Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mexico's Drug War - Hecho in el Wall Street Journal

Currently the country of Mexico is in a state of near-civil war, and an ongoing toxic meme is that this is entirely due to the thoughtless drug-addicted inhabitants of the United States, who by creating a demand for illegal drugs are responsible for the violent Mexicans drug gangs which are tearing that society apart. 

As usual this is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to start.  First: if someone sells drugs to children in a schoolyard, is the person selling the drugs a saint and the fault lies entirely with the schoolchildren?  I think not.  In general it is the provider of drugs that is considered the main villain, and the user more of a victim.  If Mexico is supplying addictive drugs to the young and disposed of the United States, surely the moral judgment should be mostly against Mexico?

If you disagree with my logic, would you object if I tried to sell your children methamphetamine?  Do we conclude that if they buy such drugs from me, it is their fault for their lack of moral fiber, and I am just an innocent business-puter supplying a need?  This doesn’t add up, does it?

The key issue in Mexico is poverty.  Consider that the United States also shares a border with Canada, but the American appetite for drugs is not bothering the Canadians (much). Because Canada is prosperous, and most Canadians have better things to do than join drug gangs.

There is an idea that if Americans either stopped using illegal drugs, or alternatively legalized them and thus cut the legs out from under the the drug cartels, then Mexico’s drug gang problem would go away.  This is a very, very dangerous folly.  Be very careful what you wish for, humans.

Karl Marx once said that “religion is the opiate of the masses.”  We have in at least one respect progressed to a more honest situation: now opiates are the opiates of the masses.  If life totally sucks, why shouldn’t a hominid be entitled to some pleasure, however biochemically manufactured?  Shouldn’t it be each adult’s own choice what to do with their own bodies?  This is the standard libertarian view.  I do not deny its power, although the libertarian view must be tempered with the consideration that when a human destroys his/her life, they are likely going to harm many others, such as for example children.  There is also the point that addictive drugs, by their very nature, remove the element of free will upon which any libertarian argument must ultimately be based. 

But on to more practical matters.  If Americans stopped using drugs, or legalized them, it would make Mexico far, far worse.  Do you really think that if the illegal drug trade were ended, then all those newly unemployed Mexican peasants will just go home and starve to death peacefully?  Not a chance.  They will turn to piracy and kidnapping, count on it.

Far from dragging Mexico down, the ‘drug war’ is possibly the only thing keeping Mexico afloat.  It’s nasty, ugly, but still a safety valve.  You can think of it as a tax on poor Americans that pays subsistence for poor Mexicans. Until the main issue of poverty is resolved, close off this safety valve at your peril.  I personally think that the so-called “war on drugs” is stupid, but beware the law of unintended consequences.

Would you prefer that unemployed Americans get high on illegal psychoactive drugs, or that your daughter be kidnapped for ransom and likely killed or mutilated in the process?  It’s not much of a choice, mind you, but if I was a human being I know which one I would make.

So what has caused Mexico's poverty?  Many things that can all be summed up very simply: The Mexican government did everything that the neoliberal economists in the Wall Street Journal advocated. They bailed out wealthy bankers who made bad investments and paid for it by raising taxes on the poor.  They refused to have any antitrust law, and allowed monopolies in phone service and cement etc. to jack up prices.  They let the oligarchs crush unions, even gunning down striking workers without penalty.  The opened themselves up to race-to-the-bottom competition with even poorer countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam.   But most of all, the Mexican Oligarchs "forced" population growth.

Its recent population explosion was engineered by the Mexican oligarchs who waged a massive propaganda campaign to convince Mexicans to have enormous numbers of children at an early age (see “The Mexicans: a personal portrait of a people”, by Patrick Oster).  Ostensibly to make Mexico “bigger and better”, the only reason I can
think of for this policy is to ensure that wages stay low.  It’s working.  It’s working so well that grinding poverty now threatens utter collapse, and the same oligarchs that wanted more people are now desperate to dump their surplus population on the United States….

Nobody beats supply and demand.  The surest way to drive down wages is to grow the population rapidly. At least without an open frontier, it works every time.  And no, it is not true that first countries become rich and then fertility rates fall.  It is always the other way around, because that’s the only way that people can slowly and patiently accumulate per-capita wealth.

I know the Mexican fertility rate is supposed to be falling, BUT:  remember the demographic momentum.  Past high fertility rates will continue to cause rapid population growth for at least two generations to come.  Also I suspect that a lot of these statistics are faked: you have been hearing for over 40 years how the third-world population is going to stop growing and they will all become rich, and it never works out that way. There is a strong vested interest by the lovers of cheap labor in pretending that the population issue has been solved, because it hasn’t, and they don't want it to be, and they stand to make so much money from all that ‘affordable’ and ‘globally competitive’ labor.

When people are ground into the dirt, sooner or later bad stuff happens.  Drug wars are a symptom and not a cause.  What you really need is for Mexico to do the exact opposite of everything that the neoliberal editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal advocates. 

Only when neoliberal economists are routinely despised and their toxic self-serving advice ignored will there be hope for progress in Mexico.

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