Reporting from Merida, Mexico
I’m leaving Mexico.
No, it’s not because I’ve been robbed, beaten, or kidnapped by the drug cartels. And it’s not because some corrupt policias tried to shake me down, because I contracted swine flu, or that beheaded bodies were left in the street outside of my hotel.
Honestly, I’m really enjoying it down here and would like to stay, but I have some important meetings in New York later this week, so I will unfortunately be headed north to brave the cold weather and even colder reception at US immigration.
Before I leave Mexico, though, I want to address the elephant in the room: Mexico’s infamous drug war, probably the most sensationalized, misunderstood issue played out in North American media, right between Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan.
The bottom line is that two governments decided long ago that drugs are a problem and that they need to do something about it. On one hand, the Mexican government expects the US to reduce demand, and on the other hand, the US government expects Mexico to curtail supply.
There are three major problems with this logic.
First is that the governments think they can force the reduction of something that quasi-literally grows on trees. Marijuana and cocaine are more easily grown than Ben Bernanke’s balance sheet– they’d have better luck reducing the supply of stupidity and hypocrisy in Washington.
What most people don’t realize is that they’ve carpet-bombed half of Colombia with herbicides so nasty (thank you, Monsanto) that they make Agent Orange look like a stick of deodorant. And yet, the cartels still find plenty of land to increase their productive capacity.
Fighting a multi-decades war against plants is just a dumb idea, ranking up there with other such gems as spending our way out of recession, borrowing our way out of debt, and invading other countries to reduce hatred against America.
The second problem is that these governments actually expect to be able to suppress demand. This is nonsense.
There will always be certain personalities who will seek out the high of recreational drugs despite the consequences. Similarly, there are certain personalities who will gamble despite the losses, seek adrenaline rushes despite the risks, or eat Big Macs despite what the bathroom scale says.
To those personalities, their desires are as natural as the instinct to breathe.
There’s no great mystery in the world about the effects of recreational drugs. As dealers say, ‘drugs sell themselves’. Drug users accept the risks because they think the benefits are greater, or they’re psychologically and/or chemically addicted to the product.
This is no different than people who’ve become addicted to aspartame (Diet Coke), prescription pills, sex, booze, exercise, cigarettes, work, shopping, anger, pain, video games, junk food, etc. The chemical and psychological dependencies don’t vanish just because the government decrees it.
The third problem is that the governments even began with the false premise that recreational drugs are a problem and should be prohibited. This is intellectually dishonest: governments sanction all sorts of drug use.
The US government says, for example, that nicotine, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, alcohol, Viagra, aspartame, Prozac, and Yellow #5 are OK, but raw milk, Cuban cigars, marijuana, human growth hormone, and chocolate Kinder eggs are not OK.
Look, I’m not trying to be anti-alcohol or pro-Kinder egg, but the notion that government agencies should be able to choose which substances we grown adults are and are not allowed to buy and ingest is rather anachronistic. And they do a horrible job at it, anyhow.
The FDA is constantly having to recall products that it once approved, frequently reversing its own GRAS (generally regarded as safe) decisions. Remember Vioxx? Stevia? Avastin? Ephedra?
The agency is filled with pencil-pushing bureaucrats who endlessly circulate position papers, dragging on the approval process for potentially life-saving drugs so that someone who’s already dying of cancer won’t have an adverse reaction.
It’s a fundamental injustice when a corrupt bureaucracy swayed by powerful lobby groups is able to decide what we can put in our own bodies, and then fails miserably at enforcing its own vacuous regulations.
The end result of this fallacy has been playing out in Mexico. Yes, there is violence and crime in Mexico related to the business of transporting and distributing recreational drugs. The violence is often portrayed in the media as ‘turf wars’ between competing cartels.
This sounds good, but it’s not really true. There are far more customers out there than the cartels can possibly supply. Fighting for demand is not the issue… it’s getting supply to the customers.
As such, cartels are either duking it out with each other over key supply routes (which is why most of the violence is in the border towns), or they’re battling the government forces trying to interdict them.
Funny thing, Pfizer and Lily don’t shoot it out in the streets over shelf space for Viagra vs. Cialis. War is bad for business; it’s prohibition that induces the armed defense of logistics hubs and production facilities.
The real scourge on Mexican society isn’t ‘turf war’ shoot outs, but the de facto police state that now exists.
In daily life, the chances of the average Mexican coming into contact with drug-related crime or violence is very low. The chances of being harassed or disrupted by government paramilitaries brandishing automatic weapons in full combat gear is extremely high.
To give you an example, I woke up at our beach home in Tulum last week to a squad of Mexican military patrolling the beach in formation, their weapons ‘at the ready.’ Later in the day, they set up check points on the road to harass anyone who wasn’t white.
Airports are even worse– multiple baggage searches, pat downs, drug dogs, roving infantry squads… all making it more difficult for tourists and legitimate travelers to get in and out of the country.
This is the fundamental issue in Mexico– billions of dollars from the US are fueling a war on plants, and human nature fuels violence and creates a police state.
The violence (mostly localized in border towns) will continue until these countries finally go broke, capitulate, and begin the embarrassing process of reexamining their policies.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.