Time for another Singapore rant

There is no country on Earth I hate more than Singapore, and no people on Earth I hate more than Singapore’s western apologists. If you don’t think Singapore is a vile barbaric shithole, then I query your mental health.

Even if you think it’s OK to silence dissenters with lawsuits, deny state benefits to people who support your opponents, and rig courts in favour of the government, then I defy you to justify this. No, go on, fucking try and justify that. I fucking dare you.

The Japanese had the right idea regarding Singapore. It’s merely a shame that it didn’t get left in its post-1945 state (this rant was set off by Jarndyce‘s more reasoned and measured take on the same country. And yes, I know there are plenty of places that are worse than Singapore. However, nobody suggests the West has anything to learn from Zimbabwe or Somalia…)

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93 thoughts on “Time for another Singapore rant

  1. _nobody suggests…_

    Dunno about that. There are probably one or two right-libertarians who think we could take lessons in minimal government from Somalia. Maybe

    _nobody with even a vague grip on reality suggests…_

    would cover it.

  2. They’d be more convincing had they actually had the courage of their convictions and gone there instead of lecturing on its merits from the comfort of a British drawing room. Ho hum.

    As for Singapore, for a variety of reasons I am (unfashionably) opposed to drug use and have no problem in principle with executing dealers. It is, though, hard to justify executing one man when others were merely jailed for similar offences.

    EG

  3. Hmm. Even with (+/-) harmless drugs like cannabis? That’s a morally difficult position to defend, although I’d be interested to hear you try (I can see a coherent rationale for wanting draconian punishment for dealers in genuinely very dangerous drugs such as heroin and meth, albeit one I’d disagree with. But even the other East Asian countries tend not to top people for ganja; that was why I was so disgusted by Singapore’s example here).

  4. I have no particular knowledge of present-day Singapore, but I lived and worked there during the late ’60s when Lee Kuan Yew was in charge. At that time the Chinese population was divided between westernised, English-speaking people, and the Chinese educated. The former provided the basis for the rampant capitalism that Lee wanted, whilst the latter were, what you lot would call, the ‘working class’. The local Communist Front organisation was the Barisan Socialis, and at regular intervals, Lee, or to be precise, his Special Branch (SB), would conduct a sweep of the leadership who would be arrested under emergency laws. They were not tortured, indeed, I remember an Indian Superintendent in SB with whom I worked, complaining to me that now that the British were gone, it was no longer possible to give "the scallawags a good walloping!" (It sounds better done in an Indian accent!)

    However, Lee, a Cambridge double-first, was highly intelligent. He actually rather despised the softer, westernised Chinese who held top jobs in his government, and admired the drive and commitment of these Marxists. So, he left them to stew in jail, and as it became clear that Singapore was prospering beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, he offered them not only freedom but top jobs if they recanted. Many of them did. A demonstration, I suppose, of ‘softly, softly, catchee Marxee!

  5. Yes, cannabis is relatively (though not completely) harmless. Smoking dope fucks your lungs up much more than Benson & Hedges does, for example. But…

    Where do you draw the line? If you legalise one then shortly people are going to call for another to be legalised, doubtless to remove the criminal element from supply, reduce the money wasted on it, eliminate a victimless crime, respect people’s maturity, and so forth. So, we legalise cannabis.

    What happens then is that the dealers who previously made lots of money flogging "harmless" but illicit cannabis put greater effort into other still criminal drugs, because the margins are better. Some of these are also relatively harmless, such as ecstasy. OK, now we legalise those. The dealers are then making greater efforts to push cocaine and speed. Et cetera. Where do you stop?

    Tobacco and alcohol are widely accepted drugs, albeit not without their own problems. We do not, I feel, need to add more problems by casually permitting other drugs to supplant or more likely supplement them. I think the line should be drawn there, and I do support hard penalties against anyone breaching the line. I don’t think hanging someone for cannabis supply is all that sane, and there should probably be a graded series of penalties taking account of the nature and quantity of the drug(s) involved.

    The real trick, though, is to remove the stuff at source, and this is best done by eliminating the widespread poverty and ignorance which encourages people to grow and supply drugs.

    EG

  6. poverty and ignorance which encourages people to grow and supply drugs.

    This is probably true of poppy production in Afganistan, say. But I doubt it’s true of many growers of weed in the UK: they do it because they like smoking the stuff, and it’s relatively cheap/ easy/ safe (in varying degrees of what I mean by "relatively") to do so. Just like people would grow tobacco and brew moonshine if those substances were banned.

  7. Erm you’ve never looked at the economics of the drug trade and cost of enforcement have you? Ignore any spurious moral arguments; the war on drugs was lost about the time when the first Homo Sapien discovered eating certain bushes made him feel good.
    Frankly I’d much prefer that heroin addicts could purchase their requirements with their Giro money rather than by nicking my car stereo or turning over my house…
    Think about it, most drugs are argricultural produce, I see no reason why refined Cocoa or Opium shouldn’t cost £200-£300 per tonne (about what corn costs wholesale)
    Legalise it, regulate it, tax it. The consevrative manifesto promise (if only). PS The same applies to prostitution…..

  8. It is not so much the economics of the trade and enforcement of the law, rather the economic and social damage legal drugs cause. Over the centuries, various drugs have been legal and then banned, banning being generally for the same predictable reason – the social cost of permission is too high. Equally, there is a high social cost of permitting alcohol, but it has been generally legal for centuries & is ingrained in almost every culture. We do not need to add even more social costs, nor do we need to subsidise drug users into a state of stupefied unemployability.

    I often think it would be nice if people could take a look at history and for once realise that when something has been repeatedly tried and has repeatedly failed, it’s probably going to fail again. Technology changes, culture changes, but human nature doesn’t.

    EG

  9. "Euan, have you ever thought of doing your own blog?"

    Do you mean as in (a) "you write well and may have some interesting things to say" or (b) "fuck off and annoy people somewhere else" ? Or possibly (c) "you’re a crazed loon and should provide free entertainment for the sane masses"

    Other alternatives will of course be considered, provided they are worth a giggle.

