THE DRUG PROBLEM
by andres laszlo Jr.
This book suggests that we should turn away from drug illegalization; that we should do so not because drugs are good, but because what follows as a result of illegalization and the accompanying Supply Oriented Drug Policies (SODPs), is much worse than what follows from a liberal approach. Although this book is on a depressing topic, the text has been designed to be entertaining: you will be surprised. VIDEO
Against an untraditional and provocative background - man as a weakened species and in need of certainties in a world that offers ever less such – the reader is guided to find out whether illegalization is likely to bring about anything positive, according to his or her own beliefs and values. The author believes that he has successfully corroborated a “no” in response to this question. In addition, he claims that he has come up with some interesting new or at least unusual thoughts.
Some main conclusions of these books are that our present focus on SODPs is at best misguided, that partial legalization is an option well worth consideration, and that better understanding of the drug problem could well be had by asking; “Why are drugs illegal?”
“The writing of Andres Laszlo is not for everyone. He challenges, pushes, provokes, and dances wildly in that strange borderline between cool analytics and expressionistic creativity. This said, he has written a book on drugs, drug use, drug policy and drug experience that deserves to be taken seriously, as a challenge, a push, a provocation and an orgiastic dance of intellectual energy. It will not be to everyone’s liking, and takes a certain pleasure out of just this fact.” Professor Alf Rehn
Chapter 1 outlines the overall approach of the book and provides a background to the drug problem, including an explanation to how I came to work for Peter. Chapters 2 and 3 give an explanation as to why we take drugs while giving more background information, necessary in order to benefit from the rest of this book. Chapter 4 outlines traditionally recognized drug harms while asking whether drug illegality or drug use is the main cause of the drug problem. Chapter 5 speculates about what the different actors on the drug stage would have gotten up to without illegality and SODPs. Chapters 6 and 7, by introducing the terms “convection” (corruption by flow of surplus capital) and “conduction” (corruption by interpersonal relationships), suggest a novel way of thinking about how illegalization and SODPs, through the racket’s intrinsic immorality, corrupt. Chapter 8 guides the reader to answer the question “What should I think about SODP’s chances of success?” Chapter 9 presents the stage upon which the drug problem is enacted and “its” three dominant forces - those of supply, demand, and law – together with the weaponry each force has at its disposal, so as to once more put the reader in a position to judge SODP’s chances to succeed. Chapters 10 and 11 introduce some additional arguments and the book ends by asking whether we really would accept the sine qua non for a SODP to succeed.
Though this text is not a research paper, yet your writer believes that he - while scrutinizing illegalization’s and SODPs’ (Supply Oriented Drug Policies’) chances of success - have corroborated/pointed out/suggested various novel or at least unusual thoughts:
SODPs will not work I believe that I have close to conclusively argued that a continued emphasis on illegality and SODPs in regards to the “drug problem” is likely to be at best unlikely-to-succeed and dysfunctional in the sense that they rarely will achieve societal changes that we think are beneficial.
The concept of the “drug problem” is meaningless The expression does not mean the same to you as it does to me, and as long as we do not settle on a shared definition, or split it up into distinct parts, we more or less by definition are precluded from finding a solution. Though this critique is valid for a lot of concepts, it especially applies to the “drug problem.”
The Sneaking Economic Reason/“SER” refers to the often insufficiently well understood or unacknowledged fact that, as money is becoming the measure of ever more, economic reasoning tends to “sneak up on us” ever more frequently and ever more unexamined. The concept of SER further suggests that whenever there is an economic reason for something to happen, the probability that it actually will happen – more or less whatever “it” happens to be – increased in proportion to the strength of the economic reason. It is suggested that this can be seen as a law of human behavior; a probabilistic law that is moving in a deterministic direction. I even go as far as to suggest that the concept of SER can be used to predict social phenomena as, for instance, the undocumented and as far as I know unacknowledged cooperation between drug and real estate lords. If this prediction would turn out to be true, then my suggested SER would have been used to predict the existence of something previously unobserved. Though what is suggested to exist may not be a new planet or elementary particle, its existence would corroborate the hypothesis that our inclination to do things for economic reasons could explain human actions better than we have previously given it credit for. SER is so commonly used that it is often referred to only as; “Because whenever there is an economic reason…” or even “Because whenever…”
Work with the market forces refers to the belief that as money is becoming the measure of ever more, this is creating market forces so powerful that we ever more rarely can “profitably” oppose them. Thus we should as far as possible try to work with these forces rather than against them; a way of thinking that very much suggests that: 1) illegalization and SODPs are not the best way of dealing with social problems such as the “drug problem” & 2) for “good” human intentions to influence a situation, economic de-powering of the forces we want to overcome can be an ingredient worth considering.
Harassment In pursuing a SODP the greatest price-increasing effect, rather than from seizure and destruction of drugs, could well be had from harassment of racket members, at least if the policy is implemented with such intention. It is suggested that such harassment, assuming that we insist on continued illegalization, ought to be seen as a targetable weapon susceptible to fine-tuning rather than just as a “the-more-the-better canon” to be indiscriminately fired at supply.
S&D incompatibility Drug policies designed to reduce supply (SODP) and demand (DODP) are coexisting uncomfortably in a world where price is singled out as the primary weapon in the fight against drugs. It is suggested that these policies may even be mutually exclusive unless applied to different parts of the drug distribution chain; it seems that economics’ models at least partly corroborates this way of thinking.
More law enforcement will not necessarily cause higher prices Considering the likelihood of continued globalization and the impressive weaponry in the service of both supply and demand, there is nothing necessary about a long-term price rise on drugs in response to increased harassment, even if such policies would succeed both in causing the racket greater costs for purchasing/producing/distributing drugs and for harassment-compensation.
Demand’s own weaponry The users themselves have a vast variety of powerful and often not very well recognized price-lowering weapons at their disposal, and I have suggested the possibility of increased user self-sufficiency. User weaponry - together with globalization, the www, and reduced imports – could, even without legalization, metamorphose the stage upon which the “drug problem” is enacted.
The pro-prohibition argument Quite unexpectedly and unintentionally I have stumbled across a pro-prohibition argument that I have rarely seen emphasized. If drugs became legal, then the market forces could well take over, pushing us towards consuming more drugs rather than less. When tobacco and alcohol, became legal, from having been outlawed that is what happened. This possibility makes even a legalization enthusiast such as your writer feel uncomfortable.
“Convection” and “conduction” These two suggested mechanisms/phenomena are claimed to be useful ways of thinking about how illegalization - by creating uncontrollability, criminals, criminality, cornering, surplus profits, need for laundering, etc. - reduces more or less everybody’s quality of life. These mechanisms, when looked at closely, reveals how illegality necessarily corrupts the fabric of society and how it does so in often unacknowledged ways. Convection argues that if the (bad) ways in which the drug racket’s surpluses are acquired are reflected in how these surpluses are invested, then - especially if this is representative of how other similarly acquired surpluses are invested - there could be cause for concern. Conduction argues that when a bad person “bumps into” a good, the overall outcome is likely to be moral deterioration rather than improvement.
Other rackets would shrink too With the drug racket going out of business or dramatically shrinking it is suggested that other criminal rackets, in consequence, would suffer the loss of both investors and customers, thus offering the criminal justice system a once-in-a-millennium opportunity to substantially and “permanently” reduce the total amount of crime.
Illegality “is the drug problem” Your writer believes that he has strongly corroborated that the cause of the main part of what most of us think of as the “drug problem,” quite possibly including problematic use itself, is drug illegality, rather than drug use. This does not solve the drug problem, but it allows us to bypass it, because rather than asking, “Why do people use drugs?” or “Why is the drug situation perceived of as problematic?” we can ask “Why are drugs illegal?” – a step in a potentially fruitful direction.
Drug illegality is a dysfunctional discourse Your writer believes that he has shown that our presently dominating approach to problematic drug issues (illegalization and SODPs) is bad: that it is bad virtually “absolute”/full stop and not bad only from one or more particular point(s) of view, or way of thinking, or for a certain group of people. It is bad for everybody except maybe for 1) those that benefit from high drug prices and profits and 2) kids and parents with kids that keep off drugs because use is illegal, rather than because of parental advice or some other reason. Drug illegality to a vast majority is simply bad: a societally dysfunctional discourse in that is not achieving – nor is it likely in the future to achieve – much of what our majority would think of as “good.” The way I personally think of dysfunctional discourses is pretty much the same as Iago, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, alleges that he thinks of jealousy: “Oh! Beware my lord of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
The drug problem is the solution This is the suggestion that rather than asking “How do we make the “drug problem” go away?” we should ask “What ‘real’ problems (or, sort of, problems “in the real”) does society solve by creating the drug problem (including our drug policies) in the way it does?” a question here only formulated and briefly touched upon, yet one that your writer, DV, shall try to throw some light upon elsewhere.
ILLEGALIZATION ALSO CAUSES.../THE THEORY
(How Illegalization Sets Off A Series Of More Or Less Mandatory Events)
The illegalization/ SODP enthusiast claims that higher prices follow from illegalization and that this reduces demand. This, as does the claim that some will refrain from supplying or taking drugs because these are defined as illegal activities, makes obvious sense. However, that the argument makes sense to the degree that it justifies illegalization’s other, often quite negative consequences, is not at all obvious because as we have already seen there are indeed other things than higher prices that follow from illegality. In my attempt to understand illegality’s consequences, the good and the bad, I find it useful to think in terms of the model that is presented below. I have broken it down in order to present it step by step, and thus to make the often non-obvious relationships easier to understand.
This model, which pretends not to be complete, should be seen as a tool for helping to understand that illegality has other consequences than just pushing prices upwards and thus cause a lowering of demand. The model wants to warn that illegalization is a tricky thing and that unless the positive consequences (i.e. mainly reduced use) are very big, illegality as a whole is dysfunctional to society.
The model focuses on what is necessary for understanding the mechanisms by which illegality – first directly, then through the higher prices that illegality causes, then through what illegalization and higher prices together cause and then what these in turn cause - causes various other often unrecognized/ unconsidered/ un-emphasized/ non-obvious yet in their “final consequences” frequently quite harmful things to happen.
Squeezing reality into so procrustean a bed has been necessary also in order for your writer - who has great difficulties keeping more than one causal relation (especially as he tends to mess up causality with correlation) in mind, while attempting to think something useful at the same time - to make sense of illegality’s consequences.
Looking at the model-parts below, try to recall the story about the Abiol-dealer (rereading it with this model in mind might be a useful exercise), and this part can actually be seen as an abstract summary of much of what happened to the dealer and later to the merciless drug lord. Please note that of course a lot must have been written about “What are the consequences of illegality?” However, I have intentionally taken an a priori approach, and I have not consulted with the relevant literature in order to justify my reasoning. This can be seen as a serious flaw, though I prefer to think of it as the result of not only laziness but also of a suspicious mindset.
Let me describe illegality’s consequences by using the model’s different parts, where a long arrow suggests that “causality” is at work; ↑ suggest “more” and ↓ suggests “less”.
Figure 9.1 is illegality’s standard argument and it should be noted that illegality claims to cause reduced use not only indirectly because higher prices cause people to refrain/ reduce their drug use for economic reasons but also directly as some citizens simply obey the law. There is little or no reason to doubt that reduced consumption because of higher prices is one of the effects of illegalization – we understand it nearly as clearly as some of the natural sciences’ “truly natural” phenomena – and few SODP-critics or legalization enthusiasts doubt this relationship.
However, many illegalization critics doubt: 1) that this less-use-effect is as strong as is often claimed, especially in present times of globalization, 2) that this way of thinking is relevant in a world where we in our relation to drugs could well be entering “the age of the self-supplier” and 3) that the average illegalization enthusiasts have bothered to think or look very far beyond part 1 (i.e. beyond the diagram above).
There are many other arguments, suggesting that illegalization’s power to reduce demand is weaker than is generally thought – as SODP/ DODP incompatibility (presented in some detail below), globalization, huge stockpiles and self-supply (presented above), just to mention a few – and you will find some of them sprinkled throughout the book.
Next, before outlining the “final harms” that are caused by illegality (these are dealt with in part 9.4.), let us take a look at what illegality causes “intermediary”, because going directly from illegality to the final harms would paint too simple and too uncorroborated a picture; a picture that would make it look plausible that a policy of illegalization and SODPs would not necessarily be the drug policy madness that your writer claims that it is. If you in the part that follows sometimes feel that I am too didactic, slow and repetitive, please put it down to my desire that everyone shall understand, and accept my apologies.
Figure 9.2 points out the two first “other-than-higher-prices-consequences” of illegality and the higher prices that we now have agreed that illegality causes. This second part of the model doesn’t show the bad stuff following from illegalization per se – i.e. things that should be weighed against the good consequences of illegalization (less use) – because, in order to get to those consequences, I will have to drag you not only through figure 9.2 but also 9.3. If you have read the text above, you should be familiar with most of the reasoning below. And, please do not despair; I will get to the final consequences, and it is my intention to try to make it worth your effort.
“Fight drug uncontrollability!” and “Reduce the drug trade’s profits!” are not the sort of slogans we expect to see written on demonstrators’ banners. That is sad because as we will see in the next figure (9.3), these cause “criminal takeover” and “bad guys”. And these – bad guys, and criminal takeover – then in turn (together with illegality and higher prices) causes much of the bad stuff that we think of as “the drug problem”, and what ought to be weighed against illegalization’s good stuff (less use).
In order to understand why illegalization is a bad thing, it is important that you understand the relationships suggested by the two arrows in the figure above, so please read the text below carefully, even if slightly dry. Also, please note that as illegality causes higher prices, whenever the word “illegality” is used henceforth, “higher prices”, when contextually relevant, is assumed/ included in the concept.
Illegality causes uncontrollability. Whatever is illegalized will try to hide, and what is trying to hide is hard to supervise. One obvious and important consequence of illegality is thus reduced controllability: what is illegalizes cannot be as effectively controlled as what is not illegalized. Most of society’s control mechanisms – supervision, quotas, antitrust laws, inspections, taxation, quality tests, fines, licensing, etc. – are designed to control what is legal, but by illegalization virtually all such power is lost, leaving little more than the criminal justice system to deal with the issue. As long as something is incorporated into the legal fabric of society it can be monitored and controlled and thereby “the something,” more or less whatever it is, can be steered in the direction one wants. But, once the “something” is excluded from the realm of what is legal, it becomes much harder – more costly, sometimes more dangerous, always trickier and occasionally downright impossible - to control. Once illegalized, the main control mechanisms available are those of the criminal justice system, including/ plus stigmatization and shaming.
The criminal justice system is an ineffective and costly control agent. It works on the principle that those who participate in the illegal activity that “we” want to control gets pursued (direct cost), apprehended (direct cost), subjected to judgment (direct cost), made to face the music (direct cost), and after that often provided with a free of charge “advanced crime course” in prison (indirect cost) plus a lot of stigma that will follow them around whether they reform and keep to the straight and narrow or not (indirect cost).
This control agent, the criminal justice system, in addition to being costly, has its activities paid for by tax revenue, gets demoralized and corrupted by its interaction with what it is called to wreak justice upon. And, it is a system that, some would say, ought to have better things to do than chasing after often unnecessarily criminalized drug market actors; things like making sure that no unsafe legal drugs are sold and that taxes are paid by producers, distributors, and consumers of legal drugs.
What this all means is that when we say: “Let us illegalize X,” we should have some really good reasons to say so, and we should have considered as many alternatives and consequences as possible. Also, we should be aware that if we one day were to decide that we wanted to relegalize X, that would not mean that the criminalized individuals, by getting relegalized, would become good human beings, because the morality-changes of criminalization come into effect much faster than those of decriminalization. Please understand: Illegality causes uncontrollability.
Illegality causes higher profits. The higher prices caused by illegality result not only in less demand but also in higher profits for the remaining suppliers. We normally believe that illegality causes higher profits because the people involved in the drug trade insist on being compensated for the increase in risk they run (plus the harassment by the criminal justice system), and this is indeed part of the explanation to why illegality causes higher prices, higher margins, and thus higher profits. However, that is only one way and another way that higher prices cause higher profit is not as straightforward as the first. Higher prices, when illegality and uncontrollability are thrown into the equation, bring along profit also as a result of the resulting organization structure, which is such that it, in turn, results in cornering. As illegalization precludes the use of society’s control mechanisms, the law of the jungle takes over; the jungle’s law favors the fittest, and the fittest in uncontrolled exchange tend to be the strongest/ the one with the most guns.
