During America’s brief tenure atop the world’s pecking order between the end of WWII and the beginning of the current era, the country enjoyed an unprecedented run of prosperity and abundance. The country was so successful while producing copious wealth and endless opportunity, it could afford to take on costs and burdens that would have crippled any other country in the world.
As Europe slowly rebuilt from the ashes of war, the Islamic empires continued their long slumber, India scuffled through its often chaotic early democracy, Latin America swung wildly from far-right to far-left despots and China suffered unspeakable suffering under Maoist extremes, the United States bobbed cheerily along the sunny seas of prosperity.
During this time, the U.S. took on cost after cost, burden after burden, both domestically and internationally. From supporting the world’s largest, most expensive military, to feeding internal parasites that sucked economic vitality like a lamprey eel, America endured all the costs and burdens, yet kept on growing.
Once the Soviet Union fell, the United States stood well and truly alone atop the world, the sole superpower, capable, so the story went, of doing whatever it wanted, wherever it wanted, whenever it wanted.
During the decades from the end of WWII to the end of the century, the American population came to expect endless growth, ever-increasing prosperity, an always better life for their children and unchallenged global precedence.
Today, just 10 years into the new century, all of those expectations, and all of their accompanying assumptions, are being challenged. America is no longer the unchallenged global leader. America’s world standing and reputation have been severely dented. America’s prosperity has stopped, and in fact reversed, in the most severe downturn since the great depression. For the first time ever in its long history of endless optimism, a majority of Americans think their children will have a worse life than they did. And if that wasn’t enough, America can no longer afford many of the costs and burdens it currently bears financially, socially and politically.
There are many ways to decide what can be done to restore American prosperity and ensure a better life for our children and grandchildren. As a nation and as individuals, we can make those choices by any number of criteria. I believe the way forward consists of a very simple test: we can only keep what we can afford.
As a nation, we can no longer afford:
- Money in Politics
Money has irretrievably corrupted the political process in the United States. Elected representatives are now engaged in full time fund raising from the point they choose to run for office until the point they lose their last election. Actually governing the states and the nation were delegated to staffers and lobbyists long ago. The politicians do one thing and one thing only: pursue money. Nine billion dollars was spent in 2009 buying political influence in Washington, D.C., alone, to say nothing of what was spent at the state and local level.
Under this system, we elect the people who can demonstrate they can best spend unlimited amounts of money. The more influence they sell, the more money they take in, the more they can spend. We end up with the people who know the least about how to manage money and the most about how to spend it. This fact goes a long way to explaining why our public debt and runaway spending on entitlement programs is destroying the country’s finances and undermining our economic and national stability.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
Wouldn’t it be better to elect people who demonstrate they can make the most of a fixed amount of money, a specific budget, very similar to how you run your household—making do on the money you have? This is how other successful industrialized countries run elections. Those countries give each candidate a fixed, specific amount of money and watch to see who can demonstrate they can make best use of that money. They elect people who are the most efficient at using the money they have available.
I believe that is the best way forward for America. We can no longer afford money in politics.
Give each candidate a fixed amount of public money. Outlaw all other money in politics: private, business, union, PAC, special entity, international, etc.
Yes, there will still be crooked politicians. Yes, there will still be individuals, businesses, unions and organizations who buy off politicians. We will still need to arrest and prosecute those people. It will still be better than it is today.
We can’t afford money in politics anymore; it has corrupted our political system. We must eliminate money in politics.
Gerrymandering is the process of creating distorted electoral districts at the state level to ensure that a particular political party will always win the elections in that district. The resulting rigged elections in American gerrymandered districts are no different than rigged elections in Putin’s Russia, Chávez’s Venezuela, or Communist China. Just as in those places, the winner in an American gerrymandered district has already been determined.
Gerrymandering ensures “safe” districts for one or the other of the two political parties. As long as gerrymandering continues, America is not run by the people, it is run by the political parties.
Gerrymandering means that there is no contest in the November elections, when most voters go to the polls. Instead, the winner of the spring primary elections determines who will win that district. The people that vote in the primary elections are predominantly party activists, extremists and fringe ideologues. Those extremists elect extremist, ideologue candidates. Gerrymandering guarantees that political extremist ideologues will be elected and dominate Congress.
In the 2010 election, 331 of the 435 House seats, 76 percent, are considered “safe” or gerrymandered. Those “safe” seats will go to unyielding ideologues that are incapable of the compromises required for governance. If they compromise with the few remaining moderates in their own party, much less the opposing party, they will lose the next primary election. Gerrymandering guarantees a gridlocked, non-functioning government.
We can’t afford gerrymandering anymore. It has created a Congress filled with extremist ideologues incapable of governance. We must eliminate gerrymandering.
- A Permanent Ruling Class
In exchange for the material and social success of the latter half of the 20th century, the American people abdicated governance to a fixed, permanent political class. This political class almost all hailed from the same families, neighborhoods, social circles, elite colleges, law schools and informal and formal networks. As long as the prosperity kept flowing and the good times kept rolling, the American people let the ruling political class have their way with running the government and the country. Although elections were held and the token outsider occasionally slipped into office, the same group of people, the ruling political class, ran the show. They were, and are, the undisputed drivers of the American bus.