    EG

  10. It was (a) actually! Honestly!

    (b) and (c) are why I don’t – that and the fact that I am a very boring person.

  11. I’d go for a). I like the way you disagree significantly with everyone (that I’ve encountered you commenting on on the Internet) on at least one important issue they care about…

    I’d also recommend that NIB, Chris B, Chris Baldwin and Matt Daws follow suit (c’mon, David Duff managed it…). All must have blogs!

    Also, someone remind me to blogroll Lorna when I’m sober.

  12. ehhh, Amnesty International. You might as well be reading the Enquirer and believing every word. Funny, the words "gulag", "human rights", "torture", and "scandal" don’t even turn up anywhere in this report. I suppose three squares a day and a free Koran is what really gets them riled up!

  13. Tim, I believe the phrase is "don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater".

  14. EG, says "I often think it would be nice if people could take a look at history and for once realise that when something has been repeatedly tried and has repeatedly failed, it’s probably going to fail again. Technology changes, culture changes, but human nature doesn’t."

    Well, I agree when it comes to Prohibition. Caused untold violence, corruption and loss of respect for law in the US when they tried it for alcohol, same again for drugs now.

    Would you support the same "it’s been tried and failed" argument for tolerance of homosexuality? Several societies I could name were once tolerant of homosexuality but are so no longer. What about giving rights to women? Some societies have retrogressed on that too. Or would you, perhaps, argue that these were matters where people had intrinsic rights?

  15. No, Natalie, it is not the same for drugs, as even a casual glance at history will reveal. Ditto for homosexual and women’s rights. The world is a tad more complex than "ban bad, allow good."

    EG

  16. I like the way you disagree significantly with everyone

    But what’s the point of posting a comment to say "I agree"?

    EG

  17. Prohibition of hard drugs has worked, and indeed has worked in the USA. According to "The Politics of Heroin", by the 1930s there were fewer than two hundred heroin addicts in the whole of the USA; however the Second World War allowed the importers to re-establish their supply lines.

  18. > it is not the same for drugs, as even a casual glance at history will reveal.

    Are you saying that banning drugs hasn’t created crime problems and has stopped people taking them?

  19. D^2 – that would seem to imply that successful drug prohibition requires massive trade isolationism (which isn’t surprising, I guess) – and that even then, it only works for substances that require imported raw materials.

    Pragmatically speaking, how would one wipe out methamphetamine (something that can be made in a garage by someone with no chemistry experience from entirely legal ingredients)?

  20. Legalising drugs isn’t going to make the crime disappear. The addict is still largely unemployable and still needs (less) cash to feed his habit. Unless we have a welfare system which intentionally subsidises drug abuse, addicts are going to turn to crime to get the extra money.

    It’s not possible to completely prevent any instance of a given crime. However, the incidence can be significantly reduced by a variety of means such as efficient and effective law enforcement, an efficient courts system, meaningfully deterrent punishment, removing the circumstances that make drug manufacture and distribution profitable, removing the circumstances which make drug consumption desirable, and so on. The last is tricky, since there will always be people who want to take drugs. However, if the drugs are hard to obtain and possession results in a very high chance of being caught followed by the certainty of stiff penalty, the incidence is likely to reduce. Further, having a less indiscriminately generous and easily defrauded welfare system would make the unemployability resulting from habitual hard drug abuse somewhat less tenable.

    EG

  21. "removing the circumstances which make drug consumption desirable", this last one – the tricky one – is the only one worth talking about. America has some pretty draconian drug laws (in the context of Western democracies), but still has terrible drug crime problems. However, it ismost likely that this condition of prohibiting drug use would be the last to be tackled. Last as in never. So what do we do? We build a draconian system in which many people get caught up – in all measures, making people’s lives worse.

    If we could tackle this last, tricky, aspect of reducing drug use, then we would not need the draconian aspects of your cure. Drug use, if not wanted, would be the preserve of a handful of tragic cases. And, if this were the case, the Welfare State could easily cover the costs of their care.

    p.s. I don’t know where you get the idea that our welfare system in ‘generous’.

  22. Wow, I knew a day would come when I’d agree with the Libertarians about something! (To an extent at least, I certainly think cocaine should be illegal in Britain until the cocaine industry has eliminated its…er… ethical problems)
    As for Singapore, I’m not at all a fan, but all the breathless "rise of China" articles offend me a lot more.

  23. It was "last" only because it was the last item in my list. In reality, it is one of the first things that needs to be addressed. If this is ignored, then whatever else is done is largely pointless.

    I don’t think "many" people would get caught up. Drug use is very much a minority pursuit (less so for cannabis), but the problems it causes are grossly disproportionate to the numbers involved.

    If drug use were reduced, it is true that welfare could cover the cost. But should it cover the cost? Should we consciously subsidise drug abuse? The welfare system is supposed to help people when they fall down, not pay them to stay on the ground (or in the clouds, in the case of drug abusers).

    The excessive generosity comes from the insane complexity of the British taxation and welfare system, which actively rewards indolence by making it financially difficult to move from unemployment to employment, which doesn’t like to set time limits on claims (and deals with those limits that exist by shunting claimants on to a different benefit, such as invalidity instead of unemployment), and which doles out enough cash to enable someone to live more or less indefinitely on welfare if they choose to do so and provided they don’t have any ambition to own property or provide a good education for their offspring. The flaws of excessive generosity were pointed out to the government in the 1940s, but were ignored. Naturally, the events predicted came to pass, but no government has ever had the balls to do anything about it.

    I really must look at finding a free bloghost.

    EG

  24. EG, I thought your immediate response to my comment was a bit feeble, little more than "No, I’m right and you’re wrong." But your later responses were well worth discussing, and IMO quite right when it comes to welfare. But I don’t want to discuss them. My point was, people have intrinsic rights. That includes the right to control their own bodies – and what they put in them. It’s that simple.

