Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Many Die From Drugs?

Let's think about this for a second. Our government is engaged in a massive war on drugs ostensibly because of the lethal nature of these substances. This means imprisoning between half a million and a million people in the US every year. It means massive violence perpetuated against foreign countries through military aid. It means the bombing of peasants, clearing land and driving them into the hills where they must resort to drug production to avoid starvation. It means CIA funding of covert military action elsewhere in the world. It means things like the Mexican Drug War. We're talking about enormous costs, but presumably necessary due to the lethal nature of the drugs.

Just exactly how deadly are these drugs? Let's have a look. My source is here.

Annual Causes of Death in the United States
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity365,000
Microbial Agents75,000
Toxic Agents55,000
Motor Vehicle Crashes26,347
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs32,000
Incidents Involving Firearms29,000
Sexual Behaviors20,000
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect17,000
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin7,600

Seriously? The death of 17,000 entitles our government to enact policies that wreck the lives of millions of people? How would we react if we were treated like Colombia is treated? Suppose Colombia decided that they were entitled to bomb North Carolina because of lethal substances produced there. They have a far more reasonable claim since tobacco is far more lethal. Suppose further that the consumers of tobacco were mostly Colombian. How would we react to that? It isn't even a question. We'd wipe them out immediately.

And it's worse than that. Foreign countries are obligated to take tobacco and to take advertising for it or face devastating trade sanctions. Suppose that not only did Colombia bomb North Carolina but they also imposed cocaine on us and advertising for it, showing handsome people using it and extolling its virtues. The thought is like living in bizarro world, but it makes sense if you accept the logic of the drug war.


Darf Ferrara said...

I agree with your analysis, but do you believe that these horrible interventions on behalf of the state would be justified if either 1) The death rate were higher or 2) democratically people voted for these policies?

Jon said...

No and no. With regards to 1 we already know that other methods are far more effective at reducing drug use.

No on 2 as well. My claim is not that democracy always produces ideal results but that democracy is a process that tends to produce better results. I imagine these policies for example do not reflect the democratic will.

Kind of like the scientific method. Does it never result in erroneous conclusions? No. But it's a process that's shown itself to have a better track record. Democracy usually produces better results than what we have, which you might call corporatist.

Darf Ferrara said...

With 1 I'm getting at whether or not you have a consequentialist ethical view, or some other view. What would make a government action a moral act.

With regard to 2, I think that we do have the result that we would expect from a democracy (a democratic republic, of course) that is not strongly constrained constitutionally. It would be good if you could explain what democracy looks like, and why you think it would work.

Both of these ideas might take a lot of thought and I don't expect any answer soon.

Jon said...

For me moral conclusions follow from moral principles. One foundational moral principle is that if it's wrong for someone else to do it it's wrong for me to do it. That's the principle of universality. So if it's wrong for them to bomb North Carolina it's obviously wrong for us to bomb Colombia.