The inevitable outcome is not unexpected and is reflected of the maxim, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The longer the ruling political class stayed in power, the more the country was shaped to ensure their continued power and economic success.
America was founded by a ruling political class of wealthy, white, male land owners. It remains a political ruling class primarily of wealthy, white men. While only about one in a hundred Americans is a millionaire, more than 44 of every hundred congress members are millionaires. The average net worth of a member of Congress is more than $6.3 million dollars, more than ten times the average net worth of an American citizen. Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. and only 18 percent of Congress. Minorities are 34 percent of the U.S. but only 16 percent of Congress.
The same permanent ruling political class has been running the United States for a long time. Their priorities have put the country exactly where it is right now. No one else is more responsible for where we are as a nation than this small group of people. They can’t point the finger at anyone else—they’ve been driving this bus for generations. Where we are now is nobody’s fault but theirs.
The ruling political class thinks they deserve to run the country because of birthright. Their parents ruled the United States, so they believe they deserve to rule the United States. The United States was founded on the principal that no one gets anything, least of all political power and control, due to birthright. We fought a war with a ruling King to establish that principal, enshrined in our country’s independence.
The ruling political class thinks they deserve to run the country because they are elites, residents of the pinnacles of society. They attended all the right schools, they obtained all the right degrees, they worked at all the right places, and they know all the right people. The U.S. is, theoretically, a meritocracy, where people earn their place in life due to their abilities and their efforts. The U.S. is, theoretically, where one can be smart and rise up through society all the way to the top, including positions of political power and control.
The ruling political class thinks they deserve to run the country because they are so smart. Firstly, if they are so smart, how did we end up where we are right now? Secondly, there are plenty of smart people in the United States, of which the vast majority are outside the ruling class.
The permanent ruling political class has been controlling America for generations.
They put us in the position we are now. They had their chance and this is what they made of it.
I believe we should give some other smart Americans an opportunity to drive the bus.
We can’t afford a permanent ruling class anymore. We need a different set of bus drivers.
- A Nation of Lawyers
One negative effect of a fixed, permanent ruling political class is that the United States became more and more a tangled web of laws and regulations that ensured that the ruling political class’s dominant profession, lawyers, were required for even the most trivial engagement with business or society. Fewer than one half of one percent of Americans are lawyers while more than 38 percent of Congress are lawyers. More than half of all presidents, including our current president, have been lawyers. Over its history, the United States slowly but inevitably transitioned to a nation of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers.
The solution does not lie in a Shakespearian outcome, as in, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” – Dick, the butcher, Henry VI, part II, act IV, scene ii, lines 83–84.
We need laws. We are, after all, theoretically a country of laws, not men. With no laws, we have no civilization.
We need lawyers to provide service within those laws. We cannot function without lawyers.
In my view, it is wrong to paint all lawyers with a broad brush as the source of all of our problems. Not all lawyers are inherently evil. In fact, one of the people I admire most is a lawyer. Over my career I have worked with many lawyers of very high merit, character and integrity.
The solution is not in a blanket condemnation of lawyers. The solution is in a society that is not run for the ongoing, structurally entwined and integrated, nearly exclusive, benefit of lawyers.
American doctors state that more than 30% of surgeries, testing, procedures and prescriptions in the United States are done due to “defensive” medicine to protect doctors and hospitals from lawsuits. The U.S. spent $2.4 trillion dollars on health care in 2008. You can do the math.
Various studies estimate the overall cost to the U.S. economy due to its excessively litigious environment related to legal liability at 10 to 20 percent. In 2009 the U.S. gross national product was $14.462 trillion. You can do the math.
There was a time when the U.S. economy was so robust and growing so fast that we didn’t notice, much less care, that we were spending 30 dollars out of every hundred of health care costs and 10 to 20 dollars out of every hundred in the entire economy on out of control litigation, or in colloquial terms, on ambulance chasing lawyers.
We are no longer in those times when we didn’t notice and it didn’t matter.
We can no longer afford a country of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers. We must reign in the lawyers and end excessive litigation.
- Foreign Oil
In 2008 the United States sent $1,024,483,750 per day overseas for foreign oil. That’s more than $1 billion dollars—per day—every 24 hours—sent overseas.
That’s one billion dollars a day that could be improving our country and fixing our problems. Instead we sent one billion dollars a day to other countries.
In all of 2008 we sent $373,936,568,750, that’s $374 billion dollars, overseas to buy oil.
Included in that year’s total amount was more than $201billion dollars sent to Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, the countries that make up the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Iran is also a member of OPEC, but we don’t currently buy any oil from them due to U.S. economic sanctions.
The nations of OPEC control 76 percent of the world’s proven reserves of oil. The nations of OPEC also enjoy the receipt of $201 billion dollars in oil revenue a year from the United States. That revenue buys power and control for the despots and royal families that control nearly all of the OPEC countries.
