A Pattern of Legislation


George Will, well-known conservative columnist, wrote recently about states dependent on a tobacco tax considering regulation of e-cigarettes because use of traditional cigarettes has fallen. That’s the anti-government narrative Will and other conservatives like. The interesting point about this one is its similarity to other more notable legislation past and present.
One is Prohibition. Like taxation of cigarettes, the legislation came about because of the damage alcohol was doing to many citizens. A large number of people liked it, but the people that didn’t like it REALLY didn’t like it. That prompted smuggling (as has cigarette taxes), which the Mafia took advantage of to bring us organized crime. And Prohibition only lasted thirteen years. Once it was repealed government interest in organized crime waned to the point that J. Edgar Hoover denied it existed, though he actually knew better.
The other legislation this resembles is the War on Drugs, which has now been continuing for some thirty years longer than Prohibition did. Why do you suppose this is?
According to Michael Ruppert, in Crossing the Rubicon, it has lasted because many people benefit from it. First, of course, are the illegal drug dealers, making huge profits from people’s addictions, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. They need banks in which to launder their money, and Ruppert said that many American banks have let themselves be used this way. These banks profit, of course, because they can charge high fees for their services. Their other customers benefit because they can receive lower interest rates for commercial loans, for instance. And so does government, at least in the form of donations to individual legislators, who make legislation acceptable to their donors. All this raises the question (assuming the above scenario is accurate) of whether the legislators who passed the laws establishing the Drug Enforcement Agency were actually sincere in wanting to keep American citizens from using illegal drugs, or whether they just wanted a way to make their clients huge profits. If they were sincere, they were too unsophisticated to find an effective way to actually control drugs.
I found the level of corruption described breathtaking. Is what Ruppert described true? I don’t know for certain, but it does sound plausible. More than forty years of this “war” hasn’t eradicated illegal use of drugs from the country, nor even reduced the quality of the drugs sold. Does that mean the government is incompetent? According to Ruppert, it’s less about incompetence, and more about an illegal form of capitalism, from which representatives of government want their share too. He traces American governmental involvement in the drug trade back to World War II when, he says, the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) financed some of its operations with drugs. Great Britain’s governmental involvement he traces back to the late 17th or early 18th century, when he says they began smuggling opium from India to China.
If you want to connect other dots, consider that places where illegal drug use is most often found tends to be areas of poverty, like the Appalachian states. Conservatives often like to blame poor people for their poverty, while turning a blind eye to businesses that move away from areas where they have to pay employees decent wages. This may be especially true in the Appalachians, where there’s a long history of the coal companies in particular taking advantage of the residents of the area.
An American business man told an audience that capitalism in its triumph is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He describes capitalism as being a great engine for building wealth, but not so great as a moral arbiter. Whether accidentally or not, a workable formula was arrived at during the Great Depression: capital would be taxed, and not be allowed to win all its battles. Labor would be allowed to win some, but not all. That formula (with some additions) pulled this country out of the Depression, and created a middle class that made us the richest country in the world. We’re still richest financially, but a lot less rich socially.
It ought to be obvious that investment in the country as a whole pays better (assuming you care about the country as a whole) than allowing only the rich to profit. As the business man points out, Karl Marx wasn’t a great clinician, but was a great diagnostician. He was able to see the future problems of capitalism, but his proposed remedies haven’t worked very well. The remedy found in the Depression did, but putting a similar program in place will take a lot of agreement between estranged parties. It’s unlikely to happen before we have terrible dislocations, the more terrible because of the unsustainability of so many of our industrial practices. We seem to have an interesting future in store.
Mr. Will’s view of government isn’t inaccurate as far as it goes, but reality is more complex than the single villain narrative of ideology. Government doesn’t look good in Mr. Will’s example, and in a number of other examples as well, but government isn’t the only villain in the world. Oversimplifying merely makes the problems harder to solve.


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