Twenty years ago most people understood cocaine as a distant, almost mythical substance – prohibitively expensive and thereby restricted to either metropolitan high-rollers or those in the higher reaches of the entertainment industry: \”God\’s way of telling you you\’re earning too much money,\” as Robin Williams once said. I can well recall the first time I was aware of its use: at a 21st birthday party attended by a smattering of young aristocrats, whose possession of such a rarefied substance prompted awe-struck whispers.
For people lower down the social scale, the recreational pharmacoepia revolved around more affordable sources of enjoyment: cannabis, amphetamine sulphate; and, for those who had immersed themselves in Britain\’s seemingly unstoppable club culture, ecstasy – an illicit substance whose creation of a kind of delirious sociability arguably did Britain a great deal of good.
Then something happened. In 1990, the average price of a gram of cocaine was about £90; five years later, it was closer to £60. Via such voices as the Gallagher brothers and the early Loaded magazine, it followed a standard enough route from some of the more celebrated parts of the culture into the population. Circa 2003, its price per gram came down to about £40; in 2006, it was reported that Gloucester – Gloucester! – had registered the UK\’s lowest street price, at about £30. Now surveys suggest that some 6% of 15- to 16-year-olds have tried it. For someone of my generation, who recalls the acme of teenage experimentation being a weak joint scored from a helpful sixth former, even that relatively small proportion seems mind-boggling: proof of cocaine\’s passage from yuppie land to somewhere remarkably close to the bike sheds.
New products start out howlingly expensive and are bought only by the wealthy. As the market expands economies of scale in production have their effect and the price falls thus making the by now not quite so new product available further down the income scale.
This has happened with cars, mobile phones, computers and cocaine.
Why do people therefore continually argue that trickle down economics doesn\’t work?