  25. Hang on, EG. So, we have someone addicted to drugs. You put him in prison. Which is far more expensive than welfare. Furthermore, prison is a hostile environment that has not be shown to be particularly succesful in rehabilitating drug users. I would support them in normal life, with Welfare State interventions to attempt to get them off drugs, or at least help them find a way of combining their drug use with a productive lifestyle.

  26. "That includes the right to control their own bodies – and what they put in them. It’s that simple."

    No, it isn’t – which is why I suggested you take a look at history and work it out for yourself. It isn’t difficult, and I repeat my suggestion.

    People do have rights, but they do not have absolute rights since all human liberty is constrained by the effect the exercise of that liberty has on the liberty of others. It is not possible to have absolute liberty.

    When sufficient numbers of people abuse their bodies with drugs (or with alcohol, or with anything else), the effects on society in the form of economic degradation and increased crime and illness become significant. Soon enough, it reaches the stage where the negative impact on wider society of the exercise of individual liberty exceeds the positive benefit of permitting such exercise. At such a point, it is necessary in the interests of wider society to constrain the liberty of the individual to impose costs (not just fiscal) on others in the pursuit of his selfish ends.

    This is why, throughout history, periods of liberalism in drug laws have invariably been followed by periods of proscription. The lesson is never learned – and people make the same erroneous argument you have just made – and so we have to go through the same crap all over again. The reasons for banning drugs are generally not ideological or Puritan, thay are pragmatic – tolerance of widespread drug abuse screws up society in many ways.

    Liberties must be balanced. This is pretty obvious to most people except the hard-core libertarian who thinks absolute personal liberty is possible. The idea is that one may do as one pleases PROVIDED it does not infringe on the liberty of others to do the same. Widespread drug abuse is an example of infringement. There must also be awareness of the importance of negative liberties – frankly, I would value the liberty NOT to be pestered or burgled by a junkie more than I would value the positive liberty to inject addictive crap into my bloodstream.

    EG

  27. I don’t think jailing the addict is the answer. It doesn’t work, not least because of corruption and maladministration in the prisons system which allows large quantities of drugs to get into the jails. Jailing the dealer is another question.

    For the addicts, I agree that some level of public assistance in overcoming or otherwise dealing with the addiction is desirable.

    EG

  28. "I would value the liberty NOT to be pestered or burgled by a junkie more than I would value the positive liberty to inject addictive crap into my bloodstream."
    That’s the whole point of the legalisation argument. The problems of addiction are entirely related to the economic cost of supporting that habit not the habit itself. Funnily enough Rich addicts don’t tend to knock over grannies for their handbags, instead they sit in the Priory and whinge how no-one understands them.
    In terms of logic simple choice:
    a) choose a world where people who wanted to were able to chase the Dragon for 50p a gram and could live off welfare (let’s be generous and say £70 a week – a bit more than Jobseekers currently)
    b) Choose a world where robbery and mugging is the only way to economically feed the habit, then get get locked up in jail where the cost to the state is c.£730* per week

    It’s not rocket science is it……
    I’ll say it again legalise it, regulate it, tax it – you know it makes sense (with a suitbale David Jason accent)

    *The average cost of a prison place in 2002 was £38,753 per year
    http://www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/prisonValue.php

  29. "That’s the whole point of the legalisation argument. The problems of addiction are entirely related to the economic cost of supporting that habit not the habit itself"

    Then the legalisation argument fails because the problem is pretty obviously NOT confined to the economic cost of supporting the habit. That is far too simplisitic a way of looking at it. Even the Dutch appear to have figured out that the externalities of being liberal about drugs are pretty big and are not merely economic.

    EG

  30. The experience of Iran, a major opium producer country in which heroin was legal in the 1920s, suggests that the social problems of addiction are not in general solved by cheap heroin.

    The answer to John’s question is actually quite simple; if you were serious about getting rid of methamphetamine, you would de-license pseudoephedrine for its pharmaceutical use in cold remedies (or subject it to the same controls as opiates). The meth industry is entirely parasitic on the industrial manufacture of PE, and if it wasn’t economic to produce the stuff in bulk for its legitimate use then nobody would bother to do so just to synthesise methamphetamine. I’m not sure that this argument generalises to drugs other than methamphetamine though.

  31. "This is why, throughout history, periods of liberalism in drug laws have invariably been followed by periods of proscription. The lesson is never learned – and people make the same erroneous argument you have just made – and so we have to go through the same crap all over again. The reasons for banning drugs are generally not ideological or Puritan, thay are pragmatic – tolerance of widespread drug abuse screws up society in many ways."

    Could just as easily be:

    This is why, throughout history, periods of proscription in drug laws have invariably been followed by periods of liberalism. The lesson is never learned – and people make the same erroneous argument you have just made – and so we have to go through the same crap all over again. The reasons for legalising drugs are generally not ideological or Libertarian, thay are pragmatic – criminalisation of drug abuse screws up society in many ways.

  32. Could be Andrew, but unfortunately it isn’t since life does not follow the rules of linguistic gymnastics.

    The point I think you miss is that whilst criminalisation does cause problems, it causes fewer problems than liberalisation. Nothing is perfect, and we must take the lesser of the two evils. In this case, it is proscription.

    EG

  33. > throughout history, periods of liberalism in drug laws have invariably been followed by periods of proscription.

    Hmm. You should realise that that can be reworded as "throughout history, periods of proscription in drug laws have invariably been followed by periods of liberalism." The lesson is never learned – and people make the same erroneous argument you have just made – and so we have to go through the same crap all over again.

    > The reasons for banning drugs are generally not ideological or Puritan, thay are pragmatic

    I’ll say. Banning cannabis, for instance, allowed William Randolph Hearst to monopolise the paper industry.

    > I would value the liberty NOT to be pestered or burgled by a junkie

    Right now, with draconian anti-drug laws in place, lots of people are being pestered and burgled by junkies. Yet you insist that you want draconian anti-drug laws in order to stop this happening. Not working, is it?

    > The addict is still largely unemployable and still needs (less) cash to feed his habit. Unless we have a welfare system which intentionally subsidises drug abuse, addicts are going to turn to crime to get the extra money.

