be used for legal means, the fear of the heroin trade causes politicians to take steps that only harms the future of both the US and Afghanistan.

8 responses to “How The War On Drugs Hurts Afghanistan”

  1. Mark says:

    If the United States and other governments across the world didn’t believe they could legislate supply and demand laws out of existence by keeping narcotics illegal, the Taliban wouldn’t be nearly as successful in financing its terrorist jihad. Then again, even if America was to legalize narcotics, the “sin tax” they would levy on it would be so cost-prohibitive that the black market would not go away. The chief fundraising activity of terrorist groups is not narcotics or oil, it’s smuggling the legal product of tobacco in the West, where the market value for a pack of cigarettes is so insanely out of line with the post-sin tax sticker price that Hezbollah can make $2 million in a weekend smuggling a truckload of Marlboros from North Carolina to New York City….or from Berlin to London for that matter.

    Bottom line: we’re creating our own hell here by trying to legislate puritanism. Unfortunately, the trend is about to expand into our refrigerators and junk food pantries, giving smugglers and all manner of organized crime another opportunity to earn huge profits from the thriving black market created by lawmakers “saving us from ourselves”.

  2. zzx375 says:

    So legalize illegal drugs and drop all ‘sin taxes’? Won’t that undercut efforts for universal health care or should we volunteer to be taxed to pay for health care for the smoker and drug user?

    I wonder what the alternative crop is for the Afghani farmer?

  3. Mark says:

    “Won’t that undercut efforts for universal health care or should we volunteer to be taxed to pay for health care for the smoker and drug user?”

    I ask you this. Who do you think ran up the higher health care tab in the course of their lifetime? Former President and long-time Alzheimer’s patient Ronald Reagan or former Beatle and lung cancer victim George Harrison? Your premise is science fiction peddled by an insurance industry that wishes to foist its outlays onto Medicare by mandating “healthy lifestyles” on working-age Americans.

    Whatever societal pitfalls may come from increased usage of tobacco and narcotics, the bankruptcy of the public and private health care system is not one of them. If everybody in America smoked and shot smack into their veins, Social Security would be solvent forever. From a cost-benefit calculus, smoking and drug use more than pay for themselves in terms of lifetime government outlays. This is clearly not an advisable solution, but prolonging the big lie of “healthy lifestyles” being cheaper than “unhealthy lifestyles” serves nobody except Big Insurance and tyrannical health-and-wellness busybodies trying to microregulate every American’s consumption choices through sin taxes and “public ____ bans”. There was a time when “conservatives” would be with me on such matters. Not anymore I guess.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    I ask you this. Who do you think ran up the higher health care tab in the course of their lifetime? Former President and long-time Alzheimer’s patient Ronald Reagan or former Beatle and lung cancer victim George Harrison?

    The problem with that is that you’re generalizing from extreme cases. Most studies do show that smoking does have a societal toll — not as high as some would have us believe, but it is there regardless. Plus, the increased mortality among smokers tends to reduce the number of years they’re productive, which means that they also pay less into the system.

    Your premise is science fiction peddled by an insurance industry that wishes to foist its outlays onto Medicare by mandating “healthy lifestyles” on working-age Americans.

    The insurance industry wants to save money, and the way to do that is to have more healthy people and fewer sick people — which is a good thing for society as a whole.

    If everybody in America smoked and shot smack into their veins, Social Security would be solvent forever.

    For that matter, shooting everyone about the age of 50 would do the same. That doesn’t make either good public policy.

    From a cost-benefit calculus, smoking and drug use more than pay for themselves in terms of lifetime government outlays.

    Not even close. Drug use creates crime (even legal drugs like alcohol), and societal problems. The single biggest factor for homelessness and poverty is substance addiction.

    I’m somewhat amenable for legalizing pot, just because the societal impact of pot usage is probably less than that of alcohol, but when it comes to hard drugs like heroin or cocaine, the societal cost is incredibly high. Someone high on coke or crack will invariably screw their lives up and the lives of everyone around them because such substances are so addictive that people will sell their own mothers to get it — and making them legal won’t change that.