As we have seen, these - the ones with the most guns, by means of creating private law-enforcement armies - also creates “barriers to entry”, that lead to a reduction in the number of suppliers, i.e., cornering. A supplier with 1 enforcer cannot stand up to a supplier with 100, just because the supplier with 1 enforcer only wants 1% of the market. This is a cornering that, by “killing off” – metaphorically, and literally - much of the competition leads to higher profits; profits above what harassment-compensation would suggest. Please understand: Illegality causes higher profits.
We started by recognizing that illegality causes higher prices and less use, so thus “higher prices” and “less use” became included in the concept of (drug) “illegality”. Then, above, it was shown that illegality also causes “uncontrollability” and “higher profits”. Henceforth, as the figures otherwise would get too messy, “illegality” implies “higher prices”, “less use”, “uncontrollability” and “higher profits”. If you do not agree, please read the above once more.
Figure 9.3 points out two additional consequences of illegality (an illegality that we have seen causes higher prices, less use, uncontrollability, and higher profits): criminal takeover and bad guys. Illegality, with a little help from what it causes - especially “higher prices”, “uncontrollability” and “higher profits” – causes criminal takeover in at least three ways: directly, through uncontrollability (that is caused by illegality and described above), and through greater profits, which is also described above. Let us start with three ways that illegality causes criminal takeover, before looking at how it creates bad guys.
How illegality causes criminal takeover 1: directly. Once the activity of doing something - as here, supplying drugs - has been outlawed, whoever refuses to give up the activity by definition becomes a criminal. Illegalization thus by definition causes de jure criminal takeover of whatever remains of the targeted activity after illegalization, because those not stopping doing what they used to do legally, now per definition will do whatever they did legally, illegally, and thus they will have become criminals in the eye of the law. This direct criminal-creation is close to “a bad absolute” because once an individual has been defined as a criminal by the mandate of the law, bad things will follow.
Some people will give up the activity of supplying what is being outlawed, and in consequence, there will be an influx of “real” or de facto criminals (whether de jure or not). These incoming real criminals - that were previously operating on other markets, whether legal or illegal – will be replaced on their original markets, so that in the end new criminals will be created there as well. These de facto criminals will be attracted to the drug trade by 1) the vacuum/vacated positions created, 2) the increased profits that illegality more or less per definition brings along, 3) that initially the competition – mainly made up from amateurish used-to-be-non-criminals - will tend not to be very fierce, 4) that seasoned criminals are already accustomed to living under the pressure of the criminal justice system’s harassment and thus feel well suited to deal with it, and 5) getting convicted for more than one crime normally will result in less additional punishment than what simple addition suggests.
Thus illegality is likely to cause criminal takeover not only by creating criminals out of those who refuse to discontinue the criminalized activity but also by creating an influx from other activities. It is a widely held opinion that criminals are bad, but the notion that the creation of criminals could be something bad is much less widespread/ accepted. When we consider the consequences of criminalizing groups as large as the suppliers of narcotic drugs, maybe we should think a while before making up our minds, and maybe we should also keep in mind that it is much easier to legalize goods and services than the providers of such. Please understand: illegality causes criminal takeover directly.
How illegality causes criminal takeover 2: by causing uncontrollability. Illegality causes criminal takeover also indirectly by the uncontrollability that we have seen that it causes, or rather by what this uncontrollability in turn causes. Because, as something gets illegalized, the profits and uncontrollability that follows creates sort of a “Goldie Lock Zone” for people who prefer, or are forced, to exist under the radar, of whom many are criminals.
Let me put it another way: Lost societal ability to control an activity or a market suggests that actors who think that such uncontrollability is to their advantage are attracted to the activity or market. And, the set of individuals thinking thus, i.e., not wanting to get subjected to control, is likely to overlap significantly with the set of individuals that are criminals. Thus criminals, ceteris paribus, are likely to leave markets that are easily controlled in favour of markets that are less easily controlled. If you happen to be interested in theory of science, you might want to relate this to Lakatos and his ideas about reasons for swapping research project.
Thus the uncontrollability caused by illegalization renders an influx of experienced real criminals with “well” developed criminal values likely, forcing many of the “only de jure” criminals out of the main action, or, to adjust so as to become “real” criminals as well. In trying to become real criminals, they will either get successful on the drug market or move to rackets where the competition is less fierce, sort of filling up some of the positions left by the incoming the facto criminals (or of those that filled up these).
It is easy to think that the many millions of people that get criminalized through drug illegalization became only de jure criminals. You might think It isn’t as if they suddenly started to act like “real” criminals “just” because they got defined as criminals – is it? They didn’t get into fraud, deception, corruption, backstabbing, acquisitive crimes or violence just because we decided to label them as drug criminals: they didn’t become “bad guys” overnight, did they?
Well, maybe not overnight, but being defined as a criminal - being surrounded by de facto criminals, having to live not only with the stigma and marginalization that often is attached to someone branded as a criminal, and with the law on one’s heels - helps. All this does things to a person. That, and, the higher prices that illegalization brings along soon will make de facto criminals out of many previously only de jure criminal drug market actors. Please understand: illegality causes criminal takeover by causing uncontrollability.
How illegality causes criminal takeover 3: by great illegal and untaxed profits. We have seen how illegality causes criminal takeover first directly/ by definition, and then indirectly by causing uncontrollability. A third way by which illegality encourages criminals to take over a branch or a part of the economy is by means not only of offering big profits – big profits attract criminals and non-criminals alike - but by offering big profits that are untaxed, illegal and thus in need of laundering or illegal reinvestment. The reason why criminals are less put off by such profits is that they, since they rarely pay taxes, at least not on their illegal revenue, have learned to deal with such income, and thus are less discouraged by the fiscal consequences of the legal status of the additional income. The fact that criminals have less problem than non-criminals to deal with tax issues is thus another reason why illegalization renders criminal takeover more likely: we all like more income, but in order for us not to be put off by the special flavor/color that untaxed money has, we must have some sort of experience in dealing with such, something that criminals, especially seasoned de facto criminals, tend to have. Please understand: illegality causes criminal takeover through greater illegal and untaxed profits.
How illegality causes bad guys. Illegality, as shown – per definition, through uncontrollability and through great illegal and untaxed profits - causes criminal takeover. Yet, in order to claim that bad guys – think of them as people perpetrating or perpetuating behaviour contrary to society’s norms – are caused by more criminals and the criminal takeover that follows from illegalization and its consequences, a bit of elaboration is called for. To be able to convince you that bad guys - and thus that bad values or, more generally, “badness” - follows from more criminals/ criminal takeover is important. It is important because these bad guys and their bad values cause much of the “final” bad stuff that illegalization will be blamed for, i.e. the bad stuff that should be weighed and compared against the virtually only good stuff that illegality causes/ “less use”.
Illegality, by not only creating criminals but also uncontrollability, great untaxed surpluses, etc. – and by thus providing the criminals that “it” has created with economic motivation to remain criminals – in this way helps create suitable habitats/ living conditions for criminals in which to live and prosper. The living conditions thus created are not only suitable for survival/ prospering but also for bad character traits - traits that are contrary to society’s norms, i.e. antisocial - to live, thrive, grow stronger, and “multiply”. Illegality, directly and indirectly, thus boosts not only the bad guys’ frequency in the population but also their ability to stamp and perpetuate their values upon society.
It is not mainly the criminals that the drug trade attracts from other rackets that cause increased “badness”. Inflowing criminals were more often than not de facto bad guys already “before” drugs were illegalized - or rather, “so illegalized”/made so attractive, that a career change became motivated - so even if “the heat” produced by the greater profits on offer in the drug racket might make some of them a little “badder”, this is not the main way in which illegality boosts badness. Rather, creating uncontrollability and new de jure criminals, and then providing these with suitable environments and economic motivation to become de facto criminals, is illegality’s main way of causing increased badness. Illegality, by creating for previously non-criminals “somewhere to hang out”, to prosper, and to turn into de facto criminals/ bad guys, is the main way in which illegality causes badness.
Illegality thus boosts not only criminal takeover but also “badness” per se, and the bad guys, by means of their incomes and traits, can stamp their values/ badness upon society; the very same society that through the mechanisms described above contributed to the creation of these individuals and values. Please understand: illegality causes bad guys.
Above we have first looked at the oh-so-simple-and-sweet-sounding illegality-causes-higher-prices-that-causes-less-use argument. Then we have been presented the more complex - yet when looked at closely, nearly as obvious - arguments that illegality also causes uncontrollability, greater profits, criminal takeover and the creation of bad guys. Yet, the only 100% non-abstract “final” drug-related consequence of illegality that we have seen so far is a beneficial one and one that virtually all drug policies are aiming for: less use. Here, guided by figure 9.4., we shall focus on the other “final stuff” that follows from illegality, plus (especially) the higher prices and bad guys/ badness that we in the previous part have seen get created as a consequence of illegality. Illegality, together with mainly the higher prices and the bad guys that it creates, also causes:
Figure 9.4 suggests that illegality - illegality that we have seen causes higher prices, less use, uncontrollability higher profits, criminal takeover, and bad guys - causes several “final” and non-abstract consequences. Yet, as for instance some of the health harms of chapter 4 are caused more by use than by illegality, not all these harms are attributable to illegality alone. Also, please note that there is some overlapping between these final mainly-illegality-caused consequences.
Illegality Causes Most Traditionally Acknowledged Harms. In going through the traditionally recognized harms in chapter 4 you were encouraged to form an opinion as to whether, and to what extent, the presented drug harms were caused by drug use or drugs’ illegal status. Though exactly “to what extent/ how much?” might not always have been clear, it ought to have been obvious that most drug harms at least to some degree were caused by illegality. When we studied the mechanisms described in the text corresponding to figure 9.2 and 9.3, this became even more obvious. Yet, for those who failed to make up their minds as to whether drug use or illegality causes most harm when reading chapter four of this book, a new condensed opportunity to decide will be offered later in this chapter. Please understand: illegality causes most/ much of traditionally acknowledged harms.
Illegality Causes Convection as the bad guys make sure that their illegal drug trafficking surpluses earn as good interest as possible; illegal surpluses that obviously would not have existed without drug illegality. Convection occurs as the bad guys launder and reinvest the illegally obtained profits produced by the drug racket (and the illegal rackets that the drug business helps supports), thus not only causing the illegal part of the economy to grow, but also turning previously legal parts of the economy into/ towards criminal. Through convection illegally obtained profits probably carry their owners’ morality and if so in all likelihood corrupts whatever part of the economy that it gets reinvested/ in contact with. Please understand: illegality causes convection.
Illegality Causes Conduction as the bad guys – the racket’s members, as well as the users, and those that these have corrupted – pass along their bad moralities, as they in human-to-human relations “bump into” “good guys”/ “not bad guys”. The badness of these bad guys gets transmitted through conduction, that would not, just like the badness transmitted by convection would not have existed without illegality, and what we have seen that illegality causes. Please understand: illegality causes conduction.
Illegality Causes User Misery. A lot of bad stuff – higher prices, harassment by law-enforcement, getting forced to interact with a wicked racket, risking accidental overdoses, contracting disease, getting “forced” into crimes, having to live with uncertainty about drug quality and drug side-effects – haunts the user. Unless you argue “You are a user, which makes you a lawbreaker, so you yourself have caused all this,” virtually all of this is caused by illegality, that makes the lives of many drug users not only much more miserable than the lives of legal drug users but also much more miserable than they would have been, had drugs been legal. Please understand: illegality causes user misery.
Illegality Causes Policy Incompatibility. Illegality is the principle logic behind SODPs, and such policies could well be incompatible with – or, at best, coexist quite uncomfortably with – not only DODPs but also with harm reduction policies and globalization. This argument – that is less an illegality-consequence/ a harm per se than a reason to why illegality is less effective than we might think in reducing use through higher prices – contains a wee bit of economics, and is presented in some detail below under the heading “Incompatibility 1”. Please understand: illegality causes policy incompatibility.
Illegality Causes Supply Ingenuity. Without illegality, prices would have been lower and with lower prices there would have been less reason for the consumers of drugs to be innovative, i.e.: grow it, make it, and find it by themselves. This because-of-illegality-acquired expertise might well continue to be put to “good” and profitable use even if and when drugs get legalized. This supply ingenuity turns users into suppliers - growers, chemists, botanist, etc. – and as such, they will continue to look for new and exciting drugs even when/ if “the old boring stuff” can no longer provide them with the income that drug illegality has given them. Please understand: illegality causes supply ingenuity.
Illegality Causes Badness. This heading does not really contain anything new, as we have already seen that illegality creates bad guys that in turn are encouraged to stamp their values on society. However, as more or less everywhere I have looked, I have found that, in consequence of illegality - and of what illegality causes, directly and indirectly – bad stuff happens. This - when I have thrown into the equation also my in this book uncorroborated conviction that money increasingly is becoming the measure of what it ought not to be allowed to become the measure of - has made me think.
One result of this thinking is that I have reflected “Why is it that “we” allow something as dysfunctional as drug illegality and SODPs to be part of our world?” and “How did this come to happen?” I have started to respond to these questions by beginning to sketch on Dysfunctional Discourses II: How & Why”. This leads me to the second result of my thinking: I have found that the illegality/ badness relation is so strong that I have had great difficulties comprehending and categorizing it into the “language” in which it ought to be described – my use of Peter’s “invention” of convection and conduction should be seen against this background – and more often than not I have been able to include only the most obvious or dramatic consequences in this book. This has led me to think; “If I, as soon as I look closer at the consequences of drug illegalization, virtually wherever I look, find badness, is it not likely that my reader, if she has opted to put up with me this long, could be put to work once more?” In that spirit, I ask you please to think about any consequence of illegality, and then ask yourself “What follows apart from what has already been pointed out?” and I believe that in most cases, for every good consequence (if you can find one), you will find at least two bad, and often at least one of these will be something that I have failed to account for. Please understand: illegality causes badness.
I realize that some readers by now might be thinking “The main parts of this guy’s pro-legalization arguments are valid for most things that are illegal; does he want us to legalize everything?”
No, I do not. I might even in a way think favorably of a world where one could forbid people to do much of what is harmful or in my way of thinking “bad” (no, I would not stand for election for “Philosopher King”). However, I am in doubt as to whether I would support the sine qua non for the creation of such a world.
Of course, society should not try to rid itself of problems such as rape, theft, and murder by legalizing these activities. However, the above, and in a way this entire book, seeks to be a reminder that maybe one should think twice before outlawing an activity/ product that is “only a little bad,” especially when the forces that have to be overcome are great, and when what is likely to follow from illegalization is much worse than “just a little bad”.
ILLEGALIZATION ALSO CAUSES.../A DRUGLORD'S TALE
(How Illegalization Sets Off A Series Of More Or Less Mandatory Events)
The second thing Peter had asked me to find out about was whether, and if so, how, illegality and SODPs, through the drug racket, influenced human morality: i.e., if, and if so how, it corrupts. That was a bit of a tricky one, especially as I had never really managed to figure out whether there was any particular influence that he wanted me to focus on. I recalled that he had said “whether inside or outside the racket,” but that did not give me much guidance other than suggesting that he wanted me to take a broad view. “Try to think of it in terms of convection and conduction,” he had said too, looking quite clever as he said it, and I regretted that I had pretended to understand; I really ought to have asked what he meant. Yet, though awkward, this corruption aspect was totally in line with my own interest, and as I started out to work on an answer to Peter’s second question, I did so with a feeling that we were at one in regards to this one; that he too suspected that the moral consequences of what follows from illegality - SODPs, criminality, the racket, excess profits and the resulting use of illegally acquired surpluses - were more deleterious than we normally recognize.
I had, somewhat dishonestly, since I didn’t really know, told Peter that this would involve a lot of hard work. I had said that mainly in the hope that he would put some bargaining chips on the table - or Gladys, rather, bringing her from wherever she was - but he had not seemed interested. Hardly a day had gone by without me thinking of her, and I had even harbored some systemic-violence-thoughts of my own, directed towards Helmut, her “surviving husband” in order to make him pay for what he had done. He had allegedly viewed my return to the realm of the living with great displeasure and the men he had hired to murder me had soon ceased to be among the living. Therefore, as a guarantee against a repeat performance, I had taken out a contract on him to be executed if I once more was to be murdered, die under suspicious circumstances or disappear, and I had made certain that he got informed of this. As to my naïve attempts to buy time – it was obvious that the Gatekeeper again had seen right through me - Peter eventually had simply said; “Forget about research and hard work, just give me your general thoughts on how illegality and SODPs – through the drug racket it creates - affect your morality.”