    This is a popular myth. It is true of some drug users, but certainly not all, and probably not most. Millions of people do perfectly well at work despite their drug habit, and earn enough money to support it. Every weekend for the last fifteen years, millions of people have taken E. You reckon every one of them is unemployable, yet the economy hasn’t collapsed. I used to be one of a tiny handful of people who didn’t do cocaine in a very successful company. None of the other employees turned to crime. The crime problem is not caused by drug users; it is caused by people who get addicted to something they can’t afford. And the other crime problem is caused by dealers and traffickers having to operate outside the law. Legalise and tax, and you destroy the former problem mostly and the latter completely.

  34. This isn’t linguistic gymnastics. You claim to point to an abb and flow of drug legislation. Now, there must be causes of both the ebb in legislation as well as the flow. You say that lessons have not been learned – the same argument can logically be made from precisely the other side. If you argue for holding this fluctuation of legislation in one position on the basis of pragmatism, then you must argue with respect to the evidence from this ebb and flow. I do not believe that this supports your argument for tighter prescription.

    If, on the other hand, you base you argument on principles and theories of liberty and justice, for example, you can afford to be further divorced from the available evidence as greater liberty as an absolute good cannot by compared to a greater unemployment rate, say.

    "The point I think you miss is that whilst criminalisation does cause problems, it causes fewer problems than liberalisation. Nothing is perfect, and we must take the lesser of the two evils. In this case, it is proscription."

    It is not that I miss this point, it is that I do not accept that it is borne out by the historical evidence, or by contemporary comparisons. If you are arguing for lesser evils, you have to explain why the US, with far more proscriptive drug laws than the EU (and with a much less generous welfare system) actually manages to find itself blighted by a greater-degree of drug related social ills.

  35. British drug laws are not Draconian. They are not even enforced particularly consistently.

    Anyone who suggests most habitual drug users can do this and at the same time manage to lead a useful and productive life should visit some of the sink housing estates where the REAL drug problems live. We have lots of them here in Edinburgh. The problem isn’t with coke-snorting managers, although I concede that’s about as close to drug abuse many online commentators are going to get. Focusing on those people gives a misleading impression of the true problems.

    America? I don’t know. It’s instructive to note, though, that drug abuse peaked at the end of the 70s and tailed off rapidly to an all-time low by the end of the 80s, only to rise again in the mid 90s to date. The tail-off coincided with the more aggressive and sustained proscription and enforcement programs under Ron & Nance. Funny, that.

    EG

  36. EG – US drug enforcement has got stricter, not laxer, since Ron & Nance.

    More semantically, if there were one million coke-addled executives, and 50,000 junkies destroying their lives with a cheap fix, then it would clearly be the case that most habitual drug users managed to lead useful and productive lives, notwithstanding the fact that there were also plenty of utterly fucked junkies (I don’t know what the actual statistics are on this, and I’d wager you don’t either).

  37. Other studies show it declining in the same period. Oh well, one of them is bound to be wrong.

    EG

  38. Drug use itself is not a measurement of social ills. Given that I don’t think (and you claim not to think) that drug use in itself is immoral or unethical, I am more concerned with the effects of drug use [production and supply]. The US, whatever the levels of drug use (and the US is particularly hypocritical in that its business orientated health care industry allows the rich to dose themselves to the eyeballs while condemning the poor to losing their liberty – and their right to vote!), has a tremendous problem with the social ills that accompany illegal drug use [production and supply]. This is mirrored on our ‘sink’ housing estates – where the problem categorically is not drug use in itself, but the burglary that accompanies this and more, the control of communities by wealthy drug gangs. I’d rather restore democracy to these communities by taking the supply into the hands of an NHS pharmacist.

  39. Prohibition of hard drugs has worked, and indeed has worked in the USA. According to "The Politics of Heroin", by the 1930s there were fewer than two hundred heroin addicts in the whole of the USA; however the Second World War allowed the importers to re-establish their supply lines.

    Surely that’s poverty, rather than prohitibion. Before WWII – Americans were dirt poor, couldn’t afford drugs. After WWII, as FDR’s economic policies kicked in, Americans became affluent, could afford drugs, bought ‘em. Through this simple observation we can see that, since socialism increases personal liberty and affluence, socialism leads to increased drug use. Ergo, the key to fighting drugs is to fight socialism, and make everyone serfs again.

  40. > the US is particularly hypocritical in that its business orientated health care industry allows the rich to dose themselves to the eyeballs

    How? (I’m not being snarky here, for once. Genuinely curious about the mechanism involved.)

    > The problem isn’t with coke-snorting managers, although I concede that’s about as close to drug abuse many online commentators are going to get.

    Not that this has anything to do with the validity of anyone’s argument, really, but, since you ask, my close in Glasgow was a popular hangout for local junkies for years. I had to put up with their spitting, their smashing our windows, their threats, their faeces, and, on one memorable occasion, opening my front door to see some bastard with his trousers round his knees injecting heroine into his penis. I’m not under any illusions about the problems caused by junkies who can’t afford their habits. But that’s hardly the point, because I’m not the one wanting to penalise millions of people for the actions of a few. You’re the one who said that drug users are unemployable and that they will therefore be forced into crime unless welfare pays for their drugs. I was just pointing out that that is demonstrably false: millions of drug users are not only employable but are very good at their jobs, and therefore can afford their drugs without welfare and don’t turn to crime. You can’t refute that fact by saying "Well, I live in Edinburgh!"

  41. I agree that the problem is not drug use itself, but the externalities of it. However, it is hard to see how one can really control the externalities without controlling the activity in the first place. I don’t think the two can be so easily divorced.

    I’m not at all convinced that legalisation, licensing and taxing would achieve anything. Perhaps for those who already do use drugs reasonably responsibly it would simply cut their costs. But what of those who don’t, can’t or won’t use them responsibly? And is it not possible that legalising might encourage some to consider it harmless?

    I still think that strict laws on possession and more especially import and manufacture, effectively enforced and coupled with deterrent punishment and properly thought out and properly funded efforts to help addicts get off the stuff is all in all the best way to deal with it.

