Polly on Drugs

While there\’s still details to be worked out here, Polly Toynbee is on precisely the right lines here:

But one great blundering mistake may in the end destroy all the good done elsewhere. The opium economy will always be stronger than the real economy. Only 8% of GDP comes from commerce: the rest is aid. Off the books the real economy is all opium, more and more by the year. The US wants to spray and impoverish the poorest farmers, causing hatred. The US drives the disastrous prohibition policy imposed by the UN. Unless and until the drug is given as a medicine to registered addicts, cutting demand and cutting drug-driven crime in the west, illegal opium growing will always distort and corrupt everything else here in Afghanistan. Buy it to use for morphine, buy it to destroy, but buy it at a price above the relatively low price the narco barons pay to poor farmers. Agriculture in the EU and the US has always been a strange subsidised distorted market. But there never was a better reason for buying a crop than to bring Afghan farmers in from the world of crime that risks keeping the country lawless indefinitely.

This is, roughly speaking, the Adam Smith Institute view as well. Some form of legalisation, decriminalisation, medicalisation, is the only possible way to deal with the War on Drugs and the foul criminality that ensues.

I\’m not really sure that the world can quite cope with both Polly Toynbee and Madsen Pirie being on the same side of the same question. Perhaps it\’s just a signal that the proposal is so gobsmackingly obvious: I\’m sure both believe that kittens are cute as well.

12 comments on “Polly on Drugs

  1. I suspect a “strange subsidised distorted market” in opium would probably be worst than the current illegal system – higher prices would encourage other countries to get into the opium business.
    And kittens are evil.

  2. Kit, what are our troops doing in Afghanistan? They are propping up a corrupt narco-regime. We’d have a lot more influence if we set ourselves as the buyer-of-first choice in Helmand province, the profits from the deal would probably be sufficient to cover the costs of policing it. What’s wrong with ‘ethically sourced’ narcotics?

  3. My problem with this is that I thought it made perfect sense. Now Polly is saying it I’m now thinking there must be a flaw in the reasoning. Not sure what it is yet but one thing I am sure of is Polly has been 100% wrong so far. By the law of probability her support means there is something wrong wth this idea.

    🙂 Only joking. (I think)

  4. Mark, I’m in favour of legalising drugs BUT creating a false market as Polly suggest will probably be worse than the current illegal market. There is only a small market for legal opiates so profits are only a pipe dream;)

  5. I suspect she’s wrong about only 92% even of official GDP being aid. That’s surely one of those numbers that just can’t be right. OK, quite apart from the opium black economy there’s presumably a sizeable non-monetised economy: smallholders eating their own produce and bartering and so on. But even so, can 92% of everything legal consumed in Afghanistan be supplied from foreign aid? Food, clothes, all paid-for serices including domestic service, all value-added in shops…? Nah.

    I can see some wildly varying estimates around for Afghan GDP – from $10bn at current exchange rates on the CIA factbook, to $32bn on Wikipedia. CIA’s way out of date, but says that about $9bn had been pledged in aid over a five year period – less than $2bn a year. So less than 20%, not 92% – that seems more plausible.

    It doesn’t matter, of course. But why do newspapers publish figures that obviously cannot be true? Does Polly actually know what GDP is? Might she be confusing it with the Government budget, or with foreign receipts(either of which I can well believe would be 92% aid)?

    If someone can find a reputable source that says 92% of GDP (or anything even close) is aid, then I’ll happily stand corrected, of course.

  6. The “only” in my very first sentence shouldn’t be there, of course. The point is 92% is too high, not that it’s too low.

  7. Opiates are banned for a reason – we should consider the possibility that it really is bad stuff, too addictive, simply rings too many peoples’ bells, too many victims. We don’t know what would happen if we legalise it, but we should remember that if we do, then we might regret it. On the other hand, if we legalise it, we might wonder what all the fuss was about. Suppose we end up with 10percent of the population addicted and functionally impaired – would that be acceptable? what about 40% or 1%.
    Heroin has enemies in high places, they may just be onto something.

  8. I am with Kit. Polly is not trying to legalise drugs, but to spend other people’s money trying to “solve” a problem in Afghanistan.

    If the producers know Polly will buy, just to buy, the price Polly pays, WE pay, will be very high indeed.

  9. Even if the figures she uses to support her argument are dubious there is a kernel of a good idea there. What the farmers need is a higher value crop which we are prepared to pay for. How about biofuel. I am sure our engineers can design a modular plant that can grow in capacity relatively easily. The EU could re-direct the subsidies they are paying on US biofuels.

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