As Peter wanted me to take a broad view, and as the consumers are by far the more numerous on the stage we refer to as the “drug problem” – disregarding “the rest”, “society” or “the innocent bystanders” – it was on the users that I first focused: “how does illegalization/ SODPs through the racket corrupt the users?” However, it appeared to me that about 90% of all users were just ordinary people who used drugs pretty much as I used wine - and many of my friends Scotch or beer - and that these were not touched by any relevant moral consequences other than that they by definition became criminals and sometimes had to deal with “real criminals” in order to procure their drugs or deal with credit or late payments, thus increasing the probability of a problematic or somehow crime-related future. Then, of course, there was the other 10% - the non-recreational, the dependent, the addicted or the problematic users - was it illegality’s moral effect on those that Peter wanted me to focus on? I had already tried to shed some light on these, and as in addition his third and fourth questions also touched on these, I dismissed that possibility.
It all came down to that the troublesome users were so few and so different that they, especially as the heroin users would have to be included, simply could not be usefully put together. True, most problematic users use a variety of drugs – something that in one way facilitated a blanket approach – but as one drug tends to dominate, often quite strongly so, over others, it still seemed impossible to say anything useful about so heterogeneous a group. Many of the heavy cannabis users seemed more comparable to habitual drinkers than to their “fellow narcotic drug users.” A lot of them seemed pretty spaced out and occasionally downright stupid, true, but that was an intellectual issue rather than a moral one. Still, in a way I suppose that failing to make the most out of one’s intellectual gifts – or knowingly reducing them, rather - could be considered a moral crime, but that could not really be what Peter was interested in, could it?
Cocaine seemed to offer its users a lot of good stuff – endurance at work, pleasure in sex, improvements in mood, creativity, easy slimming, less need of sleep, better partying, less shyness – all without any physical habituation and what seemed to be only rather moderate negative consequences as long as they did not overdo it: hangover, aggression and a bit of sweating. Many heavy cocaine users seemed pretty interesting characters and most seemed above average in intelligence/ competence as well as in their contributions to the productive process. Yet, they did in a way become “better than they really were” artificially, or at least felt and appeared thus; again something that arguably could have moral implications.
Many problematic crack-users - even if not as despicable as they tended to be depicted by the media - seemed to be rather wicked criminals, often using their drug to overcome fear and inhibitions so as to perpetrate sometimes quite heinous crimes when under the influence. Yet, as I had no way of knowing whether it was their crime of using that made them commit other crimes – though it certainly seemed it helped once the perpetration had been decided upon - or whether it was their criminality that made them commit the crime of using, it was difficult to take a moral view of their use.
The heroin users were simply strange, a bit like another species. Though most of the junkies were often internally much alike – thin, scruffy, uneducated, schizoid and with little in their lives apart from heroin – yet they were very different from the other users. They might not be the nicest guys in town, but it seemed as if that normally was not because of their heroin use, but either because of what they were before they became “full-time heroin users” or because of what they felt they “had to do” in order to procure their drug. “Just give them some substitution substance and de-stigmatize them, and many of them will be able to function as normal people,” I remember thinking, recalling Peter Cohen’s: “The real help that these professional groups could give to heroin dependents is to cease every intervention that confirms the drug addict in his role of social outcast and failure. Therapists have to make a conceptual and ideological 'volte-face' by accepting the drug dependency of a person.”
It was as if four totally different animals had been drawn out of a hat, and as if I then had been given the task of writing about them as if they had been one single species. Yet, as my continued life on earth could well depend on it, I tried not to despair. Though I continued, pretending to be undaunted, my main problem - that there was way too many spaced out and hard-to-understand heroin users in the troublesome bracket; people I knew very little about and that I simply could not comprehend – kept messing up my approach. This was also what eventually forced me to skip the entire user-perspective on the racket’s corrupting influence. Apart from not having the required competence and the fact that I probably was missing something by not having understood Peter’s convection/ conduction notions, I felt that focusing on what the racket did to less than one percent of the global population simply was not a good approach.
What I eventually decided to do was to write my two pieces about what I figured I had 1) something interesting to say and 2) some experience. Both pieces turned out somewhat abstract in theory, yet very down to earth in their exemplifications. These two pieces coincide not only with what I believe are two main, yet often unrecognized or at least unacknowledged, ways by which the drug racket harms the world, but also – though I only realized this well after I had started to write - with Peter’s two suggested ways of approaching the issue: the racket’s corrupting surpluses (convection) and it’s tendency to corrupt whoever/ whatever its members happen to “bump into” (conduction).
I started explaining my “surplus-corruption” by stating that some of the actors in the supply chain of narcotic drugs at times will have money they cannot account for – money that the tax collector, had he or she found out about them, would have figured they had no legal right to possess – and that such inexplicable surpluses occasionally, especially when substantial in comparison to the surplus-holders official wealth and income, can give rise to serious problems. Explaining this - in order to make Peter better see what I meant and to produce some entertainment out of what otherwise would have been some pretty dull and abstract text - I asked my intended reader, the Pearly Gate’s guardian, to put himself in some strange shoes, starting with those of a “surplus burdened” modern-time drug lord’s. Doing this, I hoped I would not live to – or die to, rather – regret this somewhat irreverent treatment of the no-doubt profoundly pious Gatekeeper.
“Dear Saint Peter, I will eventually ask you to imagine yourself as a drug-lord, making an annual profit of, say, a billion, at, say, an average annual cost of forty human lives, including those of drug users’, drug vendors’, traffickers, racketeers’ and enforcement agents from your own organization, competing groups and the law’. However, before imagining yourself as this person - and as we have already started out on this totally fictitious journey - please imagine yourself your country’s main supplier of the legal narcotic drug “Abiol,” and then that you learn that Abiol could be about to be outlawed. What do you do? Well, one of the first things would be to consider whether or not you should obey such legislation and henceforth desist from supplying Abiol because there are some rather compelling arguments suggesting that you should not:
- The outlawing of Abiol is in your opinion a stupid and immoral outlawing, so though there would be a legal reason for you to desist from supplying it – you would become a criminal in the eyes of the law, assuming you did not – there would be no moral.
- As the outlawing is stupid, there is a good chance that ‘the people’ will understand this and that public opinion will get such that legislation never gets ratified, or at least not enforced.
- If you stopped providing Abiol, then somebody else would take over the position as the leading supplier, and you know exactly who – an unscrupulous bastard, totally void of moral standards – because people will get what they want as long as they want it badly enough. This is how supply and demand, or the market forces, work; something that Milyard – your eccentric, genius, Abiol-abusing economics-professor friend – has explained to you on numerous occasions.
- You have become pretty good at supplying Abiol, and doing what one is good at is nice; it would take you a lot of time and effort to get equally good at something else if at all you succeeded.
- Your Abiol expertise – your experience, your knowledge, and your contacts among manufacturers, wholesalers, and customers – provides you with not only a competitive edge, social standing, pleasure and the respect from others, but also with a good income, and a lifestyle that you would rather not lose.
- Your customers – some of whom are also your friends, as the professor – would be very unhappy about losing the advantages that come from the use of Abiol. They would hold, quite correctly, you at least in part responsible for its reduced availability, and for the trouble, they would have to go through in order to procure it, if you were no longer there for them. You would hate to lose their patronages, as well as their friendships.
- Milyard, your academic friend, has told you that prices would go up the day Abiol was outlawed, i.e., that your profits could well increase if you continued to supply it. Even though you figure this sounds weird – ‘Why would people pay more for something because it becomes illegal?’ – he has always been right in the past, and higher prices could, in a way, compensate you for potential harassment by the law.
As the criminalization of Abiol was first suggested, after considering the arguments above, you took certain countermeasures: you built up a considerable stock, you gathered all sorts of information, you developed new contacts among the providers of raw material, and you contacted loophole-lawyers (that is how you think of them). Also, you made some friends inside the criminal justice system, including law enforcement and you even befriended some politicians, all while trying to find out as much as possible about your new friends. You even acquainted yourself with some providers of protection: your first contact with real criminality. Taking all these measures – considering that the worst, legally speaking, you had ever gotten up to until then had been a bit of creative bookkeeping and some insider dealing – made you feel uncomfortable. You did not really like some of the people that you would have to let into your life if you chose to go down the path of selling Abiol illegally. Moreover, you most certainly did not like the possibility of incarceration or of the media, scrutinizing you and meddling in your affairs, and you definitely did not like the possibility that your children could be told that their father could be anything but a paradigm of virtue. It was all very complicated, and you decided to play the waiting game: to sell what stock you had procured, because the law allowed you to do that, and to see what happened. To be totally honest, you thought, ‘This will probably soon blow over.’ Well, it did not, and instead what more or less has to happen when illegalization is applied to a commodity that is in high demand happened.
The rest of this tale will illustrate how illegalization sets off a series of more or less mandatory events.
Mandatory Event 1: Public opinion.
The first thing that happened was that the government really did succeed in turning public opinion against Abiol, mainly because the media was on their side. You were dumbfounded; ‘Why is the media assisting them with this idiocy?’ ‘Why do the other political parties not take the opposite view?’ ‘How come the police doesn’t realize that the new laws will be impossible to enforce?’ ‘How come the medical industry does not explain all the negative effects that will follow from the lack of information, control, and certainty in regards to purity, quality, etc.?’ You were gobsmacked indeed. Milyard said it probably had something to do with the upcoming election, international pressure, cartels, the old boy network, media, and back scratching. He also stated the obvious fact that either you would have to throw in the towel or become a de jure criminal, and that this Abiol-problem, unless against all the odds it got swiftly re-legalized, probably would be with us for a long time, sort of as useless or parasitic DNA. His eyes lit up as he said that, about parasitic DNA, and he had rushed off to his room at the university, saying you had helped him find a good subject for an article.
Mandatory Event 2: Labelling and stigmatization.
The second thing that happened was that the media got wind of that you, totally legally, continued to sell from your Abiol-stock. You tried telling the reporters that it was all totally legit and above board, but nobody listened. You, your remaining employees, your business relations and your family, all were labeled as bad people, despite you not having been caught for breaking a single law; some reporters even went as far as to refer to you, and those around you, as criminals. Your son lost many of his friends, and eventually, he had to change school, your wife lost her chair at the ‘be-nice-the-beggars organization’ or whatever it was called and your five-year-old daughter one afternoon asked you; ‘Daddy, are you really a bad person?’ This - that society had made your own flesh and blood doubt your qualities as a human being, especially as you had done nothing wrong - you would never forgive.
Soon your social relations started to split in two; one part was distancing itself from you, the other was getting closer. Though you somehow felt that it was the ‘proper’ people who were distancing themselves from you, yet you had to admit that those that remained, together with your new acquaintances, were special. Not only did tend to share your opinion in regards to many issues, especially in regards to Abiol, but also that these had all sorts of useful experiences and contacts. These people, as well as their contacts, were all interesting individuals - people capable of providing all sorts of services that you until then had only read about - yet most of them seemed to have criminal or at least unsavory backgrounds; you never felt quite safe when turning your back to them, or joke with them. You got yourself a gun, and you learned how to use it.
Mandatory Event 3: Higher (monopolistic-like) prices.
The next thing that happened was that you started to run a little low on stock; as it was no longer possible to import Abiol legally, you considered starting your own production, but that was as illegal as importing it. And, as that would not only be criminal but also an economically unviable project at present prices, one fine afternoon, you decided, much against your true nature, to throw in the towel. However, the evening of that very same day Milyard had dropped in for a drink, say ‘hello’ and procure some Abiol. ‘Why don’t you raise the price?’ he suggested, at first somewhat hesitantly. You told Milyard that you would rather not, because if you did, then people would stop buying, or, if they did not, only the wealthy among your customers would be able to purchase, and you didn’t want to get remembered as somebody whose last act as an Abiol-provider was to turn your back on the better part of your customers. However, Milyard maintained that higher prices would be a good thing - insisting that it might not at all be your last act, to the point where you eventually felt more or less forced to follow his advice – so you followed his advice; after all, he was a top-notch economics professor.
That was probably the most intelligent decision you have ever taken. After some initial client-mutterings that made you feel uncomfortable, the majority of your customers accepted the new prices – and those who did not, simply disappeared - and all was well, especially profit-wise. Then, as other Abiol-providers - they too had taken the precaution of stockpiling, though not as much as you had - ran out of stock, their clients too came knocking at your door, joining an ever-longer queue. It had worked once, so you tried it again; you raised your prices. Success again! This time with much fewer mutterings and much fewer customers lost: it nearly seemed as if most of them had expected it. How some of your remaining clients, the poorest, could afford to pay your new prices was a mystery to you, but that was their business, and you felt no obligation to reflect further on the matter. Actually, somebody mentioned that acquisitive crimes rose dramatically, but as the rise was nationwide it could have nothing to do with people wanting to buy your Abiol. Actually, somebody noticed that the poorest among your customers had started to look rather scruffy, and suggested that they must be putting aside a greater portion of their income to buy Abiol, rather than looking after their health. This, if it was so, was sad, but nothing that you could do anything about. I mean, what if I started to buy huge diamonds for my mistresses… Then I would soon have to cut down on my clothes account too.
Mandatory Event 4: An illegal structure.
Then one evening – sitting by the television with your baby girl watching a recording of ‘Teletubbies’ – contemplating life and it’s swings and roundabouts, you had a sudden brainwave, and you were very excited as you later that very same evening explained your idea to Milyard;
‘All I have to do is to make sure that I can continue to provide Abiol. As long as I can do that, I will be able to put my price at whatever level I maximize my profit, because what little competition I have, will think in precisely the same way as I do, especially once I have had some of my new assistants explain the situation to them, because they can be really convincing.’
Milyard had not seemed as impressed by your plan as you figured he ought to have, and he had even had the audacity to suggest that this, all along, was what he had been telling you. You had then in jest - in absolutely one hundred percent in jest, and nothing else -suggested that maybe you should ask some of your new assistants to have a discussion with him, about whose idea it was. The professor stormed off soon afterward, and as the man left, he had muttered something about predictable consequences, counter-structures, and perpetuation; he was obviously jealous that he had not come up with the idea himself. The man obviously couldn’t take a joke. Of course, you would never send anybody, and he should have known that…
Somehow, your relation to the professor changed from then on.
Now, did you get successful? Oh yes, you did, because though the government had illegalized Abiol, there was not a single soul really attempting to stop you. Neither custom officers nor law enforcers knew what to look for; legislators did not know what to legislate against, judges did not know what guidelines to judge along, and the taxation authorities did not know how to go about taxing you. How could they, when you no longer declared an income?
It was proper mayhem, true, but it was a fun and unbelievably profitable mayhem. The media and the police kept harassing you – something that caused your already semi-lost highfalutin friends to distance themselves ever further, true – but you were amply compensated for that economically. Whatever money could buy was at your mercy, and you soon discovered that a whole lot more between heaven and earth could be had for money than had been dreamt of in your wildest imagination.
The time that followed was what you in your gray hairs would think back on as the heydays of your life as an illegal Abiol-pusher. You became insanely rich, you set up production and distribution units all over the country and outside it, and you started your own export/ import business in Abiol precursors. You did more daft things than Laszlo and Hemingway had done together, and as your wealth and as the quality of your parties rose - you shouldn’t have allowed that pretty actress to talk you into pouring those seven hundred bottles of Dom Perignon into the fountain - a fair chunk of your old friends returned. Your old friends were becoming more like you, now sort of accepting your values and congratulating you on your success: the halcyon days of illegal Abiol… You even tried to buy Milyard a Nobel Prize in economics, to compensate for that silly misunderstanding, but that did not work. Bloody highfalutin Swedes…
Mandatory Event 5: A legal counter-structure.
This was too good to last – in all honesty, you had deep down known that all along – and so it turned out. The first step in the tale of ‘paradise lost’ was lampooning; the press did it. However, it was not you that they ridiculed but the politicians, because of their total inability to control the Abiol they had outlawed. Your friend Milyard even went as far as to publish a much-appreciated article suggesting as a general rule that once something – more or less whatever that ‘something’ happened to be – got outlawed, it was bound to remain forever more or less uncontrollable by traditional means, unless re-legalized. You can still remember the title of the article: ‘Rejecting the Good Side of Capitalism by Disabling Society’s Control Mechanisms.’ It had you and a whole lot of others worried.
It was much because of this article that you decided to contract Milyard. Of course, you could have sent someone to talk to him, but he was your friend, and you would never… Anyhow, you contracted him mainly in order to keep him from writing things like that, but also to look into what you personally could do in order to make sure that Abiol did not get legalized; a small but worthwhile investment. Because, much thanks to Milyard, whenever legalization was being discussed, it was about the legalization of use, and much thanks to Milyard’s work, nobody seemed even to consider the possibility of legalizing the supply. This new work - to manipulate the media so as to, whenever discussing legalization, only to discuss the legalization of demand – turned out very remunerating for Milyard, who soon got quite wealthy from getting similar jobs from suppliers of other illegal goods and services.