    Society has a legitimate interest in banning drug use, even if the “war on drugs” is largely a set of crappy public policies designed to achieve that end.

  5. Mark says:

    “The problem with that is that you’re generalizing from extreme cases.”

    Is it really that extreme? Incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to quadruple in the coming generation, all as a product of longer lifespans. At some point, the consequences of ever-growing life expectancies will take their toll, both at the individual level (few of us would want to go the way Reagan did, but more of us will have to) and at the financial level (the high cost of old age will bust the budget on public and private coffers). I see zero benefit from socially engineering longer life expectancies through lifestyle mandates, even though it’s clearly the wave of the future.

    “The insurance industry wants to save money, and the way to do that is to have more healthy people and fewer sick people”

    The way to do it is apparently to lobby government on behalf of puritanical nanny-state prohibitions on personal consumption choices and a relentless barrage of regressive excise taxes. If not for the fact that private insurers are able to foist their costs onto Medicare when their clients turn 65, I can assure you they’d be singing an entirely different tune about the perils of smoking and obesity.

    “Drug use creates crime”

    But the question is in regards to whether legalized drug use causes more crime than criminalized drug use and the black marketeering that delivers the supply of narcotics to the demand. I’m not as convinced on the absolute wisdom of drug legalization as I was a few years ago, but still see it as far more likely to work than current practice.

  6. zzx375 says:

    My premise may very well be insurance industry science fiction but it does represent a very real 800 pound gorilla. The insurance industry has been the impetus behind many of those freedom reducing actions like introduction of sealt belts in cars (and state by state legislation mandating their usage) to helmet laws for motorcyclists, to the more obvious higher insurance premiums for smokers (and private pilots, sky divers, etc).

    Regarding diet concerns, Consumers Union and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are two organizations pounding on the poor diet issue, especially among kids and neither one of them are insurers.

    When the imsurance companies have amassed mounds of statistical data regarding life style changes and how those changes impact insurance costs does it really follow that a government health care plan wouldn’t have the same kinds of life-style modification features?

    Could it be that many of the programs that appeared under FDR (in an attempt to get the country out of a depression) set the stage for a progressive march in a direction where public policy is going to help determine what is good for you?

  7. Mark says:

    “When the imsurance companies have amassed mounds of statistical data regarding life style changes and how those changes impact insurance costs does it really follow that a government health care plan wouldn’t have the same kinds of life-style modification features?”

    But again, you’re missing the fact that the insurance industry is only on the hook for most of its clients health care costs up to the age of 65. They have a vested interest in delaying medical bills into the geriatric years when public health care services have to foot the bill instead. If the health care system were either entirely public or entirely private, there would be less reliance on fictitious cost-benefit calculuses suggesting that smokers and obese people run up higher lifetime health care tabs than 10-year nursing home residents with $700 per month prescription drug tabs.

    “Could it be that many of the programs that appeared under FDR (in an attempt to get the country out of a depression) set the stage for a progressive march in a direction where public policy is going to help determine what is good for you?”

    Your premise isn’t entirely out of line, but something tells me that even if we had followed Herbert Hoover’s economic policies for the last 75 years, we’d still be seeing the insurance industry lobby on behalf of smoking and transfat prohibitions.

  8. zzx375 says:

    The 800 pound gorilla will not vanish into thin air and any “if we hads” regarding Herbert Hoover are really moot. The reality is that an ever increasing menu of entitlements has many folks expecting more. Its that old ‘If we can put a man on the moon we should be able to eliminate ________’ idea.

    I submit that any universal health care enacted will be equally lousy for everyone. Take the worst of an HMO times 10 (or more). When your child has a very aggressive form of neuroblastoma, you don’t want to be waiting around for approvals, etc. You want action, now!

    Look for more folks (who can afford it) to go to India for surgeries, etc. under US-trained physicians.