    I think it’s like speed limits (aptly enough). Many people can drive fast cars responsibly and safely, yet we have speed limits and traffic laws to cover the grossly disproportionate havoc caused by those who cannot or will not act responsibly.

    EG

  42. re: rich Americans and drugs. How? Well, if I am a wealthy American and I want to dose myself on Prozac, or painkillers, or whatever else there is, I need simply ask my doctor (note that drugs that affect mental and emotional states are publically advertised in the US and the readers of these arguemnts are encouraged to ‘ask their doctors abou product X’). If he doesn’t write the prescription, then I am sure that I could find one that will, and that doctor will take my (vastly overpriced) business.

    We see this hypocrisy in US celebrity (and sporting) culture; addictions to painkillers or anti-depressants are treated with sympathy, while addictions to cocaine are treated as major moral lapses. So if you are rich you have plenty of options with regard to self-medication. If you don’t have good health cover, or wadfuls of cash, you end up ‘self-medicating’ with illegal substances. And this then, in many states, rules you out of receiving welfare and even the vote.

  43. > is it not possible that legalising might encourage some to consider it harmless?</>

    What, you mean like what’s happened with smoking?

    > I think it’s like speed limits (aptly enough).

    No, it’s not. Most roads do not provide much opportunity to overtake, forcing cars to drive in procession, forcing everyone to drive at the speed of the slowest driver, forcing the slowest driver to speed up, even if the slowest driver doesn’t think they can drive safely at a greater speed. No mechanism even remotely similar exists with respect to drug use.

    If it were like speed limits, would you propose banning all cars for everyone, by the way?

    A lot of people can’t afford their credit card habits, and some of them end up resorting to crime. So let’s ban credit cards.

  44. Now I think of it, the credit card example is particularly apt, since the one person at my former work who did turn to crime was addicted to living the life of a millionaire, not drugs. Ripped off loads of people and ended up with a double-page spread in the Daily Record devoted to her many pseudonyms and victims, with grainy zoomed photos and everything.

  45. S2, on one memorable occasion, opening my front door to see some bastard with his trousers round his knees injecting heroine into his penis.

    Are you serious?!

  46. Larry,

    Yes.

    Andrew,

    Surely we must balance the problem of handing the entire market to loan sharks against the problem of a few people turning to crime. Or something.

  47. "by the 1930s there were fewer than two hundred heroin addicts in the whole of the USA; however the Second World War allowed the importers to re-establish their supply lines"

    I always thought that was the payoff to Lucky Luciano for facilitating the invasion of Sicily.

    "I agree that the problem is not drug use itself, but the externalities of it. However, it is hard to see how one can really control the externalities without controlling the activity in the first place."

    A (surprisingly) unmentioned externality that is a current result of criminalisation of drug use is the corruption through-and-through and top-to-bottom of the police forces in all large Western cities. They’re all getting paid-off by the big drug dealers.

  48. Corruption is not the result of drug proscription, but rather of all too predictable human greed and weakness. If drugs were legal, the cops would be getting bribed by people dealing in some other illegal product or service. Unless you want to make absolutely everything legal, you’ll inevitably always have some corrupt enforcement officials somewhere. The solution is not to legalise drugs but to investigate, prosecute and punish corruption.

    EG

  49. EG, are you trying to suggest that corruption levels are a stable result of human nature? Or are you at least willing to accpet that drug prohibition might be connected to higher levels of corruption than if it were legalised and regulated. Can you suggest some alternative causes of corruption at the same scale as that connected with illegal drugs in a country with a legal, regulated drug industry?

  50. "Then the legalisation argument fails because the problem is pretty obviously NOT confined to the economic cost of supporting the habit. That is far too simplistic a way of looking at it. Even the Dutch appear to have figured out that the externalities of being liberal about drugs are pretty big and are not merely economic."

    I’ll think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the 1st point.

    To the 2nd point the Dutch example is not a relevant example as they haven’t ‘legalised’ anything, merely decriminalised (and only a few classes of drugs at that, which is part of the problem). And don’t get me started on the disproportionate pressure which the US did, and still is, applying to them, blunting much of the work on the demand & supply side which was intended to happen.

    Coming back to point 1 there are plenty of Amazonian and Papua New Guineaean Tribes (I lived there before anyone asks) whose whole society is based around the consumption of mind altering drugs on a regular basis yet still function as a society. Why? Because the drugs are freely available (as in you go and pick them…) so individuals don’t get caught up in an economically unsupportable habit, so the ‘bad’ externalities don’t exist as there is no economic incentive…

    Let me try and convince you another (I’ll admit fairly simplistic) way, if all the drug addled junkies lived in a botanical garden of opium and cocoa plants (+ others) would they go out into the wider society on robbing and mugging sprees. No – you have the refute to your statement that life isn’t that simple…….

    Feel free to disagree / persuade me but nothing you’ve come up with so far has a coherent logic to support it, it’s purely dogma. That’s not meant to be rude btw; I like a good discussion…..

  51. Firstly, I didn’t say the Dutch had legalised anything. I merely said that they have figured out that being liberal on the issue results in rather large problems. US pressure is irrelevant in this case, the simple fact is it hasn’t worked out the way it was thought it would.

    As for the tribes, I would have to say that if you are content to live in a stone age culture then of course there are not the same externalities. There is no economic impact because there is no bloody economy (in the western sense). We don’t live in a stone age culture, and I don’t particularly want to – certainly not as the price for allowing smackheads to indulge their squalid habit.

    The logic of the junkies in their narcotic Eden holds. However, like much of the logic of ultra-freedom, it may be internally consistent but it doesn’t survive contact with the real world. The junkies need to eat food, get shelter, pay for stuff, interact with non-junkies, etc.

  52. US pressure is relevant, as this has prevented Dutch policies from going as far as has been planned. There are problems, but much of these lie with the fact that their policies are a half-way house, neither here nor there, which still allow criminal gangs to control the (still illegal) drug trade.