The second step was political promises. As a new election approached the Left, or maybe it was the Right, decided to focus on the Abiol-issue in their election campaign and promised stricter enforcement of the law. The press seconded this, something that soon reflected itself in the polls, and consequently, the other side joined the fray, attempting to out-promise their opponents. You felt a bit uncomfortable with this, especially as the ruling party, which was now catching up in the polls, managed to rush the first reading of new Abiol-legislation through before the election. Yet, at least so you figured at the time, this was little more than election bravado.
The third stage was education – the incoming government had soon ratified the new legislation – and within days the criminal justice system, and especially law enforcement, had an indecent amount of resources heaped upon it. They might nail a few small-timers, you remember reflecting, but they won’t ever get close to me. Then they moved in; you really should have seen it coming, and they hit you hard. They were better – more dedicated, better organized and better educated - than you had figured they would be, and they were so already at the onset. They were totally unreasonable, they did not seem to know what a bribe was, and as if that was not enough, they also improved much faster than you had expected them to.
Most of the minor Abiol dealers were wiped out overnight, and a fair chunk of your main competitors ended up either incarcerated, penniless or forced to leave the country; you very nearly got brought to justice yourself. However, while all this happened, there was a silver lining, because the more the law interfered – the more harassment there was, and the more Abiol got confiscated - the less reached the market, and the more you could charge for what you managed to supply, and the greater your margin of profit became. Now, with fewer providers around, marketing soon became a worthwhile pursuit, because, with fewer suppliers around, there was a greater chance that a new customer would stay faithful to you; Milyard even constructed some optimization equations for you and your remaining competitors and helped you to apply them.
Mandatory Event 6: An illegal counter-structure.
You nearly had to give up – you seriously considered it, and you most certainly could have afforded to – but you had enjoyed that first stint as illegal Abiol-provider too much to throw in the towel voluntarily. As the intensity and enthusiasm of law enforcement’s efforts tapered off, you started to reconstruct your shattered organization in line with what the new situation demanded, and you created an organization designed to deal with the new threat. More people had to be paid off, more information about influential people had to be gathered, people without dark secrets had to be actively pushed out of their positions, and back in the promotion queues. True, this did not come cheap, but as your profits, had shot up once you had survived the initial onslaught, this was sort of okay.
Custom officers now knew what Abiol looked like, and where to look for it, true, but such officers could sometimes be convinced not to look. Police would come around for ‘surprise’ raids, again true, but it seemed there was always someone, at least most of the times, finding it to his or her advantage to announce their arrival beforehand or to lead the raid, and then not to look where he or she oughtn’t look. Judges and juror would occasionally find your employees guilty, unavoidably true, but such officials could with increasing frequency and ease, be convinced to show leniency, especially as one of the two judges who had started a war against your organization had committed suicide whilst the other had been revealed a closet queen. Had the boys in blue clamped down on you with all their might and weaponry on day one, you might well have had some serious trouble, they might even have managed to lock you up for good, but they had not. You had managed to survive; you had adjusted to the new ballgame, you had survived the ‘bubble,’ you had accepted the raised blinds and antes, you were once again the chip leader, and now there was no way they would ever get to you. You were sort of leaving the ‘crook-stage’ behind you, instead becoming the manager of a major corporation, and other activities, activities that you’d rather not talk about, were added to your business; activities where the color of the investments didn’t have any importance. Well, you had to invest your surpluses somewhere, didn’t you? It often took some time before your money could be laundered, and considering the profit some of these alternatives would yield… Most of your friends are not even aware that a container of teenage girls from South East Asia can often 10-double your investment in less than two months. You are not kidding: 1000% is actually a rather low estimate’ - at least as long as you make the collection yourself and the lost-in-transportation percentage isn’t too big; These poor girls, but at least you take those that survive out of their misery.
Yet, to be quite honest, life was maybe not quite as fun as it once had been - same old, same old… - and every time you looked yourself in the mirror, there were another few gray hairs. Anyhow, you most certainly were becoming not only better at your job, but also more sophisticated: something of an artist and a good one at that.
Mandatory Event 7: Corruption of the Legal Counter-Structure and Problem Perpetuation.
The philosopher Sartre once said, ‘Artists should never allow themselves to get institutionalized.’ Milyard had told you that, but you could easily have picked that up from one of the books that you yourself have started to read; actually, you have yourself a valuable library. Unfortunately, becoming institutionalized was precisely what was happening to you. However, you compensated for this by doing wild things and by sponsoring several up-and-coming young artists so that they would not have to become institutionalized in the way you had – Did their stuff look weird!
There was no doubt as to your de facto guilt – everybody in the criminal justice system knew that you were your country’s leading provider and ‘oligopoly-leader’ of Abiol. However, most of the negative consequences of this knowledge had disappeared, as people that could have hurt you ever more often were becoming your friends. As your files on these ‘could-have-hurt-you-people’ grew, those without secrets were either made to get some criminal secrets or conveniently fell behind in their rat races. Your interest in making them do so, you soon found, was something that you shared with others in positions similar to your own, so there was an information-exchange that soon got organized, much thanks to your efforts. The press still wrote about you, true, but not as often as before, and when they did, they normally focused on some of your front men that they disliked, rather than on you. On one occasion, they even helped you get rid of a competitor and the last time they attacked you, the editor showed some truly classy behavior by asking if there was anyone in particular within your organization that you would not mind getting rid of. As you were a popular person, harassing you would neither sell more copies nor get them more ads. The politicians still occasionally pointed the finger at you, true, but as you helped finance the campaigns of both the Left and the Right, criticizing you was not really seen as the done thing, and it thus had become a practice mainly engaged in by political freshmen and upstart minor political parties.
The boys in blue still occasionally came around to harass you, again true, but you sent a couple of them to your private resort in the Bahamas – it was you who coined the immortal expression ‘a tanned, well-shagged and photographed copper is a cooperative copper’ - and some of them are even on your payroll. Occasionally, some un-bribed member of an Abiol-squad tried to make a name for him or herself by actually producing the necessary evidence to get you into some real trouble. How can anybody be so stupid that they think they can take down someone who has the power to take half the bloody country along with him in the fall? Anyhow, that was not nice, but when that happened there was of course always someone higher up the hierarchy – somebody on whom you did have a hold or at least somebody answering to such a person or somebody wanting to get rich or at least not taken down with you – who could make the problem go away. As a worst-case scenario, the bothering person could be made to go away permanently, but this was very unusual. Coppers are not as stupid as one might think, and those high up in the hierarchy actually understand that one cannot keep supply and demand from meeting. Not when meaning in life is at stake: not when the demanders through drugs can either forget how bad they are or actually become better and not when the suppliers can become richer and more successful than they would have been able to become, inside a legal organization.
The situation had reached a symbiotic impasse. ‘Live and let live,’ that was your motto and your modus operandi, though unfortunately – most of the time because of the consequences of illegality rather than of Abiol itself – this did not necessarily apply to all of those around you. A not all that insignificant a number, did come to harm, and some had even ceased to live, because of different Abiol-related issues such as disease, violence, suicide, corruption, etc.
Today you are an old man, an old institutionalized man, with a host of great memories. Milyard, though not a Nobel Prize, got himself some fancy prize for his economics writings all by himself and with all the clients you had sent his way he could afford all the Abiol he craved without ever arguing over the price. Although your relation never got back to what it used to be - before that night when you had discussed whose idea, something was. You have actually forgotten what it was all about - he continued to be your most esteemed friend. Your friendship continued until his demise, which was never officially linked to his use of Abiol, and you had of course never again suggested that your men should have a talk with him. Your wife got her ‘be-nice-to-the-beggars chair’ back soon after the divorce, but she probably would have gotten that back anyhow. Your son was driving around on the French Riviera in a Ferrari last time you heard from him, squandering an incredible amount of your money but occasionally managing to be photographed with a princess or even a formula one driver. Your baby daughter has recently returned from Switzerland with a business Ph.D. Actually, it was only meant to be a Masters, but as you decided to endorse the school, it suddenly became a Ph.D.; is it not amazing all the wonderful things that can be had for money. She has never again asked you whether you are a bad person, and she is now little by little taking over the running of your organization. She has big plans.
Your one regret is that you can see that if they had not outlawed Abiol, a lot of bad things might not have happened, and some people – those your money corrupted and those whom these in turn corrupted, and those whom these… - might have had better lives. But then, without illegality, then you would have had much less fun, and you wouldn’t have been on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest men. And, as Milyard once put it:
There are so many ‘Abiols’ in this world my old friend, and they will always be there; the world needs ‘Abiols’ in order to correct for the discrepancies between what we must pretend is and what we all deep down know has to be; if you had not provided ‘Abiol’, then somebody else would.
Though a little bit too abstract for comfort – not that you could not have thought it up yourself - you have always figured that sounded pretty interesting. As you pass into the arms of Morpheus in the very same sofa where your little baby girl once asked you whether you were a bad person, your last thoughts are with your old friend. I shouldn’t have said that to Milyard…
(How Illegalization Causes Cornering That Causes Excess Drug-Lord Profits)
That, Saint Peter, was sort of the theory of what happens as a consequence of illegalization and the accompanying SODPs. Now please step out of this Abiol-guy identity and instead let us move towards the person I first described – the one today making a zillion per year at the annual cost of 40 lives – but, let us start even a little before this and look at a few historical events and at how you got more or less forced into the position you today are in.
Assume that you were the owner of a drug store in the late 19th century. As such, much like our Abiol-guy, you would have been forced to witness how some of the most important raw materials upon which you based your medicines – cannabis, coca and especially opium – became illegal and you too would have had to choose whether to become a criminal in the eyes of the law. The alternative again would have been to succumb to some silly scheme designed to have the doctors and the medical industry to take over your customers’ well-being for their own benefit rather than the customers’ or yours’.
You, therefore, quite sensibly and in a humanitarian spirit, decided to hang on to your old products, while making sure that you could procure a sufficient supply of raw materials from illegal producers and importers. You continued to sell narcotic-based remedies, though now you did it without giving receipts and thus with the extra bonus of not having to pay any tax. As you realized that demand for your products increased with illegality rather than decreased, you did as the Abiol-guy did: you raised your prices so as to compensate yourself, not only for your increased costs but also for the risk of getting harassed or punished by the law; a risk that you soon had realized that you henceforth would have to live with.
Surprised, you saw demand for your drugs continue to increase despite your higher prices – Interesting, you thought – and you, therefore, continued to raise them. At first, you did not do this so much for the sake of profit, as in order not to run out of stock; in order to make sure that the demand you faced got matched by the maximum quantity you could supply. Though you continued to think of yourself as “a good guy,” at some point during the process described above, there was an apparently small but yet quite significant change in your mental attitude. That change occurred the moment that you made the welfare of yourself, instead of that of your customers, your prime concern. It was as greed set in, as some moral philosophers would have put it, or maybe as the sneaking economic reason got the better of you.
In order to keep up with demand and increase your profit, you bought ever more of the essential ingredients, exploring new wholesale channels, sometimes doing your own import, refining or manufacturing. Occasionally, when it was not possible to procure sufficient raw materials – and, later, even when it was – you started to dilute your medicines. Initially you were mainly looking for diluting agents that enhanced the drugs’ desired effects and made them less dangerous – stuff to make your clients even more satisfied – but soon you found yourself looking for virtually anything that you could get away with, maybe even some products that some of your chemists suggested could be slightly detrimental to your customers’ health. Actually, you more or less had to do this – just as you more or less had to do all the things that some people outside the racket tended to think of as wicked – because each and every one of your competitors did it. So if you had not, unfair competition would soon have seen you put out of business, and your highly esteemed customers would all have been left to the tender mercy of your often downright wicked competitors; competitors whom you knew at heart would not have cared one iota about the well-being of their own, let alone your, clients.
So there you were, making a nice profit - quite fairly compensating yourself for increased costs and the risks you were running - and happy as Larry. Yet, it was not all plain sailing, even in this early part of your drug-lord career, because quite a bit of competition had started to emerge on the market, even a little violence, and your position did not always feel as safe as you would have liked it too. Soon, some customers you had allowed to purchase on credit, declared themselves insolvent and incapable of paying. Soon, people from elsewhere started selling drugs where you previously had been the only seller. Soon, society started to look at your kind of business with more unforgiving eyes, something that resulted in that the law, much more often than before, came around in order to make all sorts of often uncalled for inquiries, more often than not accompanied by warrants and some downright outrageous accusations.
By the mid-20th century the legal part of your work, i.e., the work of the dispensing chemists, had all but disappeared. The old order was giving way to a new, where patents and secret formulae helped corner legal drugs, pushing the entire market towards monopoly, and the traditional drugstores towards oblivion. At the same time the physicians, by monopolizing the distribution of medicine, also contributed to making you - the dispensing chemist and along with you, your drug store - obsolete. On top of all this, along came new developments such as ever-fancier microscopes, and medicine started to become scientific. This, early on, resulted in drugs such as “Salvarsan”: the small stuff inside became possible to see and important to known, and your “drug store medicine” got associated with little more than backwardness and embezzlement. In addition, to make things even worse, other drug providers tried to take over all or part of your business – or, turf, as was the term that some horse race aficionado had come up with to refer to the area within which you saw yourself as the dominant narcotic medicine provider – more often than not without anything even remotely resembling a proper reason.
Unfortunately, as your business existed outside the law, the services of the legal system could not be called upon for enforcement, protection or arbitration. This meant that you eventually felt forced to create your own private law enforcement unit – a unit that enforced your own private “law” or will – so that is what you did. You started out by hiring a few local thugs and no-goods that you had acquainted as they tried to burglar your store, and soon their number reached a dozen; some of them you hired permanently, others you kept on stand-by for a nominal cost.
As you gathered your “army,” you soon realized that this new tool of yours' could also be used to expand your turf, so, that is what you did, quickly and successfully, though maybe not as quickly as you with hindsight felt you ought to have. The reason that you should have been even quicker was that your competitors and the law swiftly followed suit too, upgrading and enlarging their enforcement units: so if you had been even quicker…. Anyhow, therefore, thenceforth, in order not to be left behind, you were forced to employ even more thugs, upping the stakes until your enforcement unit reached, say, one hundred.
At this number a new equilibrium was reached; because of various hard-to-explain/ understand situationallydistinctive market-structure characteristics, you now had to kill approximately as many people per year as when you had only a dozen or so thugs at your disposal - and things sort of returned to normal - only now you had an army of thugs at your beck and call, rather than a dirty dozen: an army that you tried to put to good use in various other ways when not on “army-duty.”
This, Saint Peter, is the situation at which, I would like you to imagine that I – the writer of this report and your most humble and obedient servant – came around to challenge you, in your drug lord persona, for a piece of your turf. Not a big piece, but just one tiny little percentage of what had now grown into a substantial business empire.
As I made my business plan, I had calculated that in order to succeed, I would have to spend only marginally more than 1% of what you spent on purchases, product development, sale, distribution, marketing, corruption, enforcement, etc., and in most of my assumptions, I had probably been more or less right. However, in believing that I would only have to invest 1% of what you had invested in private law enforcement, my calculations had been way off, and in discovering this, I found myself violently thrown out of the relative realm and into the absolute.
My one enforcer would not become equal to your hundred, simply because I wanted only one percent of your market. This absoluteness of “enforcement size required” – together with the “more than 1% cost” for setting up a network and some other issues - constituted, and continues to constitute, a very effective barrier to entry; a “monopolizing factor.” This factor allows you and your fellow drug lords to set prices – whether you are producers, refiners, transporters or wholesalers – pretty much wherever you want them to be. They will be reduced only/ mainly by what limited price competition exists and the fear thereof, customers’ demand elasticities, raw material availability, harm-reduction efforts, import by consumers, supplementation, private growing and DIY home chemists. And where you and your fellow drug lords want prices to be, of course, is where you maximize your profit, at least as long as your fellow drug lords do not disapprove of your pricing policy.
It is this particularity of some illegal markets, including and probably in particular, the one for illicit narcotic drugs – absolute rather than relative enforcement costs and to some degree the somewhat fix costs of setting up a functioning network - more than that the participants ask to be compensated for increased risks, that causes the high profits and great surpluses of the trade. These great surpluses might get divided amongst/ trickle down to, all or most of the network participants, true, but your share, as the financier and the top dog, is by far the greatest.
