I see America with half the number of prisons, half the number of prisoners, ten thousand fewer homicides a year, inner cities in which there is a chance for these poor people to live without being afraid for their lives, citizens who might be respectable who are now addicts not being subject to becoming criminals in order to get their drug, being able to get drugs for which they're sure of the quality. You know, the same thing happened under prohibition of alcohol as is happening now.
Under prohibition of alcohol, deaths from alcohol poisoning, from poisoning by things that were mixed in with the bootleg alcohol, went up sharply. Similarly, under drug prohibition, deaths from overdose, from adulterations, from adulterated substances have gone up.
I am an economist, but the economics problem is strictly tertiary: it is a moral problem; it is a problem of the harm which the government is doing.
I have estimated statistically that the prohibition of drugs produces, on the average, ten thousand homicides a year. It is a moral problem that the government is going around killing ten thousand people; it is a moral problem that the government is making into criminals people, who may be doing something you and I do not approve of, but who are doing something that hurts nobody else. Most of the arrests for drugs are for possession by casual users.
Now, here is somebody who wants to smoke a marijuana cigarette. If he is caught, he goes to jail. Now, is that moral? Is that proper? I think it is absolutely disgraceful that our government, supposed to be our government, should be in the position of converting people who are not harming others into criminals, of destroying their lives, putting them in jail. That is the issue to me; the economic issue comes in only for explaining why it has those effects, but the economic reasons are not the reasons. Of course, we are wasting money on it – ten, twenty, thirty billion dollars a year, but that is trivial; we are wasting that much money in many other ways, such as buying crops that ought never to be produced.
See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That is literally true.
If things ever really come to a crunch in the United States, this massive [fundamentalist] part of the population – I think it is something like a third of the adult population by now – could be the basis for some kind of a fascist movement, readily. For example, if the country sinks deeply into a recession, a depoliticized population could very easily be mobilized into thinking it is somebody else's fault: "Why are our lives collapsing? There have to be bad guys out there doing something for things to be going so badly," and the bad guys can be Jews, or homosexuals, or blacks, or Communists, whatever you pick. If you can whip people into irrational frenzies like that, they can be extremely dangerous: that is what 1930s Fascism came from, and something like that could very easily happen here.
The nature of the system is that it is supposed to be driven by greed; no one is supposed to be concerned for anybody else, nobody is supposed to worry about the common good – those are not things that are supposed to motivate you, that is the principle of the system. The theory is that private vices lead to public benefits – that is what they teach you in economics departments. It is all total bull, of course, but that is what they teach you. And as long as the system works that way, yeah, it is going to self-destruct.
There are places in the world that have a broader range of political parties than we do, like Latin American countries, for example, which in this respect are much more democratic than we are. Well, when popular reform candidates in Latin America get elected and begin to introduce reforms, two things typically happen. One is, there's a military coup supported by the United States. But suppose that doesn't happen. What you get is capital strike: investment capital flows out of the country, there's a lowering of investment, and the economy grinds to a halt. That is the problem that Nicaragua has faced in the 1980s, and which it cannot overcome, in my view, it is just a hopeless problem. See, the Sandinistas have tried to run a mixed economy: they have tried to carry out social programs to benefit the population, but they have also had to appeal to the business community to prevent capital flight from destroying the place. So most public funds, to the extent there are any, go as a bribe to the wealthy, to try to keep them investing in the country. The only problem is, the wealthy would prefer not to invest unless they have political power: they would rather see the society destroyed.
quote:Noam Chomsky, On Power
So the wealthy take the bribes, and they send them to Swiss banks and to Miami banks, because from their perspective, the Sandinista government just has the wrong priorities. I mean, these guys hate democracy just as much as Congress hates democracy: they want the political system to be in the hands of wealthy elites, and when it is again, then they will call it "democracy" and they will resume investing, and the economy will finally start to function again. Well, the same thing would happen here if we ever had a popular reform candidate who actually achieved some formal level of power: there would be disinvestment, capital strike, a grinding down of the economy. And the reason is quite simple. In our society, real power does not happen to lie in the political system, it lies in the private economy: that is where the decisions are made about what is produced, how much is produced, what is consumed, where investment takes place, who has jobs, who controls the resources, and so on and so forth. And as long as that remains the case, changes inside the political system can make some difference – I do not want to say it is zero – but the differences are going to be very slight.
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