    What we are saying is not that there are no social ills that accompany drug use even in a legalised system, but that these social ills pale in comparison with the control of estates by criminal gangs, the corruption of the police, and, if we are to enforce draconian drug laws, the draconian policing and surveillance of society in the interests of preventing activity that is not, in itself, immoral or unethical.

    Where can draconian drug laws be described as having worked (to reduce social ills, not just ‘drug use’)? Nowhere outside dictatorial, authoritarian regimes (e.g. Singapore), and that is a social ill that I am not willing to pay to accomadate a ‘drugs are bad’ dogma.

  53. "The junkies need to eat food, get shelter, pay for stuff…"
    Making my point that the ills of drug use are purely econmically based……. (or if you want to get technical transaction based)

    "We don’t live in a stone age culture, and I don’t particularly want to – "
    We wouldn’t have to, just let the price of plant derived drugs approach the price of other plant based products and the actual ‘cost of drugs’ practically evaporates. If people can afford a loaf of bread on welfare then frankly they should be able to afford Class A,B or C anything, breaking the really damaging externality, which is the requirement for vast quantities of cash to feed a habit…

  54. Ergo, the key to fighting drugs is to fight socialism

    Definitely the wrong way. The only two countries to have ever gone from major drugs production to more or less zero were Cuba and Vietnam.

  55. Well, I think the view that legalisation will solve more problems than it creates is naive. Criminal control of estates, corrupt police and so on can be dealt with without legalising drugs. I believe that using these things as arguments for legalisation is such a spineless cop-out and an admission that you have neither the will nor imagination to tackle these problems. Basically, it’s giving up.

    As for where it worked, is it not also the case that Afghanistan under the Taliban saw a virtual elimination of poppy cultivation? I’m not arguing for Moslem theocracy, but I think it is reasonable to say that where the state is willing and is able to co-opt a majority of the people these things can be beaten.

  56. Why is it spineless to see the world how it is?
    The state should never try and manage people’s desires (e.g. homsexuality) except where they cause direct harm to others (e.g. Kiddie fiddling).
    I fail to see how a broken down junkie shooting up in a bed sit is causing me ‘harm’ if he’s not nicking my stuff to feed his habit. Equally I see no ‘harm’ to me from over paid bankers snorting coke off hookers tits whilst wanking off.

    Why not just leave people alone to live their lives as they choose to the extent reasonably possible without causing harm to others? You may not like who others choose to live but so what… I don’t like footballers lifestyles but that doesn’t mean I should be allowed to lock them up….

  57. You aren’t seeing the world how it is, you’re seeing it how you think it ought to be.

    I agree with leaving people to live their lives providing it doesn’t harm others. Where we differ is that you think drug legalisation would decrease the harm to others whereas I think it would increase it.

  58. So, Euan, you think lealising drugs is naive. Your solution is to allow the police to operate like gangsters, violently smashing drug gangs. Of course, with drugs being illegal, who do you think would do the supply? The police, is my guess, or their gang proxies at least. Welcome to the violent, corrupt gangster police state.

    The will to do this? Well, you quote the will of the Taleban – good example.

    Give me the NHS pharmacies any day. Seeing the world how we want it to be? Once again, that can be turned around. We are both doing that, in so much as we are presenting visions of the future as we think it can be. Yours is a vision of a gangster police state. Mine might have a shitload of junkies, but the breeding ground for violent gangsters is stripped away.

  59. No, Andrew, my solution is for the police to act within the law and stop other people acting outside it. It is actually possible to have compentent law enforcement without sinking into bribery, violence and corruption, you know. There is no justification whatever for assuming that a gangster police state would arise – it hasn’t, after all, so it is clear enough that it is far from inevitable. It seems more like you’re saying that if you don’t get your way the only alternative is the police state, therefore your way is the best way. I disagree on every level.

    Yes, the Taliban is a good example. It demonstrates that where the government has the desire and confidence to do something, and where it can motivate enough of the people, then that something becomes a done thing. Virulent theocratic repression is not necessary for this, of course.

  60. It seems like violent ideological repression is the only way that drug use can be reduced to near-zero. I’m not aware of any cases where a population has simply made a fully collective decision to give drugs up without violence.

    Desire, confidence and motivation are of course an important part of the "drugs problem": the people causing the problems are those who have no desire for anything else and no motivation in life.

    Happy, mentally healthy people who are of normal intelligence and who have family, friends and something useful to do very, very rarely become addicts, even if they’re routinely doing illegal drugs.

    Conversely people whose lives have broken down – say, teenagers in the "care" of Social Services, victims of abuse, people who’ve lost home and marriage and job in a short space of time: they often end up addicted to something, maybe alcohol, maybe something nastier, and without the will to do anything else. These are the inhabitants of the sink estates.

    Drugs are not a cause of problems where none would otherwise exist, they are more of a symptom. Or like an infection in a wound, where things that healthy people can cope with suddenly become deadly. Perhaps drug treatment orders or some sort of ASBO are the solution; I don’t think the approach of seeing drugs as purely a medical problem has ever really seriously been tried.

  61. I rather like this thread. It’s the kind of rationale open discussion that parliament should be having. If only politicians would just grab the damn nettle and invest some time into a debate on something with real social impact for a change…

  62. > the Taliban is a good example. It demonstrates that where the government has the desire and confidence to do something, and where it can motivate enough of the people …

    Euan, your use of the word "motivate" there is pretty disgusting. You are aware of the Taliban’s motivational techniques, I take it?

    > I see no ‘harm’ to me from over paid bankers snorting coke off hookers tits whilst wanking off.

    In case anyone’s wondering, that wasn’t my old job.

  63. S2, if you read what I said you will see that I was not suggesting the METHOD of the Taliban was praiseworthy, but rather that GENERAL PRINCIPLE that if the state has the confidence to do something and to motivate the people, etc.

    To put it even more simply, if the state has the balls soemthing will happen. If the state has no confidence in its ability to solve a problem, it will not be able to solve it. This should be bloody obvious, since the same thing applies on an individual level – confidence in ability = high chance of success, lack of confidence = low chance of success.