Having explained to Peter how “racketification” produces cornering and prices well in excess of what legalization and more competitive circumstances would have yielded, I figured that the next point I ought to clarify was how great the margins really are, and to say something about the consequences of the profits being untaxed. I did not have to explain that the main raw materials of narcotic drugs – the flowers, leaves, and resin of the cannabis plant; the coca bush’s leaves and the opium poppies’ resin - are all available in great quantities at source, and at very little cost; quantities and costs that would have been even larger and lower respectively had not the growing, refining and trading in these products been illegal. Since in addition, more often than not, labour costs are low at the source, the required chemicals, and equipment cheap, and refining relatively simple, prices are low to start with. Hence, there is little or no reason other than illegality to why the products’ main derivatives – marijuana, hashish, cocaine, and heroin - at least at the source and on average, should retail at prices higher than those at which a non-prescription headache remedies retail in the West.
However, as a result of their illegality, the raw materials leave the growing areas priced much higher than they otherwise would have been, and once the finished and often virtually pure drugs leave the processing or refining units, some narcotic drugs indeed have reached prices comparable to the prices of some Western prescription headache remedies. Then, once they enter the Western consumer countries, cocaine and heroin have closed in on the gold price and – when 100% pure - some will now retail to the customers at prices so far beyond that of gold and platinum that they will have entered into the diamond league.
Roughly speaking, imported narcotic drugs in the West tend to retail at prices between 5,000 and 500,000 percent of what the pre-tax farm-gate raw material prices would have been at the source, assuming that drug production would have been legal, untaxed and subjected to perfect competition. This situation gives rise to final drug sales - i.e., income to dealers from selling to final consumers - presently estimated at between $200 and $1,000 billion annually and worldwide (the upper figure in 2018 representing as much as a terawatt of installed solar power: probably soon much more). However, it should be remembered that at least 50% of this supply is coming from comparatively low-profit cannabis that increasingly is being grown in the consuming countries, then often with considerably less than 5,000% profit margins. These incomes, as well as incomes occurring earlier in the drug supply chain, of course in part, goes to cover the actors’ basic needs – drugs, living expenses, health care, education, etc. – but in the upper echelons of the hierarchy substantial non-consumed surpluses are generated, and by the illegal nature of the racket, these tend to remain untaxed and, when not illegally reinvested, in need of laundering.
It is difficult to put a precise number on the size of the illegal drug industry at its different stages, and as I first wrote this chapter – i.e., before having written about conduction – I was thinking along the lines: Profits amassed by non-major players probably do not constitute a major danger in the way they get invested or used; i.e., such profits are probably of no great importance as corrupting agents. As I discovered, and as you will see suggested in the following chapter, this was seriously flawed thinking. Yet, even more difficult than estimating the size of the illegal drug market, is to put a number on the “infectious part”; the part that gets reinvested in other branches than drugs, especially the part that gets invested in previously uncorrupted branches. This is an area where research is much called for. My guess is that the true figure is big enough to surprise many and to scare at least a few.
Having explained how illegalization causes higher prices and criminal takeover - and how this, in turn, causes barriers to entry, that in turn causes cornering, that in turn causes excess profits to drug lords – I figured that I had Peter pretty much where I wanted him. I also figured that by now my text would have him convinced that the drug racket produced great untaxed surpluses, and so my next task became to make him see that a fair share of these great untaxed surpluses, more or less by necessity, get reinvested in legal/ previously uncorrupted activities and that in getting thus invested, they go on to influence the world’s economic markets in all sorts of bad ways.
(Illegalization’s Effects On How Excess Surpluses Are Invested)
A drug lord's selling price, though not really a monopolist’s, is yet much closer to such a price than it “ought to be,” and in the collective sense the drug-lords are thus price makers: if not deciding, at least capable of influencing the price. Yet individual drug lords will not normally consider the finer points of the economic reasoning behind this, their collective market power, but simply price their products so as to ensure that customers purchase them, yet not so cheap that it upsets their neighbours, even if that short-term could have been advantageous. The street prices will thus tend more or less automatically to end up somewhere in the vicinity of where the neighbouring lords are setting theirs. The individual drug-lords will understand that by failing to price their drugs so as to end up thus, they would soon become either poor or unpopular, both very undesirable state of affairs. In the individual sense, most drug-lords are thus really price takers: in that, they are not capable of significantly influencing the price, or at least in that unless they are looking for trouble, they are highly unlikely to try to do so.
Since commodity price thus is not all that variable a variable, it is difficult for an individual drug-lord to increase his or her to-be-reinvested-in-drugs-surplus without challenging other drug-lords and face the concomitant risks of losing friends, clients, turf, and lives. Therefore, many successful drug-lords, once they have established a piece of turf for themselves, tend to be content with what they have got - at least until a “peaceful” takeover opportunity presents itself - and therefore established drug-lords rarely see sufficiently good opportunities for great surplus reinvestments in the illegal drug market, something that tends to incline them to look for alternative investment opportunities.
Since illegalization more often than not ensures that the profits are untaxed, many drug lords with surpluses first will look for investments in branches where the color of their money is of no or little importance. Other illegal high-return branches - sex services, gambling, alcohol/ tobacco, people trafficking, weapons, etc. – come to mind, and that is where some of the surpluses will go. This is the first “convective immorality effect” of illegality/ SODPs on surplus investment:
1. Illegality/ SODPs produce an economic reason for the illegal part of the economy to grow faster than it otherwise would.
However, suchlike turfs tend to be nearly as vigorously defended as that of illegal drugs, and if a drug lord attempts to expand into such markets, he or she could well see repercussions directed against not only his or her persona and new business venture, but also his or her already existing drug business, and thus the surplus owner’s main or original enterprise could well become “a hostage” in a dangerous tit-for-tat game. The cautious drug-lords’ opportunities for reinvestments in other outlawed high-profit illegal activities thus tend to be quite limited.
Next on our drug lords’ investment list follow the twilight branches – as restaurants, construction, holidays and hotels – so that is where much of the surpluses tend to go, and it goes there maybe not so much in order to grow as in order to be laundered, and it is thus no wonder that these branches have expanded a lot during the last couple of decades. This is the second “convective immorality effect” of illegality/ SODPs on surplus investments:
2. Illegality/ SODPs produce an economic reason for the expansion of twilight branches.
However, there are limits even to how much can be invested in these branches, and what applies to the narcotic and non-narcotic illegal rackets, with a lot of mutatis mutandis, also applies here. Now, let me return to my original text and my communication with the Gatekeeper.
Therefore, Saint Peter, in order to illustrate the financier’s investment dilemma once he or she has exhausted illegal and semi-legal alternatives, please let me reinsert you into your second criminal persona. Let us go back to your life as a drug-lord, where you in present time have just killed off your humble servant, me, in order to protect your turf, your market share, the respect you command and your wealth.
Of course, it is not only you who are forced to suffer the burden of excess semi-monopolistic profits. There are other drug lords who produce great surpluses too, and even the dealer, the trafficker and the corrupt law enforcer - in some cases even the grower - will at times have money that he or she cannot account for, so such hard-to-explain surpluses can give rise to problems not only to people like yourself.
Such surpluses can be dug down in the garden, of course they can, but most people in the drug racket prefer their earnings not to remain unproductive – or, for that matter, in danger of being dug up – and therefore they tend to do their best in order to make also the part of their surpluses that cannot be reinvested illegally yield as high a return as possible. The way that these surpluses are legally invested, and the consequences of this – the writer of this text is convinced – could well be one of the most serious, and least recognized, of all the sub-problems of the “drug problem.” It is mainly in order to illustrate this - how the drug trade corrupts by its financial consequences, or by “convection,” as I believe that you think of it - that I have dragged you, my dear Gatekeeper, through this lengthy harangue. We have already seen two obvious moral consequences of illegalization, but it is probably this third and last that constitutes the greatest threat.
The most serious cause of this most serious consequence is the top dog – the financier, the top drug-lord, people like you Saint Peter – because even if the profits might trickle down through the system, enriching a lot of people, the top dog is the one who profits the most, and it is his or her surplus that is the greatest and most deleterious socioeconomically. When a top dog has reinvested whatever part of the surplus that can be reinvested in his or her “natural” businesses – drugs, and other profitable criminal and semi-criminal rackets – then whatever remains of the surplus will be forced to look for other alternatives, and since all that is left, more or less, are the legal financial markets….
Now, Saint Peter, imagine somebody winning a zillion in a lottery. What does she do? She could put it in a savings account, in bonds, in real estate, in equity, in fine art, in futures, in currencies, in a mixed portfolio, or maybe - if she figures a zillion is not enough or feel really lucky and can find a taker – on thirty-six red. Whatever she does, the moment she puts that zillion in front of whoever is asked to manage it for her, that person is likely to ask how she got it, at least as long as the investment is in something legal. In response to this, she will simply explain, and if necessary show her lottery ticket, a copy of her receipt, a bank statement, or maybe a newspaper clipping.
Now, let us go back to our assumption that you, Saint Peter, have made that same amount of money from illicit drug trafficking at the previously agreed cost of forty human lives. Now, what do you do with it: without ticket, receipt or newspaper clipping? You could, of course, try to get hold of that indecently lucky lottery winner, before she cashes in her ticket and asks whether she would be willing to part with it, offering her an extra ten or twenty percent. That would be a form of money laundering; letting the illicitly acquired money pass through a legitimate source, thus disguising its true origin. This is the standard procedure for turning illegitimately acquired money into legitimate, even though funnelling money through corporations is much more common than looking for lottery winners.
One problem is that you are unlikely to find that lottery winner before she cash in her ticket or becomes known as the winner. Another problem is that even if you did find her, she would share your need to explain her zillion, and as she probably would have less experience of money laundering than you, or even some moral qualms, she would be likely to turn down your offer. A third issue is that considering the sort of human being you by now more or less by necessity must have had to become - and please, Saint Peter do not take this the wrong way - you would probably simply kill the poor lass and relieve her of her ticket, only to be left with a problem twice the size the one you started out with.
So, assuming that you cannot invest your ill-gotten loot in illegal or semi-legal activities, what are you going to do with it? Your best bet probably is to go to one of the business people with whom you have become acquainted during your life as a drug lord; preferably someone you believe is unlikely to cheat you or someone on whom you figure you have enough of a handle not to be let down. Such people could range from the totally legit – maybe even one who knows nothing about the source of your income – to someone among your fellow despicables. Maybe there is a yacht builder, a district attorney, an EU politician, a prominent politician in some South American country, some corrupt prince, queen, dictator or religious leader – a king, crook or cardinal – a senator, a constructor, a third world manufacturer, the owner of a restaurant chain, somebody with a haulage company or, actually much more likely, an investment advisor or a bank employee. Whomever you end up making your deposit with, you will reach an agreement, hand over the zillion and ask your new portfolio manager to help launder it and invest it in legal activities: to look after it for you with the same love and care he/ she would have looked after his/ her own capital. Now, as long as you are not deceived, your money – with or without some initial laundering charges - is likely to start to earn interest, leaving yourself free to set off to do what you know so well and enjoy so much: to go in pursuit of your next zillion.
That does not sound all that bad, does it? You might not have adhered to every silly law in acquiring your zillion, but now you are making up for that. Instead of selfishly digging your loot down in your garden - where no socioeconomic utility would have been derived from it, and where you would not know what you would dig up - you are making amends by reinvesting your surplus in totally legitimate businesses. Thus you are, more or less totally altruistically, being of use to your fellow human beings by injecting some much-needed capital into the economy of our impoverished world, thereby increasing its money supply and causing all sorts of good things to happen. This wonderful injection will result in a whole lot of new jobs, and the people who will survive or be born thanks to the reinvestment of your surplus will easily exceed the number of lives that you so, unfortunately, were forced to cut short in order to acquire your zillion: it is simple mathematics. And, nota bene, your “gifts” to humanity are potentially full lives rather than the often small fractions that you had to take.
As long as Peter would not retaliate for me asking him to identify with a murderous drug lord, I figured that by now I could well have achieved pretty much what I had set out to achieve. I figured that I had painted the Gatekeeper a reasonably clear picture of both why and how illicitly earned surpluses get - and at least to some extent more or less must get - reinvested in legitimate businesses, and thus all that remained for me was to show the Gatekeeper how these reinvested surpluses tended to corrupt whatever they got reinvested in, rather than simply behave as normal investments.
Why Drug Surpluses Invested In The Legal Economy Are Bad
In telling Peter he would kill that girl, maybe I had not been as politically - or, religiously, rather - correct as maybe I ought to have been, but since I anyhow seemed destined for Purgatory or even the other place, I am afraid I failed to give religious niceties the consideration that I maybe ought to have. Anyhow, I believed that by now I had painted the Gatekeeper a convincing picture of the financier’s “surplus dilemma” – how surpluses first “wanted to” get invested in the drug business proper, then in other illegal rackets, then in twilight branches and finally into legal business – and the next step became to show him that much of what gets reinvested in previously uncorrupted branches will work in ways that are detrimental to society at large. Again I put pen to paper.
The issue that I want you to consider Saint Peter – now when you presumably are about to invest whatever is left over of your zillion in legitimate businesses – is: are you prepared to behave according to the traditional rules of this legitimate business? Are you prepared to play according to the same rules as the average legitimate investor? Will you – you who without blinking an eyelid ordered your traffickers to maim that young boy in your refinery who was caught stealing a pound of coca paste, crippling him for life - choose to distance yourself from something as innocuous as insider trading? Will you - who happily kidnapped the wives and children of the law enforcers who tried to put you behind bars, and to the extent that was “necessary,” killed them – refrain from deliberate manipulation of markets by initiating sell-offs so as to buy cheap later? Will you – who contently calculate “five percent lost in transport is perfectly all right” in regards to your import of “Eastern girls” – accept to assist the tax people in their investigations, when they try to do is to nail you for tax evasion? Will you be content with your invested money earning an honest day’s return for an honest day’s work, even though you demand much more than that, from a day of your own employees? No, Saint Peter, you most definitely will not. Rather than investing your capital in the real economy – where real goods and services are produced in traditional manners and where your capital can be comparatively easily monitored – you will invest where prices have a greater imaginary part and where your money is harder to monitor. Money thus earmarked - “bubble-money” some might want to call it – you will hand over to the person whom you have engaged to manage your legitimate portfolio with instructions not all that different from:
I want every imaginable form of preferential treatment – legal or illegal – and if I get it, I will pay you a million each month. However, if you let me down, I will make your life a misery and if in doing so, I fail to make you chose to kill yourself – a possibility I deem very unlikely - then I will provide that free of charge, after first having provided the very same service for your loved ones.
Saint Peter, you will not play by the rules, because as a human being living in capitalism on the planet earth in the twenty-first century your value system will more or less by necessity have become one with your capital – i.e., in Marx-talk: the productive process you have been part of will have shaped you – and thus, in “historical materialism plus one” your capital will affect the productive process and its overall effect on the economy will not be to benefit it but to corrupt it. The person you have become is a remorseless and economically successful one, and you will remain remorseless and economically successful at whatever you chose to devote yourself and your capital to, because that is the sort of human being you have become, thanks to your previous life, our economic system, and our drug policies, including our choice to opt for illegality.
This remorselessness will follow your capital wherever it goes because, in addition to the traditional forces traveling along with your capital, you have added the forces of threat and violence, and that, once attached, will accompany your capital on its journey a long way and in whatever it gets up to. The investor whose life you threatened to take if he did not make you happy, will indeed be strongly motivated to make your capital yield a good interest, and just as you sort of conduction-like (by bumping into: next chapter) have motivated him doubly, he will motivate those whom he employs to help supervise your portfolio doubly too. And those whom these, in turn, will employ will do the same, etc.
Do you see Saint Peter; the influence of your capital creates a domino effect. The greater the surpluses of yourself, your fellow drug lords and other bad guys become, and the more successful these surpluses become in accruing interest, the greater your collective moral influence on the economy – on the local companies you invest in, on the branches, the sectors, the nations and ultimately the world – will become. And the more successful you get, the greater the bad money’s, including the “bubble money's”, part of all money will become – the money that does not want to get invested in the traditional way - and the less will be invested in the real economy: fewer goods and services will be produced than otherwise would have been the case, less traditional research and science will get done, less new jobs will get created, etc. Instead, your money will cause more price manipulation, more corruption, more negative externalities and less positive, more control of politicians, more supervision of ordinary people, greater income gaps, more reason for political instability, more reason for terrorism, more reason for war, less reason for democracy and ultimately a reduced chance for humanity to overcome this troublesome part of our history, unless we are somehow made better suited to deal with influences such as yours.
Capitalism is great in that it motivates us to engage in other activities than sleeping, eating and copulating, true, but, when the nature of those other activities aren’t at least in part pointed at by people that have at least some desire to do “good, then it might well be time to look for an alternative system. This is the third “convective immorality effect” of illegality/ SODPs on surplus investments:
3. Illegality/ SODPs produce an economic reason for drug money to corrupt previously un-/ less-corrupted markets and to create “bubble-money.”