In exchange for this extraordinary wealth and the military protection provided by the United States over the oil rich countries of the Middle East, some of those autocrats and royal families have been very friendly and helpful to the U.S.; others have been publicly helpful, but dubious to antagonistic to outright hostile behind the scenes. Some, such as Iran, are openly hostile.
It is alleged that some of the OPEC countries use a portion of their oil income to fund terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, a group committed to the destruction of the United States, its society and its people. Among the OPEC members in our own hemisphere, Hugo Chávez, strongman ruler of Venezuela, has called for the outright destruction of the United States as we know it, while his protégé, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, a fervent anti-yanqui nationalist, supports him in his efforts while initiating his own.
In 2008, the U.S. sent more than $80 billion dollars to the Persian Gulf oil countries, of which an unknown amount was diverted to people doing everything they can to kill every last American.
In 2008, the U.S. sent more than $40 billion dollars to Hugo Chávez, who leads the world in anti-American zealotry and vitriol, and $7.5 billion dollars to his South American sidekick in America bashing, Rafael Correa.
In addition, in 2008 the U.S. sent more than $15.7 billion dollars to our old Cold War foe and resurgent world power, Russia, to buy their oil.
All told, in 2008 the U.S. sent $143.2 billion dollars to people who in one way or another, to one extent or another, to one degree or another, are trying to kill us.
We are the first civilization in the history of mankind to fund its own destruction.
We can no longer afford to send over one billon dollars a day overseas to buy foreign oil. We can no longer afford to fund our own destruction. We must end our dependence on foreign oil.
“…it doesn’t make a damn whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican if you’ve forgotten you’re an American” – former Senator Alan Simpson (Republican, Wyoming)
The two American political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, have held power in this country in their present form for over 150 years. For good or for ill, they have created the nation we live in today.
In recent times, thanks to gerrymandering, both parties have drifted towards their respective radical fringes, becoming little more than holding tanks for extremist ideologues. Having lost nearly every moderate member, the parties are no longer capable of finding common ground with each other. The ideologues that control the parties are incapable of seeing the world in any way other than pure black and white. In the view of the extremists, the world is divided between party loyalists who drank the Kool-Aid and will march to any tune the party leadership calls and 100 percent deserve-to-die, evil enemy.
There is little, if any, social interaction between members of the opposing parties in Congress. There is little, if any, meaningful cooperation between members of the opposing parties. There is little, if any, concern for anything other than achieving and retaining power for their party’s sake between members of the opposing parties. There is little, if any, effort put into governing the country they were elected to serve versus extending power and control between members of the opposing parties.
Protected by their safe, gerrymandered districts, extremist ideologues have seized control of the two political parties that control the United States. These hard-line extremists cannot compromise or they will be voted out in the next primary election, thus they are incapable of anything but hard-line agendas. Since they cannot compromise in any form, by any means, these politicians are not equipped to function in the real world of politics, which is, by definition, the art of the possible, not the realm of the rigid.
Increasingly solidified into distant, opposing camps incapable of communication, much less governance, preoccupied by plotting the downfall of their rivals above all other concerns, the parties have abandoned the helm. The ship of state has been set adrift, free to be blown upon the rocks by the winds of a rapidly changing world and battered into splinters by the crashing waves of our country’s enemies.
The two parties, as they have amply demonstrated over the last decade, are incapable of addressing, much less overcoming, the major threats the country faces, such as the economy, public debt, annual deficits, energy, education, effective financial regulation, health care costs, etc.
Because they are incapable of the compromises required to govern in any form short of a totalitarian dictatorship, the parties have proven themselves unsuited to participation in the representative democracy used in the United States.
The two parties must reform or be replaced. The politicians of the two parties must rediscover that they are not elected to serve their parties, they are elected to serve their constituents, and all of their constituents at that. The two parties must break from their current operating credo of “Destroy the other party at all costs, including the country if required,” and return to a mission of being Americans first and party members second.
We need a functioning government. We have serious, existential threats to this country that must be overcome in this decade. We cannot afford gridlock.
We cannot afford the two parties in their current form. Partisanship must be ended.
- Couch Potatoes
Starting in about 1970, the U.S. food industry enthusiastically adopted High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). They liked it so much they basically stopped using real sugar in processed food and drinks. Until recently, HFCS was the only sweetener used in non-diet soft drinks, e.g. sport drinks, fruit juices, cola, pop, and soda. It is also widely used in other food products such as soups, condiments, deserts, crackers, cereals, etc. In fact, it is often challenging to find a single processed food that does not contain HFCS.
HFCS is cheaper than sugar and it tastes much sweeter. That was a powerful combination for the food and beverage industry and the American consumer. So powerful, in fact, it proved irresistible.
Consequently, average annual per-capita consumption of HFCS in the U.S. went from zero in 1970 to over 60 pounds (27.22 kilos) today. That means that every single American you know consumes an average of over 60 pounds (27.22 kilos) of HFCS every year.