    It should also be bloody obvious that the ability to lead, enthuse and encourage others also increases the probability of success. Again, this works on an individual level too. With the Taliban, this was a combination of extant religious feeling and a newer terror. But again, it is the principle of the thing. Also, confidence is catching – if the state plainly has it then it can, as it were, infect the people. But if the state does not have it, the people will not acquire it when the state tries to enthuse them. A classic case of this was the abortive coup in the USSR, when it was plain to see that the plotters were nervous, uncertain and lacking in confidence. This too is contagious. Basically, it’s a question of leadership.

    In the west, states and governments seem to have lost a great deal of confidence. I think this is in large part a cultural thing, as the west turns inwards and loses the conviction that it is right about certain things (whether it actually is right is another matter, the confidence is the question).

    Finally, you cannot argue against a general principle by citing a specific instance. If you’re going to make that kind of argument, we might as well give up on everything now because whatever you want to do a counter-example can be found.

  64. "If you don’t think Singapore is a vile barbaric shithole, then I query your mental health. "

    I doubt if its inhabitants regard it in those terms. Most of them would be rather pleased to have moved from a third world to a first world standard of living in 40 years or so.

    While you may query my mental health, I expect it’s rather pleasanter to live in than about 80% of the world.

  65. Right, look. The Taleban ‘succeeded’ by (aside from using terror and having an theocratic totalitarian state) by having a ‘will’ that sprang from a religious belief that drugs were evil. Now, you have said that you do not believe that drugs themselves are evil, that this is not to be a Puritanical crusade, but one of pragmatism. But this view makes it impossible to summon the ‘will’ to invest tremendous powers in the police, to have them wage a war in our streets. To get this ‘will’ you would need to inculturate the people in a belief that you do not share – a particularly anti-democratic tactic.

    "No, Andrew, my solution is for the police to act within the law and stop other people acting outside it." Who is seeing the world as they WANT it to be now? Yes of course it possible to have "compentent law enforcement without sinking into bribery, violence and corruption", but this does not spring unbidden, or at the sheer will of Euan Gray. It depends on the cicumstances that the police operate in. If they are asked to smash drug gangs, and are given the ‘liberty’ to act as would be necessary, they will take on the role of drug dealers themselves (or at least, the protectors of the drug dealers) as they, like the many of the population, do not see drugs themselves as evil, only actions of drug gangs. For them to eliminate drug gangs without taking up this role it would need an ideological commitment to the evil of drugs.

    You can’t point to a single example where the supply of drugs has been cut of by police action without the use of autocratic, dictatorial or theocratic terror.

    You can’t say how you would invest the people and the police with the will, nor how you would clean up (and keep clean) the police ready for this crusade.

    The best example that you can come up with is the Taleban – religious nutters – as you know full well that in every other (slightly more liberal) country with draconian punishments for drug supply the police themselves are at the heart of the (still existing) drug trade – and even in those places there are still the tremendous social ills. You can’t answer the problem of America – the harshest drug laws in the West – the greatest drug-connected social blight.

    Wishful thinking? It is more like fantasy.

  66. "You can’t point to a single example where the supply of drugs has been cut of by police action without the use of autocratic, dictatorial or theocratic terror."

    And even some of that doesn’t seem to have worked in Singapore, does it?

    What’s even more surprising is the implicit high level of demasnd for blow there that smugglers are prepared to risk incredibly heavy penalties to supply it. I expect the police are taking their cut and (because it’s in their economic interests) keeping the market going by only selective enforcement.

  67. And more to the point even the Taliban didn’t address the actual ‘problem’ of production; they mainly cracked down on personal consumption within their borders; despite their statements to ROW. What you say (to external aid agencies and governments) and what you do are two very different things. Nice current example “UK gov – yes climate change is an issue; we’re doing something about it …. Everybody ready for the lovely black gold that’s going to start pouring from Iraq?”

    EG if your argument is that to effect a reduction in the drug ‘problem’ merely requires Taliban style enforcement methods at the user level, I don’t think that’s a credible message you could ever (or want to) try to sell in a democratic state.
    “An 1/8th of skunk sir? That’ll be loss of your hands then”…
    “1 gram of coke sir? That’ll be a car battery attached to your testicles and your wife raped in front of you before we garrote you with piano wire….”

    It’s just cloud cuckoo land.

    Read these. The 1st demonstrates again and again why all drug production & consumption externalities are related to economic problems…….. The second partly debunks the great Taliban were great at controlling drugs myth

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/1998/02/980224-voa-drugs.htm

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/925855.stm

  68. Andrew, why do you assume that having a police system enforcing a law necessarily results in waging war on the streets? That’s just bloody absurd, really.

    In order to enforce law against drug abuse, it is not necessary to grant the police ANY additional power. You have the law which says the penalty is whatever. You have the existing power of the police to search people and property WITH PROBABLE CAUSE and where necessary a warrant.

    No police system can operate without these powers, and the police have had them all along. It is all that is necessary. Please explain what extra powers you think the police would need to enforce the law and why you think they are necessary.

    As for the Taliban, you have completely failed to see my point. It’s very simple and obvious and I suggest you read my comments again. It is not necessary to resort to brutal theocracy in order to have the will to get things done and to suggest it is is frankly rather silly. Why is it impossible to find the will without this? Please explain.

  69. "It is not necessary to resort to brutal theocracy in order to have the will to get things done and to suggest it is is frankly rather silly. Why is it impossible to find the will without this? Please explain. "

    Because if it could be done it would have been done.

  70. Chris b, my argument is VERY OBVIOUSLY NOT that we need Taliban style repression. Perhaps you too could benefit from re-reading? After you’ve done that, perhaps you could point out where I suggested such repression was necessary, because I seem to have missed it.

    Reports made after the BBC report you cite – including UN physical surveys actually in the country – demonstrate that opium production in Afghanistan had virtually ceased by the summer of 2001.

  71. dave,

    I see, so no state can motivate itself or its people without religiously inspired oppression? Interesting take on history, but not one that, frankly, I would pay much attention to.