Unless something dramatic happens, the system of values that accompanies money such as yours, will continue to corrupt one corporation after another and to create one bubble after the other – and, in a worst-case-scenario, bend every branch before we twig on to it – until we all completely have lost our ways, and until there is no way to grope back upwards and nothing left for the ill-gotten loot of you and your likeminded to bend, and no way to make the past return again. The investment of the surpluses of the drug-dealer, the grower, the corrupted law enforcer and the trafficker, will normally not be of the same magnitude as yours, true, but its effects will still carry its investors' moral values and thus contribute to the bending of the world in a bad direction.
Though I realize that my thinking is not uncontroversial, I believe that this – that the way in which a surplus possessor uses his or her money and power will influence the world in a direction that reflects his or her values – is the case. In order to hold that it is not, one would have to subscribe to the belief that human nature is not reflected in human actions. One would have to say that an individual’s character will not, on average, influence his or her investment/ use of surplus, so as to affect the world to move in the same direction as his or her values. So, one must believe that “bad” humans are either as likely/ more likely, to push the world towards “good,” as/ than “good” humans are. Even though there are some examples supporting such propositions – like drug lords building schools and hospitals - I do not believe one has to be a historical materialist in order to agree that the manner and the morality that accompany the way we acquire capital, influence what sort of persons we become, and thus, the way we use and invest it.
Now, assuming I have convinced you that “good” people getting an increased share of the surplus, would make the world “better,” and that “bad” people getting such a share would make it “worse,” then – as long as you believe that the “bad” people’s share of the world’s surplus capital is increasing – you “must” believe that the world is being turned towards “bad” by these “bad” people’s investments. If this is the case, assuming that the drug trade has grown, then this has caused the correlation between “rich” and “good” to weaken – i.e., it is not as strong as it used to be – and it could well be in the process of weakening further. It could be weakening further, because not only drug surpluses, but also all sorts of other bad or dodgy surpluses reflecting bad and dodgy moralities could be growing. Maybe other bad surpluses – maybe war money, insider money, terrorism money, non-narcotic crime money, excessive bonus money, “bubble-money,” etc. – carry along their owners’ bad moralities too, and are on the increase.
Where and when badness in acquisition causes badness in investment, and where and when not, is difficult to tell, but bad surpluses’ share of all surpluses could well be on the increase and if so quite possible increasingly get reinvested in what was previously “good” businesses. And, in getting thus reinvested, the capital could well be carrying their owners’ morality along with them, and these bad surpluses could, therefore, be corrupting businesses, branches, our economic system and our entire socioeconomic order. If so, then what is “in the end” being corrupted is the way that we have chosen to arrange our system’s principle units – i.e., ourselves – and the relation between these units.
Looking for a suitable analogy is difficult, but maybe this is a bit like how the varying pull of a massive heavenly body on a satellite in an elliptic orbit, keeps the satellite’s interiors from cooling down. It could be that the surpluses emanating from bad guys doing bad things keep our economies from cooling down sufficiently to become manageable by people and governments with good intentions (ok, I admit, it’s a stretch).
Even though it probably is the case that sped-up globalization of lately has caused competition to increase on the drug markets – prices to fall, and maybe even the value of total sale of illegal narcotic drugs to decrease – it should be remembered that 1) even though drugs are getting cheaper, new markets are emerging, 2) there are cumulative effects to be considered (think of sea levels continuing to rise even if greenhouse gas emissions were reduced), 3) drug money is only one of several “bad” surpluses, 4) originally not “bad” investors are forced to learn/ adapt, 5) the times are unlikely to get any less troubled & 6) the damage could already have been done and the question might not be “How to stop this from happening?” but “Can we hope to slow down or repair this, and if so how?”
The overall effects of drug surpluses should be seen in the context of other bad surpluses and the way that these are invested; issues that rarely get touched upon in a drug debate that doesn’t even give much time to the dysfunctional discourse here called convection. The total effect of bad investments could be great indeed, and if so, the drug surplus could well constitute an important contributor to why our economic system is increasingly becoming a promoter of “bad.”
This, Saint Peter, is one of the two main ways in which the drug racket influences human morality, the way I believe that you think of as convection, and I am very doubtful as to whether we humans will be capable of bringing this process to a halt., so it could very well be that your Boss will have to either to give up on us or to chip in with a deus ex machina.
To tell Peter about how the surpluses corrupted by means of convection, once I got going, had not proved as difficult as I had anticipated, and though what I had produced probably was pretty far removed from what the Gatekeeper had expected, I felt that my totally un-researched - possibly too abstract, maybe unnecessarily dramatic, and if looked upon in the wrong vein, downright offensive – piece, had reasonably well captured my sentiments in regards to the racket’s surpluses and consequences.
It was not as if I was absolutely convinced of the truth of every single word I had written: especially not the “doomsday stuff” about the world economy going to the dogs, because certainty in suchlike matters, if at all there is such a thing, takes serious research and to corroborate my often unsubstantiated a priori speculations would not be easy. However, as a majority of the makers of drug policies seem to subscribe to the tradition of not always finding out whether research has been carried out or not – or, if they do, do not seem to bother about whether the best research corroborates the premises/ conclusions upon which they formulate their drug policies or not – I could see no reason why Peter would criticize me for taking a somewhat a priori approach to his question; at least I had brought no axe to the party, or so I figured.
By putting an end to illegality and SODPs, there would be no or less drug-related economic reasons for:
- The illegal part of the economy to grow faster than other parts.
- Criminal and twilight branches to expand.
- Drug money to corrupt previously uncorrupted markets.
Parts of what has been said above are pretty obvious, but what is not obvious is that in addition to all this, illegal surpluses from other rackets too would get reduced once the drug racket - the racket of their main income-providing customers - shrunk or even disappeared. For a while, I considered developing these thoughts, but as it seemed Peter’s interest was firmly on drugs, I decided against it. I felt that I had done a reasonable job, and I was pleased enough the night I first - of course totally incorrectly - figured I had finished the piece.
While I had been writing about convection – how moving currents of capital because of illegality/ SODPs transferred the investor’s bad morality throughout our economies, thus corrupting them – I figured I had managed to suss out also what Peter had meant by conduction. I figured that he wanted to know about those who got in contact with the racket on a more human-to-human sort of basis, and whether they too got corrupted – conduction-like, sort of like the investor that I had told Peter he would employ in order to look after his investments – and, if so, to what extent.
ILLEGALIZATION ALSO CAUSES.../YOUR WRITER'S TALE
(One Main Way By Which Illegality - By Creating The Racket - Corrupts Society)
Once I had figured out what Peter had meant by “convection”, “conduction” sort of followed, and as it did, I figured the answer was pretty obvious; conduction was about illegality-effects caused by the racket’s individuals “colliding” with previously un-/ less-corrupted individuals; about direct person-to-person contacts’ moral influence on people’s lives.
Once a trafficker has bent a copper, the copper is more likely to be bendable when approached the next time; once a dealer has made a non-user use one time, the likelihood that he or she will do the same also in the future will increase, as will the likelihood of him or her becoming a habitual user, harm others and eventually die prematurely in a drug-related death. Once a trafficker has talked a vendor into making his or her first sale or a mule into swallowing his or her first packet, once a judge for the first time has accepted favours for leniency, once a customs officer has agreed to look the other way as a truck disembarks or to forget to check a container, once a senator or a member of parliament has agreed to raise or not to raise a particular issue, etc., then these events will all have become more likely to occur also in the future; more likely than they were prior to the initial events: bad people have bumped into good people and caused them to turn bad, or at least less good.
To say that it is not so – to say that bad people do not on average corrupt good people - would be to say that in such interactions good people were successful in turning bad individuals and values into good ones (or at least would not get corrupted themselves). The time for such thinking, though many of us probably do not know, was once with us, but it has long since lost most of its power, and though of course, some might hope that it shall one day return, that day is unlikely to be tomorrow. Bad individuals and bad values, on average, corrupt good individuals and good values; these victorious bad values are consequences of conduction, that, in turn, is mainly a consequence of illegality.
But this was all so obvious, and though I could not have talked with Peter for all that long, there was no doubt in my mind that he understood about all these things, probably in most cases better than I did, and for a while I could not figure out how to produce anything concrete that could be of value to him. Sure, corruption-effects can be described less summarily - even be exemplified right down to the person-to-person level - but was that what Peter wanted? Did the Gatekeeper expect me to look at other human beings as a judge of their morality? I – a poor sceptic who’s all no doubt failed to equal the Gatekeeper’s moiety, and obviously destined for some other place – was I to produce text to Peter about good and evil? No, even if he for some reason would not do that himself, he most certainly had access to better resources for such judgments closer at hand, and I soon dismissed the idea.
Though I thought a lot about the question, it was all too no avail and finally - out of desperation more than anything else - I decided simply to tell Peter about an experience from my own life, leaving out the moral judgment stuff (that I nevertheless have added for you). I decided to tell him about an event in which I had been involved and to tell it with as much impartiality as I could muster. I felt a bit silly doing this; he had known my name, about Gladys, and even about the tigers, so why would he not know about every other experience I had picked up during my first voyage through life? Anyhow, hoping that he in my story, somehow or somewhere, would find something that would be of use to him in thinking about illegal drugs in relation to the corruption of human beings on an individual-to-individual level, I started to write about one of my weirder experiences.
A DRUG-RELATED SHOOTING
Once upon a time – or, to be more precise, in the early evening of the 11th of August 1992 – I came strolling down the ‘Avenida Central’ of Panama City. It was about three years after the Americans, in ‘Operation Just Cause’, had disposed of General Noriega whom I believed now sat imprisoned in a Miami jail. I was in the process of complying with an in many respects quite insane resolution to travel 200 countries as part of my A-T-T project and in order to survive this and some other even sillier things that I also had resolved to do. I had - totally legally by sweat and pain rather than steroids and testosterone - made myself big and strong: 130 kilos big and strong to be precise and there was not much excess fat among those kilos.
Suddenly, from behind, I felt two hands entering the front pockets of my trousers, and as neither of these hands belonged to myself, I swiftly grabbed hold of the wrists attached to them whereupon I threw myself onto the ground. My assailants came tumbling down along with me, they had little choice but to. Then, as I felt how the wrist that I held onto by my left hand relaxed, letting go its grip of the hotel keys that its hand had held on to, I let the wrist go and as I did the hand attached to it duly removed itself from my pocket and disappeared. I then started to roll – figuring that this would make kicking me, throwing knives at me or shooting me harder for the owner of the released wrist – something that is likely to have caused much pain to my remaining assailant much pain. Especially so, as I rolled over him, at least twice, each time sort of pushing my weight down onto him in order to cause him as much discomfort as possible; the noises he made corroborate that I indeed had been successful in this. Though more persistent than his companion, this hand eventually also let go of its hold, that had been around my wallet. As it did, I loosened my grip, and in a flash, the second hand too was gone; I had never seen the face of either of my assailants.
There I lay, on the ground - slightly shaken, while a crowd was gathering – thinking about things like whether I was hurt or not, whether I ought to report what had just happened, whether some bonny lass had seen me defend myself so valiantly, possible trouble with former Noriega-employed police officers, and whether I was bleeding. I checked - no, no blood and thus no risk of HIV - and though one of my trouser legs somehow had been ripped open, I appeared to be physically undamaged.
I was just about to check for bonny lasses with admiring gazes when I heard the gunshot. I bounced up if 130 kilos can bounce, and looked in the direction of the sound. Twenty meters or so away a cool-looking civilian, holding a handgun, smiled smartly but not altogether pleasantly at the rapidly gathering crowd – actually, he was sort of stealing ‘my’ crowd, including one very bonny lassie - all while Clint-Eastwood-like blowing at what might have been gun-smoke coming out of the barrel, I couldn’t see. He never gave me his name, nor does it appear in the police report, but let me for the sake of convenience refer to him as ‘Sean the Shooter.’
As I looked in the direction that both the shooter and the crowd were looking, I detected a wobbling little man; the man whom I assumed had been shot, and the man I therefore concluded must have been one of my assailants, probably the one whose wrist I had let go of last. I never learned his name either, nor does it appear in the police report, but let me, again for the sake of convenience, refer to him as ‘Victor the Victim.’
As I aggressively made my way towards my assumed assailant, Victor the Victim wobbled and started what eventually would become a collapse onto the ground. Meanwhile, the man with the gun had stopped blowing at it, yet he showed no intention of putting it back into its shoulder holster. The crowd - that seemed to refrain from attacking Sean the Shooter only or at least partly, because of his gun - soon with one voice started to shout, apparently for my benefit: ‘No fue el! No fue el!’ which is Spanish and means: ‘It wasn’t him.'
At this point I would have liked to state that I felt disgusted by the shooter’s inappropriate smile, his smoke-blowing, and that he had shot a man who had done me no other harm than trying to rob me and by so doing had given me a good tale, and, if the crowd was to be trusted, not even that. Victor the Victim pressed his hands onto where the bullet had entered; it was somewhere in the middle of his body, but to my shame I did not register precisely where, nor whether there was any exit wound or not. It was only later that I started to reflect on whether the man was likely to have survived or not. If Victor the Victim received swift and proper treatment, my guess is that he did.
However, these thoughts only suggested themselves to me much later, and as I moved towards my assumed assailant, I was motivated to do so mainly by a desire to detain him, and possibly with the intention of inflicting upon him just a wee bit of additional harm. My feelings towards the shooter, however, were one hundred percent positive and I was filled with something not all that far removed from euphoria; I had survived another attack on my persona, and for virtually the first time the bugger who had tried to harm me had gotten his comeuppance. I do not even recall what happened to the wounded little man after he collapsed - I did not hit him, of course, I did not - nor can I recall how we got to that first police station.
Sean the Shooter – who indeed had declared himself to be the plainclothes detective that I had suspected him of being – argued his case with a pleasant-sounding and intelligent-looking uniformed officer inside the police station; an officer that for some reason seemed to dislike either Sean the Shooter himself or what the detective stood for or was trying to report. It seemed to me that the disliking officer, again for some reason I never really understood - did not want to register the events, and therefore we eventually had to continue to a second police station. As we left, me in tow, the officer who apparently had refused to co-operate whispered to me, ‘Attencion, Noriega, peligro,' which means ‘Beware, Noriega, danger.’ I took that as a warning and that the detective I was about to follow used to work for the ex-president, probably in some drug-related capacity, and that I had better watch out.
I cannot claim that I remember what the first police station looked like, other than that, it was up some stairs and seemed normal enough, yet the second station immediately made a lasting impression. Very scary, very surreal and as if out of another world: a corrupt, hard, impatient, sordid, smoky, unforgiving – yet morally supreme, no-nonsense, firmly rule-governed, not-to-be-questioned, overwhelming, self-justified and self-justifying – world. There were many desks, and everybody seemed to be clinging to – having an intimate, physical relationship, even - to these. The people, all detectives I assumed, were not normally sitting down in front of the desks, but rather on top of them, sitting, or beside them, leaning against them, conjuring up in my mind the image of a pack of cockroaches invading a dolls’ house. Everybody seemed to be smoking cigarettes or cigars, yet it was as if nobody inhaled and just being in the room was as if I had been smoking myself, a habit I had reluctantly kicked several years earlier (so that part of the experience I quite enjoyed).
Everybody’s gender was male, and it was not a place where the presence of a woman would have felt natural, other than as a victim, hardly even possible. It was an utterly male-dominated environment, oozing of chauvinism, sexism, patriarchy, machismo, homosexuality, and testosterone. A big not very dirty and thus much brighter square on the wall over one of the desks marked where something, presumably a photo, must have hung until quite recently. I had no problem imagining General Noriega looking down at me from above with a patronizing smile.
I’d say that there were about twelve desks in total and Sean directed me to a chair placed in front of the one just right of the strangely clean, white and well-lit passageway through which we had entered the room: to the desk directly beneath the bright square on the wall. Though it by now had started to wear off, I was still on a bit of an adrenaline high and - though, or since, rather, I hadn’t yet given any thought to the fate of Victor the Victim or the warning I had been given - I still felt great. Inside the office, the smoke was so heavy, and the light so bad, that I could barely make out the faces of the men clinging to their desks at the back of the room. Yet, there was little doubt that I was the center of attention, but as my size normally saw to that, I made little of it. Then I recalled what the officer at the other station – the one who had refused to register our complaint – had whispered, ‘Beware, Noriega, danger’, and I looked around once more before I sat down in front of the desk beneath the bright square on the wall to wait for somebody to come and take my statement. For the first time that evening, I felt a little ill at ease.