In 1988 Taco Bell introduced unlimited soda refills and 7-Eleven unveiled the 64 ounce “Double Gulp.” Consumption volume of drinks and other processed foods skyrocketed as a consequence of these and similar “super-size” market offerings.
Since the introduction of HFCS and the “super-sizing” of food and drink portions, obesity in America has more than doubled.
More than one third of adults in the United States are obese.
Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity has tripled among school-age children and adolescents.
More than three in ten American children are overweight or obese.
Health effects of obesity include high blood pressure; diabetes; heart disease; joint problems, including osteoarthritis; sleep apnea and respiratory problems; cancer; metabolic syndrome; and psychosocial effects. Most of these conditions are chronic and can more than double the lifetime cost of health care compared to a non-obese citizen. Long term, obesity nearly doubles the rates of debilitating, high cost chronic diseases and disability.
Due to their poor overall health, and specifically due to high rate of obesity, citizens of the United States face a drop in average life expectancy for the first time in the nation’s modern history.
We can no longer afford a nation of overweight, unhealthy adults and children. We can’t afford the loss of productivity among working adults due to chronic health conditions brought on by poor health. We cannot afford the costs of health care for an unhealthy nation, now, or in the future.
We cannot afford a nation of couch potatoes. Poor health and high obesity rates must end.
- Agriculture Subsidies
The United States spends more than $20 billion dollars per year on farm crop programs, including direct subsidies. However, this amount dramatically understates the total cost of artificial pricing and subsidy programs because it does not include other costs and economic effects.
Primary forms of agriculture subsidy include:
- Direct payments to farmers and landlords
- Price supports implemented with government purchases and storage
- Regulations that set minimum prices by location, end use, or some other characteristic
- Subsidies for such items as crop insurance, disaster response, credit, marketing, and irrigation water
- Export subsidies
- Import barriers in the form of quotas, tariffs, or regulations
In total, the average rate of “producer support estimate” for the heavily supported commodities in the United States ranges from about 55 percent of the value of production for sugar to about 22 percent for oilseeds. For the less-supported commodities the rate is usually below 5 percent.
Direct subsidy programs typically transfer income from consumers and taxpayers to farm operators, especially to owners of farmland and other resources used in farm production. Farm subsidies stimulate additional production of government-favored commodities by raising incentives to use land and farmer resources on some crops rather than on others.
Farm subsidy programs distort markets by creating false pricing levels for products, creating surpluses of subsidized crops and creating false demand, thus driving overproduction of targeted crops and underproduction of others. These effects are not limited to the domestic market alone.
Perhaps the most unfortunate and illogical manifestation of agriculture subsidies is their harmful effects on developing economies. Developing nations cannot move their economies and their people directly from subsistence farming to designing and manufacturing televisions and airplanes. The first step up the ladder for an economy is from subsistence farming, where the farmer produces only enough to feed their family, to surplus farming, where the farmer produces more food than their family needs.
When a farmer achieves surplus, the farmer can sell the surplus crops to market, thus generating cash. It is the first step in a market based, cash economy. That cash economy creates and sustains a merchant class, which supports a tax base, which can pay for building a country.
Domestic U.S. crop subsidies create false low prices for American crops such as corn and cotton. Coupled with the efficiencies of modern agriculture production, the direct and other forms of crop subsidies put American crops onto the world market at artificially low prices, lower than they actually cost to produce. In the case of cotton, world prices are as much as 20 percent lower than it costs to grow and market the crop due to U.S. cotton subsidies. Even a cotton farmer in West Africa who lives in a hut cannot compete with those prices.
Since that West African farmer is competing head to head with American cotton selling for a lower price than he can produce cotton, even with his extremely low costs, he cannot compete in the cotton market. Since he cannot sell any cotton, he cannot generate any cash from the market. Since he has no cotton sales, he cannot use his cotton sales cash to buy any other goods from the market. Since the farmers have no cash for the market, the merchant class remains constrained. Since the merchant class has very little money, there is very little tax base to grow and develop the country. Consequently, that farmer and his nation stay stuck in a cycle of endless poverty, generation after generation.
American foreign policy views that continuous cycle of poverty as a negative condition that can foster a sense of hopelessness that often leads directly to political instability, revolution and terrorism. As a result, the U.S. pours billions of dollars of cash and food aid into the farmer’s country. When the U.S. aid cash pours out of the sky, it is often pocketed by strong-man leaders, creating a permanent cycle of corrupt regimes. Normally, very, very little direct cash foreign aid ever reaches the people on the ground, people like the cotton farmer.
To make matters worse, the food aid the U.S. provides by the boat load is, of course, free, so it destroys whatever local market price there was for locally grown food crops. Now the cotton farmer, who could not compete with artificially low-priced American cotton, can not even use his land to grow food crops that he could sell at market. Those food prices have also been undermined by all the free American food being distributed.
