Sunday, May 6, 2007

It's Capitalism...

Once again the newspaper has inspired this post. Today at lunch, I was flipping thru the stack of newspaper, which H had brought home and I found a copy of the US version of the Financial Times (27 April 2007.) I used to read this at work. You will know it instantly at your local newsstand, it is the pinkish orange newspaper.

Right on the front page, I was drawn to the story about the Afghan efforts to stop the cultivation of poppies for opium. The article is written by Rachel Morarjee in Kandahar. The quick summary is that the Afghan and US/UN efforts to stop the cultivation of poppies and thereby the heroin drug trade is not working. Last year it is estimated that 90% of the heroin on the market is of Afghan origin. This year it is estimated that they have reduced the acreage under cultivation by less than 1%.

Most people believe that the eradication of the poppies is key to stopping the drug trade. MMM, I am not so sure about that. I think we need to look at the market dynamics here.

Afghanistan is a very poor country with minimal stability. The government is new, the Taliban is not completely out of power. By that I mean that they still are holding a fair amount of power in certain parts of the country. The country is lacking infrastructure and the economy is just getting going after years and years of occupation, dictatorship and unrest. Civil War, even??? I think it is also safe to say that most people live in some form of poverty; certainly the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots" is great.

That said, it is crazy to think that local farmers, who have a very lucrative cash crop are going to stop growing it just because the West and the Kabul government say they should stop growing it. Is there anything else that grows that well, which can replace their lost income? Furthermore, in a land with a 25 year history of extreme political instability, a farmer, in my opinion would be nuts to give up his livelihood, just because the government in it infancy wants to please its western allies.

Now, before everyone emails me and tells me what a terrible person I am, lets think this thru as capitalists. Supply and Demand. It is really a basic building block of capitalism. I have something, which others want. If they really want it, I can charge more for it. So if there were no demand for heroin, the farmers would not grow Poppies. Seriously, manufactures do not make something there is no demand for, for very long. Think BETA cassettes, 8-tracks, parachute pants, or glass soda bottles. No demand, therefore no longer being manufactured. It is really that simple.

Running around Afghanistan, asking farmers to give up a crop which feeds their families and improves their lot in life is like bailing out the sinking ship with a teaspoon. Ineffective and frankly stupid. Further complicating the situation, let's ask underpaid and under trained police forces to do it. Sure that is going to work.

I think the West wants to approach it this way, because we have not been able to stop the demand. There are people in the west willing to buy smack. It is harder to stop the movement of the heroin, once it is harvested. The networks are harder to penetrate - identify. A field of poppie plants is easy to spot. I agree that it would be helpful to stop the growth of the poppies, but I think it is valuable to look at the big picture.

We can look at it another way. I have always found it strange that when there is a bust for prostitution, the prostitutes tend to be the ones going to jail. (Yes, I know that is changing, but work with me here.) It is supply and demand. Again, in the capitalist model, supply and demand reign. Woman(or men) would not be selling sex, if no one was buying. Stop the demand, ie arrest the Johns, then you stop the cycle. The problem is, in my opinion, it is harder to stop the demand. It involves changing peoples' thinking, their wants, needs and desires.

There is no easy answer here, but I think we need to realize that asking poor people to give up their income stream - with no sound replacement - is not going to work. In anyones lifetime. I would further argue that it is unfair to ask. We have to put something else on the table, of equal or greater value. Then I think it is fair to say that the poppie field would be a thing of the past!

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