I had not talked to Sean the Shooter since he had guided me to the desk, but I assumed that I had been taken to his ‘home station’ because here people seemed to recognize him and to treat him in a comradely manner. Through the smoke I could make out how he – laughing and gesticulating at the other side of the room, leaning against a desk – demonstrated to what I assumed to be his colleagues how he had put a bullet into Victor the Victim. He put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a ‘thumbs up’ together with a somewhat strained smile. A little later, he left the smoke-filled room through the strangely bright and well-lit hallway – a bit like an Icarus, making his way out of the clouds and towards the sun – and that was the last I saw of Sean the Shooter.
Just the vibes emitted by the officer who eventually arrived to take my statement would have been enough to send Dirty Harry asking for early retirement. The man was possibly the ‘Jefe de la Division de Delitos Contra la Propiedad de la Policía Judicial de Panamá,’ but I am not certain. He was at least a decade older than I was, and though he was probably less than half my size, yet he appeared ten times scarier than I could ever hope to. In front of me sat what came across as being an utterly soulless man – a man who was a no-respecter-of-lives, other than his own - and for the first time that evening I felt truly frightened.
‘Good evening Señor, welcome to Panama.’
‘Hi, I’m Andres.’
This man – who neither presented himself nor shook my outstretched hand, in addition, to look scary – had an uncanny knack of making his subtext speak. Thus when, for instance, a verbatim transcription would have read ‘And how many were they?’ what the subtext said was ‘Are you really sure you want to say that?’ and when he commented, ‘Now that’s really interesting,’ what he really said was ‘Don’t you even want to make an effort to get out of this in one piece?’ This subtext ability was so amazing that time and time again, I found myself answering to it, rather than to the words that the man had actually spoken. He must have been used to this, because he didn’t seem at all surprised, nor to care what I answered – nor, for that matter, whether I answered or not – because he simply wrote down the answers he figured I ought to have given him. At least that’s what I figured he did, and I felt ever more ill at ease: ever more frightened.
As the fish-eyed little man finished typing down the description of what he wanted me to sign and pulled the duplicates out of the typewriter he knew everything. He knew who I was, that I was traveling alone, which hotel I stayed at, that I knew nobody in Panama, that nobody knew that I was here, my mother’s address and telephone number and my father’s name. Actually, he claimed that he had read two of my father’s novels – Paco Never Fails and My Uncle Jacinto - and he even knew the name of the child protégée who had starred in the Jacinto movie - but not even that made him seem less unpleasant. He knew that I was a writer, a narcotics researcher and even about my ‘all-the-things project’: the only important thing I had not told him about was Farida.
As he started to read what he had written, I realized that I did not even know his name, yet I was so scared that I was fully prepared to sign the totally fictitious account that he had prepared for me. I was prepared to sign that there had been four men, that had attacked me, that I had been able to match them to the photos that I had been shown, that one of the men had gotten away with my wallet, that I had later recognized this man as the one who had attacked both myself and the detective. I was prepares to state that this was the same man whom the detective had shot in self-defence and in order to defend me from again being attacked and in order to recover my wallet – or something like that.
This, of course, was nothing but lies, but there was something about the way that I was made to perceive the situation – the first officer’s warning, the station, the missing Noriega photo, the heavy smoke, and the way the officers crawled around their desks. Then there was Sean’s departure, the strangely white and celestial-like hallway, the bright spot on the wall and all the subtext – that made it seem as if I was wrong, my interviewer right, and as if I somehow should be grateful that they at all bothered to take notice of my pitiable existence. I cannot explain this feeling because I am not clever enough – neither at psychology nor at expressing myself – but whoever has read Kafka’s The Trial will understand, and a quote from the book suddenly struck me:
‘Someone must have translated Josef K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.’
Then, as the man who maybe was the ‘Jefe de la Division…’ prepared to hand over the papers for me to sign – papers that once signed no doubt would have been advantageous to the corrupt ex-minions of General Noriega and quite possibly seriously disadvantageous to Victor the Victim and his alleged partners – I got a second chance. I got a second chance to behave like a proper and honorable human being: a chance that, considering what I had been prepared to do, I probably did not deserve. The officer seemed to discover that he had turned at least one of the carbon papers the wrong way around and with a curse he ripped the papers out of the machine, muttered something seriously derogatory about somebody’s ancestry together with ‘bloody Gringo’. He then threw the papers into the bin and stormed off as if in a rage; that was the last I saw of the first soulless subtext-man.
I took a few deep breaths, steadied myself, and I even somehow managed to make conscious the unpalatable truth that whatever I would sign could well have consequences beyond my own well-being What have I done to be put in this insane situation?
After a few minutes, another man, again apparently a senior officer appeared through the shining white celestial passageway. His skin was sickly grey, his face scarred from what I assumed must have been a pimply youth, his eyes bloodshot, his hair thin – You’ll be dead within a year, I thought - his eyes were nearly as fishlike as his predecessor’s and I reflected that he could well have been my first interviewers’ older brother. The officer, with a sigh, plunged himself down in the chair in front of me so heavily that the ash fell from his cigar and onto his lap; machine-like he flicked it off his trouser leg. This one was scary too – and though he might not have pushed Dirty Harry into early retirement, the officer in all likelihood would have had Harry asking for at least a few weeks off – and again I felt ill at ease; yet, not quite as ill as I had felt a little while ago. I never got this man’s name either, nor does it occur in the police report other than possibly as three initials.
The man double-checked the carbon papers before putting them into the typewriter; he seemed unhappy with life in general, and with me and the task ahead of him in particular. Nevertheless, his questions were straight, and when I answered them, truthfully it appeared to me as if he wrote down more or less what I was answering. However, though not as strong as before, both the soullessness and the subtext of his predecessor were still there, and when he answered my ‘How could I? I never saw the men who tried to steal my get wallet’ with a simple ‘I see’ it felt as if he really said, ‘Let’s get this charade over with so that we can get rid of you and back to doing something worthwhile.’ This, them intending to get rid of me, however, still seemed beyond the realm of possibility – No, they couldn’t possibly do that! - yet for the first time, I started to fear for my life.
The officer gave me a thin sardonic smile, ‘You realize they’ll come after you, don’t you?’
‘Come after me? Who? The detective? You?’
‘Of course not: the three friends of the thief that Señor… that our man the detective saved you from.’
‘Saved? Why? Why would they?’
‘You’re a witness now; I’m sure they’ll be waiting for you, maybe they are already at your hotel.’ The man took on a serious demeanor as he looked down at his report, but then smiled as he looked up, ‘Hotel Riazol, I know the manager very well; buys me cigars all the time, from Cuba.’
‘But they have no reason to harm me…’
The senior officer smiled pleasantly.
‘And they don’t know where I live.’
It was at precisely this moment that the first man left the room; he had been sitting to the left of us, just across on the other side of the entrance to the strangely white, clean and sort of celestial-looking passageway. The officer glanced at me as he passed; it was a sad and very feminine glance, and he shook his head as if thinking, What a waste!
‘Why would they harm me? I told you that I couldn’t identify them?’
Then a second detective left, his face turned away from me as if he wanted one day to be able to tell St. Peter he could not tell whether I had been there or not as he left the room.
‘That’s true, you’ve never said anything Señor Laszlo, and I know that. However, they do not, nor do I think they will believe you when you tell them, assuming they give you time to do so; they will just think you are saying that in order that they shall not kill you. They’ll think so because they know that most of the time we are told what we want to be told.’
As one detective after the other left the room, I kept asking my interviewing officer why the shot man’s friends would want to harm me. As my interviewing officer kept ignoring my questions, as the room started to feel strangely cold and deserted, as even the smoke started to thin out, my feeling of impending doom grew ever more intense.
‘But don’t you worry; if you get harmed in any way, we will find and punish them.’
I felt unwell as I looked at the little man who apparently had just expressed his intention to harm me.
‘If you had chosen to identify them, then we could have protected you; we could easily have solved this little problem before it got out of hand, but I’m afraid that’s too late now.’
There were just six people left in the room when I finally realized what I had to do. I gathered my courage, stood up, and turned around to address those remaining.
‘Hey! You guys! What’s happening here? Why are you all leaving like this? Are you all going? Are you going to leave me alone here? Is this man going to… to harm me?’
There was no answer, only a shaken head, a pitiful look or two and maybe an amused smile: though less so than before it was still smoky and I could not say for certain. I knew this was wrong, the way I was treated, yet somehow it felt as if they were right and I could feel empathy, even a certain degree of sympathy, with their way of going about things; in a strange way, I was on their side. Again, read ‘The Trial,’ and you’ll understand, and for the first time I really believed that I was about to die: I would no longer have offered double the money to somebody wanting to bet that I’d be dead within 24 hours.
As my interviewing officer pulled the papers out of the typewriter, checked them, and placed them in front of me with a ‘Sign there, there and there please,' there were only two other officers left in the room, both young and emotionless. One looked intelligent in a nerdy sort of way, the other, stupid or even slightly retarded; they made me think of Steinbeck’s ‘Mice and Men.’ They seemed to have no intention of leaving. My executioners. I scribbled down my signature, not really checking what I signed, but assuming - for later-to-be-discovered insufficiently good reasons - it to be the truth.
‘Señor Laszlo, I think we are done, thank you for your cooperation, I hope you will enjoy the rest of your stay here in Panama.’
I felt like throwing myself onto the floor in subjugation, like telling the officer that I was ready to do whatever he wanted me to as long as he just allowed me to live; that I was willing and ready to humiliate myself in any imaginable way; to plead for mercy - anything. I never actually considered offering to kill the wounded man for them, but had I been asked to, I probably would have been prepared to do that too, anything rather than the death that I now felt more or less certain awaited me.
My interviewer left despite my vociferous protests, leaving me alone with the two young men. The clever-looking nodded me in the direction of the strangely white and well-lit corridor; the mouse-man was cleaning his nails and both their holsters were undone.
I must have walked through that corridor a hundred times in my thoughts and dreams since then, and the truth probably is that my report of what I experienced inside of it could well be pretty distorted. However, as I remember ones having remembered it – or, rather, how I remember ones having remembered remembering it or ‘worse’ – as I started to walk towards the bright light one part of me still believed that there was a chance; only a slim chance but yet a chance, that I would be allowed to leave the station unharmed. Why shouldn’t they let me go; I’m no threat to them – am I? And I’ve done nothing wrong…
Another part, however, was convinced that I was about to be shot from behind. I sound like Lady McDuff and look what happened to her… The corridor was newly painted, and I noted that whoever had done it had made an excellent job of it. Why would they kill me? It definitely could not have been the same people who had painted the office. Of what are they afraid? What could I possibly do to harm them if they just let me go?
The lights inside the corridor were bright, the lamps clean and it seemed there was not a single dead insect inside the globes. Why? Why? Why? How could there be no dead insects in the globes? Would they really kill me just for the fun of it?
It was as if one team of cleaners were responsible for the passageway and another team for the office, at least I could find no other explanation to account for the difference, and if I was right, the corridor cleaning team must have left only shortly before I arrived. Why would they use two different cleaning teams?
As I turned around to see whether the youngsters were making ready to dispose of my mother’s favorite son – her only son, actually – I could see virtually nothing. But then it should smell of detergents; it doesn’t, it smells of nothing.
I still could not make out the youngsters, yet somewhere inside the starkly contrasting twilight of the office, I knew that they could see me. Do they use this corridor to shoot people? Is that why it’s so white and bright in here?
I knew that they could see me as if had I been a highlighted target on a pistol range. Of course, and that’s why it’s kept so clean; they wash away all the blood! It’s an execution chamber; I should have figured that out.
The passageway was maybe six meters long, and as I approached the middle, my legs started wobbling, giving notice that they might not be okay with carrying me the remaining four or so meters to the door. I didn’t play ball, that’s where I went wrong; these are all ex Noriega drug traffickers and killing people is what they’ve done throughout their lives; of course, they’ll kill me, even if just for the fun of it.
I assumed they wanted me as close to the door as possible before they shot me: that way they would not have to drag me that long. Lazy buggers.
As I arrived in the middle of the passageway I – suddenly and surreally looking at myself as from outside – realized that even if I in some miraculous way managed to escape death, the Andres Laszlo who exited this police station, especially this passageway, would not be the same Andres Laszlo as the one who had entered it. Why would they undo their holsters unless they intended to use their guns?
As I reached out to take another somewhat dwarfed and shaky step, I once more looked over my shoulder. Again, there was nothing more than a murky twilight where I knew the officers could very well be aiming their weapons at me: I could discern nothing and nobody. Why would all the others have left unless I was about to be killed?
Then I recalled that people shot in the back were considered cowards, so in order not to bring dishonor to my relatives and friends I turned around to take the bullets from the proper direction, thus taking my last and desperately hesitant steps towards the end of the hallway backward. They’ll bury me in one of those Noriega mass graves I’ve read about.
I reached for the door behind me, and I pushed it opened. Did they only play games with me? Did they just have a bit of fun? There were no bullet holes in the door… Or the walls… Is it all over? How stupid I am; there would have been bullet holes.
Then suddenly I was outside. Of course! How could I be such an idiot?
It was the two youngsters, now in a small flatbed pick-up truck, and they were right behind me. One, the mouse-man, was standing on the back of the truck, while the other - the driver and the one instructing me to get in - was holding up the passenger door from inside, waiting for me to enter; there was only room for two in the front of the car, ‘Get in I said!’
Sure, again I was frightened, but this time in a more logical way than before: in a less emotional sort of way. My mental faculties were back online, and at least now, it felt as if they were on my side. In a funny sort of way I had already died so now it seemed, there was no longer any real reason to be worried about that particular aspect of life. I could think straight again, ‘Why?’
‘We’ll drive you to your hotel.’
‘No thanks, I’ll walk.’
‘This is a dangerous neighborhood; you could easily get attacked.’
‘I’m used to that, as you know. I’m big and strong; I’ll survive.’
The driver put his hand on his gun, ‘I am an honest man, and I have never lied, not even to my mother, so you can take my word for it.’
‘All right, but I’m too big to fit in there,’ I said, nodding at the passenger seat, and then, swiftly and without another word, I jumped up onto the back of the truck.
The honest driver who had never lied, not even to his mother, protested loudly from inside. The man already on the back of the truck, the mouse-man, must have figured that I was about to jump him, because after some serious fumbling he managed to pull out his gun, putting it back into its holster only when repeatedly and insistently instructed to do so by the honest man. The mouse-man then tried to wrestle me down off the truck, which was not at all a very clever idea. As I lifted him up and carefully lowered him to the ground - head first, holding on to his ankle with both hands - I continued to argue my somewhat insane claim: that I was too big to fit in the front and that I, therefore, had to remain on the back of the truck.
It was, of course, a ludicrous thing to say – though big, I was not that big – yet it was ludicrous in the same sort of manner as their offer to drive me to my hotel was ludicrous. It was as if Kafka suddenly had decided to swap side and to give me a break because somehow it did not sound as stupid as it ought to have sounded: it was a stalemate.
A pretty girl in high heels, wearing a lot of makeup came walking along where we had our argument. The man whom I had lowered off the truck had stood up and was now impatiently waving at her to hurry past, obviously wanting no witnesses to what he figured was about to happen.
‘Hola linda!’ I shouted, ‘Hello pretty!’
The girl turned around with a pleasant smile – today I am both sorry and ashamed that I put in jeopardy the girl’s well-being and maybe even her life – and she started to walk towards us.
The man just lowered to the ground, quite violently, intercepted the girl and pushed her away in the direction towards which she had come, ‘Tu no a visto nada!’/ ‘You haven’t seen nothing!’
They obviously did not like what had just happened: that the girl had seen me and heard me talk in an accent revealing me to be of foreign origin.
‘Linda! Espera! Soy Andres Laszlo’ I shouted, ‘Pretty one! Wait! I am Andres Laszlo’ I called after the disappearing girl, thus gaining no bonus points for gallantry whatsoever, ‘Espera!’ As the girl stopped, the man on the ground, taking the driver’s cue, jumped into the passenger seat originally designated for me, and off we were.
Dear girl, if you ever read this: Thank you! Your presence allowed me to stay on the back of the truck, and in addition, it gave me an insight that probably later saved my life. I have so far never been a customer of the trade that I believe you to represent, but if we ever meet again; give me a kiss and say you forgive me and I’ll happily pay you a thousand dollars.