Usually, the cotton farmer gives up and joins the long stream of migrants heading for the steaming, swarming slums of the cities to seek a better life, leaving his productive land, land capable of producing good crops of market-grade cotton, to bake in the sun.
In our current system, the United States taxpayers pay for direct cash payments to American farmers, the taxpayers pay higher prices for food and other products protected by U.S. trade barriers and the taxpayers pay industry subsidies to distort agricultural markets. As a result of these same policies, farmers, merchants and markets in developing nations are bankrupted, crippled and/or destroyed, leading to U.S. cash and food aid, which engenders permanent corruption, ensconces despots and cultivates terrorism.
Americans pay taxes that fund cash payments to large agriculture corporations to distort markets, Americans pay higher consumer prices for tariff affected goods, Americans pay taxes to support foreign aid to save the rural farmers destroyed by the artificially low prices our domestic subsidies create, Americans pay taxes to purchase food to ship to suffering countries destroyed by our domestic agricultural policies, Americans pay taxes to fund foreign financial aid diverted to the corrupt dictators we create by showering them with money, and, often, Americans pay taxes for the military and covert operations needed to suppress the terrorists that arise out of the same, now crippled, developing economies. Those terrorists are often created from the very farmers destroyed by the agricultural subsidies in the first place.
This logic only makes sense to agriculture lobbyists, short-sighted agricultural interests and American presidents, senators and representatives who sell their influence to the agricultural lobbyists and the interests they represent.
We cannot afford the direct costs of agricultural subsidies, or the short-, medium- and long-term effects those subsidies have on our world. Agriculture subsidies must end.
- Drug War
“You can never reveal my name, but I can tell you that what we’re doing doesn’t work and never will work.” I was speaking with a retired FBI field agent and former FBI / DEA liaison who spent most of his FBI career working with the DEA in South American drug producing countries. He grew up in a U.S. / Mexico border city and started his law enforcement career as a policeman there. “It was open warfare when I was a cop,” he continued. “It was us against the bike gangs, who were making millions moving speed.”
The retired FBI agent’s drug wars with the motorcycle gangs took place decades ago, not all that long after President Richard Nixon declared the “War on Drugs” in 1969. That war has raged non-stop ever since. It is estimated the United States federal government currently spends over $15 billion dollars a year on the drug war and that does not include spending by state and local governments, which carry the primary burden.
Like any other market, the illegal drug market consists of two components: demand and supply. As proven throughout human history, as long as there is a demand, if there is enough profit to justify meeting that demand, there will be a supply.
When the FBI agent referred to “speed,” he was not referring to velocity, he was using the street term for amphetamines and methamphetamines. These illegal drugs have long been popular and widely available in the United States. They are difficult to eradicate, methamphetamine in particular, because it can be produced in an inexpensive portable kit that easily fits in a bathroom. The cost to produce a batch of methamphetamine is very low and its street price is very high, leading to profit margins of thousands of percent, and thus, high motivation to participate in production and distribution.
The 2007 wholesale price for a kilogram of heroin in Afghanistan ranged around $2,405; in Colombia, a kilogram of heroin no. 4 typically sold for $9,992 wholesale in 2006; in the United States in 2007, a kilogram of heroin no. 4 cost an average of $71,200 wholesale. That’s a gross margin per kilogram of between $61,208 and $68,795 depending on the source.
In 2004, a kilogram of cocaine in Colombia typically sold for $1,713; in Peru in 2004, a kilogram of cocaine typically sold for $1,000; in the United States in 2004, a kilogram of cocaine typically sold for $23,000. That’s a gross margin per kilogram of between $21,287 and $22,000 depending on the source.
The United States is the world’s largest market for cocaine and Colombian and Mexican heroin. Obviously, there is enough potential profit to justify the risks inherent in supplying the demand.
And, like any other market, if demand remains constant and you reduce supply, then the price increases.
The U.S. spends most of its money attempting to diminish supply. In fact, since 2002, the portion spent on reducing demand has fallen from nearly half (45.6 percent) of all money spent to about one third (34.3 percent). The current administration continued that trend, lowering the amount spent on demand reduction from 35.1 percent in 2009 to 34.3 percent in the 2010 proposed budget.
In 2010, the U.S. will spend $10 billion dollars at the federal level to reduce the supply of illegal drugs. In the last nine years the U.S. spent $71.6 billion dollars to reduce the supply of illegal drugs. Again, that does not include the money spent at the state and local level.
If the U.S. was successful in reducing the supply of illegal drugs, just as in any other market, prices would steadily increase. However, despite more than $71.6 billion dollars spent to reduce supply, prices for illegal drugs have not increased. For instance, between 1990 and 2003, wholesale prices for cocaine sold in the U.S. fell by two thirds in constant dollar terms (adjusted for inflation), a broad trend that continues today.
In addition, if the money the U.S. spends on the drug war, domestically and internationally, was effective, then the size of the world’s overall market for illegal drugs would shrink, both due to shrinking demand and diminishing supply. The opposite is true. The number of people using and producing illegal drugs has not diminished in absolute or relative terms over the last few decades.