  72. No Euan, no state can motivate itself or its people to ban recreational drugs without religiously inspired oppression. Because people want recreational drugs too badly.

    And "recreational" isn’t really the right word, I know. The despair and emptiness of heroin-abusers in places like Edinburgh or the former pit-villages – or Iran – isn’t something I’m happy with, but the only difference between the consumption of heroin and, say, heavy solvent abuse, is price. Both behaviours are symptoms, it’s what they’re a response to that should be dealt with – we agree there.

    On a tangent, the idea of a state motivating itself and its people doesn’t particularly appeal to me. Mr Blunkett and Mr Clarke and other "crusaders" are the figures that spring to mind on this topic. I wonder if you can think of any perhaps more positive examples more recently than, say WWII?

  73. > Reports … demonstrate that opium production in Afghanistan had virtually ceased by the summer of 2001.

    Along with every other type of production.

    Euan, you seem to have missed the point that the Taleban didn’t stop drug production through mere will-power. They used methods. Yes, those methods can work. No, no sane person wants to live anywhere where they’re used. Your bizarre insistence that the Taleban could have succeeded using different methods because they had will-power is based on what, exactly? Or, if you don’t think they could have succeeded with different methods, what on Earth is your point?

    Criminalising drugs makes the profits from the drug trade astronomical. A trafficker near the top of the tree can make tens of millions in one afternoon. This enables them to hire private armies, including people who are willing to risk the death penalty in return for living like kings. That’s why you can’t beat these gangs with a normal police force operating inside reasonable laws. They’re armies; you fight them with armies. That can be done at sea and in remote jungle areas, with some success. But do you really want to try it in Plymouth or Birmingham?

    > you cannot argue against a general principle by citing a specific instance

    That’ll be news to every scientist and philosopher in history. But, hey, what did they know?

    John, is this your longest comments thread ever?

  74. "That’ll be news to every scientist and philosopher in history"

    No, it won’t. It’s a commonly accepted position that a general principle is not invalidated by a specific non-conforming example. A LAW is invalidated by a single contrary instance, but a PRINCIPLE is not.

  75. EG correct you didn’t suggest it was required and stated
    "Yes, the Taliban is a good example. It demonstrates that where the government has the desire and confidence to do something, and where it can motivate enough of the people, then that something becomes a done thing. Virulent theocratic repression is not necessary for this, of course."

    I totally disagree and was trying to point out that the only reason for the ‘motivation’ of the people was because of the "virulent theocratic repression".
    Can you imagine thar a cash crop and subsistence farmer with 6 children to feed and a wife to look after is going to abandon his only source of hard currency because someone asks him nicely not to??!?! Get real, it’s back to good old economics again….

    EG If your only point is that with enough ‘will’ you can get a view enforced on a population then so what? If I was the UK government I could have solved the IRA problem overnight by simply getting the army to go to all of their homes one evening and shooting everyone in the household and their neighbours (just to be sure) in the head.

    It’s a similar argument to strategic bombing, it doesn’t work unless taken to it’s locical conslusion, which is politically (and I’d argue almost morally) impossible.

    I think what most of us posting believe is that other than living in a virtual police state, which would be a pyrrhic victory, there are other ways to deal with the associated problems which would be:
    a) cheaper
    b) less likely to seriously impinge on your personal liberty
    c) Far more humane
    d) will, after removing the nasty externalities associated with drug abuse, allow the root causes to be addressed

    And technical point, yes Opium production had almost stopped in 2001. However that was more to do with the fact that the prior years had seen bumper crops and there was a mountain of heroin still unsold, basic economics again… You produce 70-80% of world heroin, there’s a glut in the market depressing prices, so what do you do to raise the price? Bingo!! restrict supply….. Funnily enough the years following 2001 returned to bumper opium production….

    Drug prohibition hasn’t worked for the last 100 years practically anywhere in the world at moderating supply or demand, both have risen inexorably. Why not just accept the war on drugs was lost long ago… There is another way.

    Jesus I sound like the Natwest adverts…..

  76. "A LAW is invalidated by a single contrary instance"
    Ah if only…. Has anyone told the High Court? :-)

  77. Yes, but you can’t argue for a general principle if the only examples you can cite run counter to this. Cite some examples.

    EG, you seem to miss the point that ‘will’ cannot be magicked from nothingness. In order to inculturate this will, we need to use methods, or change our structures – or something. Nothing is not enough. How do you propose giving the police the will to do what you ask. You do not think that it involves giving them anymore powers, so where do you expect this to come from?

  78. Did Tony Martin farm Opium poppies then?
    No wonder the gypo’s kept trying to knock over his house
    ;)

  79. > If I was the UK government I could have solved the IRA problem overnight by simply getting the army to go to all of their homes one evening and shooting everyone in the household and their neighbours (just to be sure) in the head.

    If I may suggest it, a better example here would be using the above method to eradicate TB from China, since that actually happened. Result? The Chinese no longer trust doctors, no longer reoprt their illnesses, and we got the SARS epidemic before any Chinese medical authorities could react. It’s almost as if this extreme repression approach is counterproductive in all areas of life.

  80. EG, I haven’t commented on this thread for a while because others were already saying what I wanted to. But while lurking I’ve tried to think of arguments that might appeal to you, rather than the absolute rights arguments that appeal most to me.
    How about this? You say that enforcement of drugs laws can be done without massive corrutpion, but the leaders need to show will. If governments show decisive and confident leadership, people will catch it from them. I hope that is a fair summary.
    But why does the will need to come from laws or governments? There have been great upsurges in will throughout history, for causes good and bad.
    The temperance movement had much better success in saving individuals from alcoholism than it did in its parallel (and to my mind, bad) objective of banning alcohol. The present campaign against cigarette smoking has succeeded in making smoking unfashionable. I think it may lose all it has gained by getting the law on its side, as it probably will. But it shows you can have popular will to fight addictions without the use of law and its attendant corruption.

    A separate point is that when there is a prohibition in force the types of drug/alcohol that are easiest to smuggle flourish. This means small, high value packages: i.e. the hard stuff.

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