If it has had no material effect on the demand for or the supply of illegal drugs, what has the War on Drugs yielded the United States?
- Up to half of all police officers convicted as a result of FBI-led corruption cases are convicted for drug-related offenses.
- In 2007 the individual states spent a total of $6.2 billion dollars a year to incarcerate drug offenders.
- In 1982 the justice system employed approximately 1.27 million persons; in 2003 it reached over 2.3 million, nearly doubling in size.
- In the 16-year period 1987-2003, the total of judicial and legal employees grew about 101% to over 494,000 persons.
- The total number of state and federal inmates grew from 403,000 in 1982 to over 1.4 million in 2003. The number of local jail inmates more than tripled from approximately 207,000 in 1982 to over 691,000 in 2003. Adults on probation increased from over 1.4 million to about 4.1 million persons. Overall, corrections employment more than doubled from nearly 300,000 to over 748,000 during this same period.
- The number of people in state prisons for drug offenses has increased 550 percent over the last 20 years, from 1989 to 2009.
- The percentage of offenders incarcerated for drug offenses accounted for the largest percentage of total growth in prison population, 49 percent, between 1995 and 2003.
- At the retail level, in 2005 the global illegal drug industry was larger than the gross domestic product (GDP) of 88 percent of the world’s nations. At the wholesale level, illegal drugs were a larger market than global exports of ores and other minerals.
- In 2009, over 15 million people used illicit opiates (opium, heroin and morphine) annually. The value of the global opiate market is estimated at US$ 65 billion.
- In 2008, an estimated 994 metric tons (2,191,372 pounds) of cocaine was produced in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, most of it bound for the United States. At typical wholesale prices, that represents about $22 billion dollars in gross margin for the drug cartels for cocaine sales alone.
- In 2008, an estimated 5,249 metric tons (11,571,945 pounds) of marijuana was grown in the United States out of the estimated 98,681 metric tons (217,552,133 pounds) grown worldwide. At typical wholesale prices, that represents about $23 billion dollars in U.S. sales to the drug cartels, not including what is smuggled in across the borders.
- And, despite the efforts of the retired FBI agent fighting the motorcycle gangs along the border early in his career, in 2007 global production of amphetamines and methamphetamines was estimated at 435 metric tons (959,001 pounds), with an estimated 3.8 million regular users in North America alone.
What has the drug war yielded?
- It has yielded the United States having more people in prison than any other nation; on any given day more than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, almost one in every hundred Americans. Over the course of a year, 13.5 million people spend time in prison or jail in the U.S., over four percent of the population. Most of them are there for drug related offenses, including the property crimes committed to purchase drugs.
- It has yielded a prison recidivism rate of 67 percent of former prisoners rearrested within three years of their release and 52 percent re-incarcerated. After attending “criminal college” in prison, about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense.
- It has yielded a global market that pumps more than $8 trillion dollars a year into drug cartels and organized crime. Those same drug cartels have used that $8 trillion dollars a year to destabilize governments in every major drug producing and transshipment country in the world, institutionalizing corruption and undermining human rights and democracy.
- It has yielded insidious corruption among U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement departments, agencies and personnel.
- It has yielded U.S. federal, state and local bureaucracies, case loads and expenditures that dwarf those for any other aspect of crime or criminal behavior.
- It has yielded no material effect on either the demand for illegal drugs or the supply of illegal drugs.
We can no longer afford to enrich the drug cartels and organized crime, as well as undermine governments and human rights in drug producing and transshipment countries.
We can no longer afford to spend more than five times as much on failed drug enforcement as we do on drug treatment, the only thing that can reduce drug abuse, drug crime, arrest and incarceration. We must aggressively intervene with drug treatment to reduce demand in the only sustainably possible way.
We can no longer afford to incarcerate, and then quickly re-incarcerate, almost one percent of our population in an endless cycle of creating, indoctrinating and producing an ever more violent class of criminal.
We can no longer afford to have illegal drugs, something we can never stop, pass unregulated and untaxed through our economy. We must tax illegal drugs, we must regulate illegal drugs and we must create a taxed and regulated international market that directs the money in this market to foreign governments, not foreign drug cartels and organized crime.
We can no longer afford the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs must end.
“I do not think so much of America. You make movies and music. And you have the big military. After that, what?” This quote is from a German traveler I interviewed in South America. The comment reflects a common attitude amongst many of the Europeans I have known and interviewed.
This comment and outlook is diametrically opposed to the principal of American exceptionalism that has defined U.S. foreign policy and domestic culture since the days of Alexis de Tocqueville. During America’s brief reign at the top of the world’s pecking order after WWII, American exceptionalism has been used as a sword, a shield, a fig leaf and, most recently, been redefined in ways to nearly make irrelevant its orthodox historical meaning.
Historically, American exceptionalism was the principal that the United States was uniquely different from other nations and cultures due to its principles and beliefs, historic origin, natural resources and multi-racial, multi-cultural makeup. Due to the country’s founding by religious puritans, there were often divine attributes and mandates that were intertwined with the concept of American exceptionalism.
In recent history, a neo-exceptionalism has arisen that supplanted the traditional definition of American exceptionalism with a strident, often outright jingoistic version used as a generic rationalization for international unilateralism and cultural arrogance.
American exceptionalism, in both its traditional and neo- variation form the boundaries and foundation for many popular media touchstones in American culture. In music, in folklore, in movies and in television, the principals of America’s superior virtues are introduced at an early age and continuously reinforced throughout childhood and adulthood. Thus, the concept of inherent American superiority is deeply ingrained within its citizens.
There is little to no perceived need to question what is part and parcel of the American experience, and attempts to do so can be branded as both heresy and treason by those who lean toward neo-exceptionalism.
In addition, Americans have very little external perspective on their country or their culture. Only 27 percent of Americans have valid passports. Of those Americans who do travel outside their own country, the majority take short vacation trips to Canada, Mexican and Caribbean vacation resorts and, at a much lower rate, the United Kingdom (U.K.) and France.
Again by large margins, Americans prefer international destinations that require as little cultural adjustment as possible, such as Australia, the U.K., Ireland, Scotland and Canada. Because American vacations are typically limited to two weeks, there is often an attempt to cram as many tourist destinations into as little time as possible. Tourist destinations very rarely offer the opportunity to truly learn about foreign cultures or interact in a meaningful way with the people of other nations. As such, of the Americans who do travel internationally, extremely few have the opportunity to gain a representative outside perspective of their own nation and culture.
Given the deeply rooted and repeatedly reinforced theme of American exceptionalism and the widespread lack of external perspective, it can be no surprise that policies and actions taken under the mantle of exceptionalism are viewed by most Americans as not only justifiable, but just.
However, if you step outside the fishbowl that is the United States and view the concept of American exceptionalism from an external perspective, it is possible to arrive at a different conclusion.
America is indeed unique in many ways. It is alone among nations in being a nation of immigrants. That attribute, in fact, is one of the nation’s primary differentiators and sustainable global competitive advantages. The United States, historically, has been an unsurpassed engine of innovation. That innovation is due, in no small measure, to the mix of cultures and ideas that springs from the “nation of immigrants” characteristic, as well as the free enterprise economic system and the concept, if not reality, of a national meritocracy. The U.S. is also viewed by the people of the world as the fountainhead of opportunity, the single best place where anyone can, with hard work and commitment, achieve success. To a greater or lesser extent, historically, America has also been viewed as the nation that best reflected its bill of rights and freedoms enshrined in its Constitution.
The challenge America faces is that these unique attributes, these characteristics that can form the basis of a moderate, positive form of American exceptionalism, are not those that dominate the popular and current conception of exceptionalism. Instead, in recent form, American exceptionalism has been debased into a variation of jingoistic hyper-nationalism and hyper-patriotism, often rooted in divine rights and mandates.
In the 1950s, things were different for the U.S. than they are now. U.S. Representative Charles Wilson (Democrat, Texas), of Charlie Wilson’s War fame, said of 1950s America, “We were undisputedly the kings of the world, and everybody knew it. We were arrogant sons of bitches.” The world has changed since the 1950s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union squared off in a geopolitical battle of good versus evil, black versus white, capitalism versus communism. In today’s world, the U.S. is not the rock-solid superpower, the towering, dominating geopolitical, economic and cultural force, or the stable and reliable touchstone that it was then. In the 1950s, it was easy for most Americans to form and sustain a view of the U.S. that was indisputably exceptional in nearly every way.
But this is not the 1950s. The world is very different now, as is the United States. In many ways, the rest of the world has caught up or is gaining rapidly. In many ways, the U.S. is not as inherently exceptional using the same metrics as those which formed the basis of Americans’ exceptional view of their country in the 1950s.
America remains exceptional in that it is the world’s only immigrant nation. America remains exceptional in that it is the world’s hotbed of innovation. America remains exceptional in that it is the best place to achieve prosperity, to reach goals, to achieve a dream. America remains exceptional in that it is still an ongoing experiment in representative democracy of the people, by the people, for the people.
People in totalitarian countries, those recently freed from the yoke of oppression and those fearing the same tend to continue to view America as exceptional for the principles, rights and freedoms embedded in the Constitution of the United States. People in other countries, especially those who have no cultural memory of living under the bootheel of oppression or who have geopolitical reasons to oppose the U.S., often insightfully observe that American exceptionalism is limited to America’s popular media and its military power, viewing the remainder as a hollow shell of boastfulness and hype.
America’s challenges are that its internal cultural view of what forms American exceptionalism, typically the 1950s version, is often at odds with those national characteristics that remain exceptional, and that much, if not most, of the rest of the world holds a very different view of contemporary America’s unique characteristics than the typical American.
Blanket American exceptionalism, especially neo-exceptionalism, leads to an ever more isolated and insular America. An insular U.S. is increasingly prone to both economic and cultural isolationism and over-reaction to perceived international lack of cooperation and hostility. A neo-exceptionalism America is, by definition, predestined to disastrous foreign policies and unilateral actions.
In an ever more integrated, increasingly level-playing-field world, we cannot afford to be insular, isolated, or over-reactive.
We cannot afford 1950s American exceptionalism, especially neo-exceptionalism. Neo-exceptionalism and 1950s American exceptionalism must end.
As citizens, as an electorate, there is a long list of things we can no longer afford, including, but not limited to:
- Quick-fix solutions
- Short term thinking
- Blind materialism
- Business as usual
- Simple solutions to complex problems promoted by those with vested interests
While each of these, in and of themselves, could spell our doom as a society, none threaten us as much as abdication.
As a people, we have abdicated governance to a permanent, corrupt ruling class. We have abdicated thought to a craven, hyper-partisan media. And, most damaging of all, we have abdicated personal responsibility in its entirety.
During the long era of prosperity between the end of WWII and the recent great recession Americans couldn’t be bothered with worrying about government and public policy, there was too much fun to be had, leisure time to be enjoyed and money to spend to waste time on how the society was formed and governed. We just didn’t have the time, energy or interest to spare on what was really going on with government and what was really happening with all the billions of dollars that flowed into our state capitals and Washington, D.C. to buy influence. With gadgets, endless forms of entertainment and ever busier lives, who had time to care about such things as who owned our elected representatives and what they did with all that power and influence.
That time is now over. It is no longer a time when things are so good we don’t need to pay attention. The world we face today requires our full and undivided attention, and that includes our government.
We can no longer afford to abdicate governance to a permanent, corrupt ruling class. As citizens, we must reclaim governance.
America has long depended on authority figures to explain how the world works and how it affects them. Whether it was the pastor in the pulpit, the local newspaper editor or the nightly newscaster, Americans trusted their authority figures, especially those in the media, to boil down the issues and challenges of the day into understandable, bite size chunks that were both palatable and easily digested. Unfortunately, that journey has digressed to the point that the only palatable and digestible chunks of information America can handle consist of “It’s not your fault,” and “The other side are idiots.”
As a consequence, America is now left rudderless in the sea of information, with no one at the tiller of the ship and no way to steer it if there was. Americans still turn to the media for guidance, but now find the cupboard stocked only with ultra-partisan fare, tasty only to those who seek one flavor of information: that which tells them they are super-smart for thinking the way they do and that anybody who thinks differently is today an idiot and tomorrow is likely not to be worthy of living.
The media is no longer equipped to interpret and communicate the events of our time. The media is no longer capable of providing unbiased content valid for forming even-handed opinions and policies.
We can no longer afford to abdicate thought to the media. As individuals, we must seek out facts and form our own opinions, make our own decisions and determine our own fates.
There was a time in the United States when personal responsibility was not the exception; it was the social norm in American society. In that era, people were expected to stand up and take responsibility for their actions. In our current times, Americans are most noted for dodging personal responsibility. America is no longer known as a place where people stand up and take responsibility for their actions, now it is known as a place where we sue the people who sell us hot coffee when we spill it on ourselves. America is known as a place where we expect the schools to teach our children values and morals. America is known as a place that no matter what the situation, no matter what the circumstances, it is always somebody else’s fault—somebody else’s responsibility. America is known as a place where it is a newsworthy event, the rare exception, when a person takes responsibility rather than eludes it.
This long, slow slide from responsibility has delivered us to a place where every single American has an adamant and fiery sense of entitlement to what they believe they are guaranteed regardless of if they have done nothing personally to earn it. Every single American believes they are entitled to everything from free speech to clean water to a chicken in every pot, but very few Americans actually put themselves on the line to produce or ensure those things. What Americans do instead is sidestep that line, hedge that line, dance around that line, do anything but step up to that line of personal responsibility for their choices and their actions.
We can no longer afford to abdicate responsibility. As individuals and as a country, we can no longer evade responsibility for our choices and our actions. We must step up, stand up and take responsibility.
As a nation and as individuals we need to face reality as it is, not as it was or as we wish it to be.
The coming challenges in this decade require us to make hard choices. The first of those choices must be to keep what we can afford and eliminate that which we can no longer afford.
Choose what we can afford.
- Cost of foreign oil is based on average cost of imported oil per barrel at the refinery.
- Full disclosure: I grew up in Iowa, an agricultural state in the United States. Many of my family were farmers or directly or primarily dependent on the agricultural sector of the economy. I currently own farmland in Iowa that is used to produce grain. Members of my family are directly affected by agriculture subsidy programs.
- United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- United States Department of Commerce
- United States Department of Energy
- United States National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- United States Department of Justice (DOJ)
- United States Department of State
- United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)
- United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
- Executive Office of the President of the United States
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
- National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
- Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons
- Library of Economics and Liberty
- Center for Responsive Politics www.opensecrets.org
- American Bar Association
- New England Journal of Medicine
- American Psychologist
- New York Times