For some reason, we had to drive through what seemed to be central parts of Panama City, and as we did, there were lots of people out and about, some of them spotting and pointing at the huge man on the back of the truck. That too seemed to make the men inside it ill at ease, something that in turn reflected itself in their driving; my executioners drove like madmen, and I had to hold on for dear life. I figured they probably drove like that either in order to keep me from attempting to draw attention to myself or from jumping off. Whatever their reason, when we came into some suburbs – of course, we never even got close to my hotel – the honest man slowed down to a more sensible pace. That, however, was of no use to me, because had I jumped off now, I would have been easily caught, or at least easily shot, and with no or few witnesses.
By now, there was not the slightest doubt in my mind: I was on my way to an untimely death and – probably a densely populated, foul smelling and rather shallow – grave. I was contemplating throwing myself off the truck anyhow - berating myself for not having done so earlier when there’d been lots of people around, thus moronically giving up my hard-earned advantage - but I decided against it. I then considered trying to bribe these guys, they seemed pretty bribable, but since they, of course, would take my wallet and credit card after they had killed me, that did not seem a very good idea either. Why didn’t somebody take my wallet before we left? I could have thrown it away. I still could… can…
Instead, I assessed my chances of taking out both my would-be-killers and then escape. First I considered this possibility only half in jest, not really reflecting over what ‘taking out’ really meant, but then - as I continued thinking through the different possible scenarios, I became more serious. Why not? Whenever the impossible has been eliminated… I’m stronger than them put together, I know a little about these things and the mouse-man was so scared that he fumbled with his gun just to see me jump onto the truck. So if I first take out the honest man… Maybe that actually could work; maybe I could drive the truck back to the canal and bribe my way onto a ship. Actually, that soon started to sound like quite a reasonable idea: Kill the buggers and get onto a boat!
Suddenly there was chaos. Cars were honking, including the one I was on, people were shouting, and though most of it seemed to be done in a spirit of semi-drunken merriment, the situation was a total bedlam. It was an enthusiastic bunch of revelers that surrounded us; I assumed them to be football fans. They seemed to be returning from a victorious or at least enjoyable game; there must have been more than a hundred of them.
In front of us, a big truck had been brought to a halt, and though I could not see past it, it definitely kept us from moving forward. Behind us, several cars had stopped, keeping us from returning the way we had come; they too were hooting their horns. ‘Hola Gigante, toma!/ Hello big man, catch!’ somebody shouted and threw me a strangely cold beer bottle. That was when I got my brainwave, and your writer, all 130 kilos of him, stood up and cleared his throat in order to do the one thing that he always intuitively has known that he was not sent to earth to do. He sang, and the text of the rather short song I sang was: ‘Ala-bi, ala-ba, ala bim-bom-ba! Real! Real! Y nadie mas!’
Since the people swarming around the cars were Hispanic and presumably football fans, I figured there’d be a reasonable chance they’d remember a double-sized man standing up on the back of a truck, shouting Real Madrid’s football club’s fan song, even if most of them seemed to have had a drink or even two too many: ‘Ala-bi, ala-ba, ala bim-bom-ba! Real! Real! Y nadie mas!’
It seemed my assumption had been correct because in corroboration people did indeed stop to take in the unusual spectacle.
‘Ala-bi, ala-ba, ala bim-bom-ba! Real! Real! Y nadie mas!’
‘Esta loco!’ somebody observed: ‘He’s crazy!’
‘Ala-bi, ala-ba, ala bim-bom-ba! Real! Real! Y nadie mas!’
‘Que grande!’ somebody else said: ‘He’s so big!’
‘Ala-bi, ala-ba, ala bim-bom-ba! Real! Real! Y nadie mas!’
‘Es un exranjero,’ another one said: ‘That’s a foreigner.’
‘Canta muy mal,’ observed a fourth: ‘He sings rather well.’
‘Ala-bi, ala-ba, ala bim-bom-ba! Real! Real! Y nadie mas!’
‘Es un matador!’ exclaimed a fifth, pointing at the man in the passenger seat: ‘That’s an executioner!’
During all this, the driver had kept honking his horn, frantically signaling the crowd to disperse; all while his partner flashed what I assumed was a police ID.
The crowd had not dispersed, and for what I remember as at least an additional three minutes – anyhow, it was enough time for me to shout myself hoarse - I continued to treat the crowd to what must have been some rather unusual post-match entertainment. They had witnessed the spectacle of how this giant of a man - obviously a foreigner, from the back of what had been identified as a police truck containing at least one police executioner - while drinking a cold beer, in the most appalling voice imaginable, had sung the Real Madrid team song.
‘¡Recuérdame! ¡Van a matarme! ¡Recuérdame! ¡Van a matarme! ¡Avisard a la embajada Americana!’ I added maybe half a dozen times: ‘Remember me, they’re gonna kill me! Inform the American embassy!’
The truck ahead of us eventually got moving, spitting out so much black, oily - disgusting and probably highly toxic - exhausts towards me that it nearly completed my executioners’ mission for them. However, lady luck was smiling at me this night; I survived that too. As we drove off, I knew with virtual certainty that a fair part of the crowd had understood the significance of what I had alleged was happening, that several had believed me, and that at least some of them probably would do what I had asked them and call the American embassy once they had sobered up. I also felt certain that my executioners, at least the honest one, had understood the significance of what had just transpired.
As we drove off several revellers had thrown things at us, mainly empty beer containers, bottles and cans, and while doing so some had shouted ‘Real!’ or ‘Madrid’ – those were the ones who had thrown things at the drivers – others had shouted ‘Barca’ or ‘Barcelona’, those were the ones who had, often with an uncanny precision, aimed at me. I no longer would have given double the money against me being alive in 24 hours, or even one-point-one. I figured I was safe now and that nothing would be gained from me jumping off the truck. On the contrary, had I jumped off now the mouse-man might well have panicked and shot me.
Once at a safe distance from the revelers, the honest man indeed stopped the car in order to talk with somebody over the radio. I could hear a few words of the conversation, but as I write this down nearly two decades later, I no longer remember what they were, other than that it was about what had just happened.
It was close to midnight when they let me off outside my hotel, and as they were about to leave, the honest driver asked me please to return my copy of the police report. I lied, saying that I had thrown it into the crowd of football fans. It seemed as if he believed me and as he drove off, he gave me a smile, and I think he even raised his eyebrows, sort of saluting me. There was a pleasant light in his eyes, indicating that something interesting at least had the potential of going on behind them, and I was glad that life hadn’t put me in a situation where my only means of survival would have been to put that light out.
HOW DID CONDUCTION WORK?
(Evaluation Of How Illegality Through The Racket It Creates Caused Conduction)
I do not know what Peter got out of this, if anything, and to tell the truth, I am not altogether clear about how to interpret the events myself, at least not all of them. When many years later, I reflect upon the different participants in this tale of a drug-related death, if a death it was, these are my own thoughts; thoughts that I have added as I decided to publish my account of the strange events taking place in the evening described above, and the thoughts that I of course never had the audacity to present to Peter.
Victor the Victim, my nameless alleged robber, could well have been a hardened criminal with no direct association with drugs, and it is not totally inconceivable that he was in a stable state of mind both when deciding to rob me and when attempting, nor is it impossible that he did what he did because he was a wicked person who wanted money for some “bad” purpose other than drugs. On the other hand, he might have been a good man who did what he did because he wanted medicine for his child, food for his family or simply survival for himself. There is no way for me to know for certain whether narcotics entered Victor’s personal attack-the-big-foreigner-equation or not.
Yet, that Victor and his friend(s) in a sea of 40 – 80-kilogram people chose to attack one that weighed in at 130, suggests to me that some psychoactive substance, whether narcotic or not, probably in one way or the other did play a part. Though I cannot say this for certain, what I can say with at least virtual certainty is that Victor got shot by a detective who had learned the ropes serving in or close to drug trafficking during the reign of General Noriega, and that what has been described here happened in a country that until quite recently had been run by a drug-lord president and that it happened in a country with an economy that, again until quite recently, had, and quite possibly still was, counting drugs as a main source of revenue. This - though I cannot say precisely how, and though his attack on me could have had other reason – suggests that Victor’s death, or whatever harm he came to – was drug-related. Actually, up by the Gate, waiting for a chat with Peter, I spotted a man looking exactly like Victor, but he didn’t seem to recognize me. My guess is that the existence of the illegal drug racket – a consequence of illegality and SODPs – was a bad thing not only to Victor but quite possibly also to his friend, maybe even all three of them, if they were that many.
Sean the Shooter, the nameless detective who “helped” me to this experience – by shooting the man who might have been one of my attackers – probably did not do what he did in order to advance his career, nor is he likely to have done it in order to make a profit. I believe the truth to be that the young man only sought to do what he believed he was supposed to do, possibly even what he figured was the right thing to do; i.e., I believe that he did his best as defined by his superiors and thus quite possibly also by himself. Of course, it is not totally inconceivable that he made a mistake and shot the wrong man, or even that he shot Victor for some private, economic or political reason, but I do not deem that very likely. Also, I think the reason Sean attempted to make his report at the first police station could well have been that he was afraid that we – or I, rather – would run a greater risk of getting into trouble if he brought me “back home.”
I really do think Sean the Shooter did his best for me, and despite his callous approach to Victor the Victim, I still think he might well occasionally have lent his ear to his still small voice. And, if his superiors had gotten me killed - and then had been successful in scapegoating the young detective as Real Madrid’s heavyweight lawyers rolled in to make life miserable for everyone and sure that a scapegoat was found – then he would probably have passed a lie detector test, declaring that he figured he had done nothing wrong and that life now was treating him unfairly.
I think Sean the Shooter did his best, but that his best was a best that had been arrived at through a sort of reasoning that had been constructed in an environment made up of people who until recently, quite possibly even at the time, had been engaged in the illegal drug trade. I believe that Sean was a soul in the balance; a balance it quite possibly would not have been in without the illegal drug trade that illegalization creates.
The police officer at the first station was the one who warned me, and in doing so, he was trying to help an innocent man, thus possibly risking the wrath of the detectives at “Sean’s station.” This proves that some plants indeed can grow where there is very little water and that the man somehow had managed to maintain at least part of his humanity despite living under circumstances that were not really conducive to the preservation of such. I believe that the officer was a good and competent man, and to speculate about what consequences his contact with/ proximity to the racket had had for him – especially as my contact with him was so brief – is very difficult. In addition to ooze competence the man, who must have been around fifty, appeared quite intelligent, yet his position at the station had seemed to be a menial one. Maybe his rank ought to have been higher and his influence greater, and if so the failure to put a good man to good use could well at least in part be attributable to the racket and thus to the fact that drugs are illegal… I am indeed speculating on uncomfortably thin ice.
The revellers were the hundred or so people who listened to my singing. Though I had my executioners believe that at least one among them might call the American Embassy in order to report what they had seen, ninety-eight or ninety-nine would probably have done nothing. Of these some, maybe half – those not able to claim stupidity or drunkenness as a defence – would be forced to acknowledge to themselves “No, no I won’t call, even if it would be the right thing to do,” and though they would have some pretty good reason for thinking thus, these decisions would have pushed them away from “good” and towards “bad,” and again the racket and the illegality that causes it would have been at least in part to blame. As to the drunk half, maybe one of those would have called if alcohol had been illegal…
The two interviewers were both wicked human beings, especially the first one, and I am not exaggerating when claiming that his eyes showed no more compassion than a fish’. However, I have no right to label them wicked just because of what their eyes “told me,” because a pair of eyes will - unfortunately and quite counter-intuitively - tell the beholder no more than what the eyes’ owner thinks of him or herself, at least that is what I believe. Yet I do have the right to call them wicked “just” because they sought the death of a relatively innocent man with whose mirror image your writer for a long time has not only identified but also cultivated a very special and intimate relationship.
I hope they somehow perceived me as a threat, but if so, I cannot understand their reasoning. How could I possibly have used what I had experienced to harm them, especially as I had neither witnesses to corroborate my story, nor any compromising written records? By telling some international human rights organization that a Panamanian detective had shot a man that I could not with absolute certainty identify as my attacker? Hardly. By writing a book like this? No, without the attempted murder on me as a “sting,” this tale would hardly have been worth telling. Could Sean have been the son of some important person with great ambitions: one not wanting to see his son’s curriculum vitae tarnished? Possibly. Could they all have been part of a Kafka literary club, wanting to see if they could make the biggest man they had ever seen wet his trousers? If so they very nearly succeeded, yet I do not think so. Could they have been doing what they did because they got a kick out of humiliating a bigger and better-looking man than themselves? That is my favourite explanation, but yet I do not think so.
My two interviewers, quite possibly related, were men who I believe had been made wicked by long practice, and since I am convinced that no human being is born bad, I feel pretty confident when saying that their wickedness’ at least in part probably were caused by the drug racket. They were wicked, and I believe they contributed to making the people working with, around and for them, wicked too. I believe these two men have caused, and possibly until this very day continue to cause, all sorts of harm, all or most of it probably attributable to the racket’s existence and thus to drugs’ illegal status.
My two executioners, as they themselves saw it, I believe, were simply doing their job. Though they probably realized that they would be held at least partly responsible for me being allowed to put on my “Real Madrid show” and thus escape, yet there had been no malice in the way we had parted: in how they had let me off at my hotel. They were probably just a couple of hitmen - somehow related to Noriega’s drug trade – that now no longer had their old drug-lord boss to serve under and therefore simply made the best they could out of their talents under new, more competitive circumstances, trying to survive in a shrinking job market.
There must have been a considerable demand for private law enforcement during the Noriega rule – for “systemic violence guys” – and these two had probably made their career choices during a period when this situation had seemed unlikely to change: when the systemic violence market had seemed likely to continue to flourish. Yet, things had changed - Panama was no longer ruled by a drug lord, at least so I assumed - and these guys therefore probably figured they were just making the best out of the cards life had dealt them by offering their services to whoever paid them the most. Since they sold their services to the police rather than to private entrepreneurs, they probably were not all that good, something that I am very grateful for, and something that causes me to believe that maybe I would have been successful in killing the pair of them.
I believe they just wanted to survive and that they have probably continued on their chosen path until they either got killed or better at it, and if the latter happened to be the case, they probably still ply their trade: they did not come across as the sort of chaps who would be queuing up for re-education. They were of course very much a product of the drug racket that in turn was a product of illegalization and present SODPs, and the harms they maybe continue to cause are very much attributable to illegality and the racket it creates.
Your writer. Yes, dear reader, though I wish I wasn’t, I too am part of this equation. I was not as white as snow when I was led into that second police station, nor was I as black as sin when it was all over. Yet, as I jumped down from the back of the truck in front of my hotel, I was not the man as I had been when I felt those hands entering my pockets from behind. During the four hours or so that I spent in the company of Panamanian law enforcement – first with Victor the victim and the detective, then with my interviewers, and finally with my should-have-been executioners – I did a lot of things I had never done before and in doing these new things, I changed as a human being.
- I had for a moment taken great joy in that somebody I believed had tried to rob me got his comeuppance, got shot even, and I had indeed rushed towards the injured man with the intention of detaining him and maybe even to use some force.
- I had been prepared to sign a false statement, and as I eventually many years later got around to take a closer look at what I had signed, it turned out that I indeed had done precisely that.
- I had been so scared that I would have agreed to do more or less anything in order to save my life.
- I had risked the well-being of the pretty girl who had happened to walk past as I was arguing my right to remain on the back of the truck.
- I had sung in public.
- I had decided to kill, or at least to attempt to kill my two executioners, and though I did not get around to attempting it, I dealt with the mental preparation. I took the decision to attempt to deprive two fellow human beings of their lives, and since you, I hope, have never been forced into taking such a decision, let me assure you that taking it alters the nature of one’s being. It changes one because - just as deciding to resort to drugs, crimes, corruption, religion, counselling or wine in order to solve a problem once - the taking of the decision to kill increases the probability that one will try the same solution again.
In addition, I had deceived my executioners not only by untruthfully explaining why I should remain on the back of the truck but also by telling them that I had thrown my copy of the report into the crowd. True, they deserved to be deceived. In these two latter cases I definitely had the right to do what I did - and maybe in most of the other cases as well – yet, I did act badly and just because some of my “crimes” might be considered justifiable “relatively,” it does not make them so “absolutely.”
A person who does all this becomes a lesser person than he or she was before this experience: closer to “bad.” Even though I can see that sometimes I could not have acted more honourably or correctly, at least not while hanging on to my life, I feel that the drug racket that follows from drug illegality and SODPs – albeit with my willing and sometimes even unbecomingly enthusiastic co-operation – by “bumping into me” dragged the worst out of Andres Laszlo Jr.
In addition to all this I failed to report what had happened even as I got out of Panama, I still have not, and turning this experience into text, I still have not told a single person the whole story. Peter – or, if he decided to skip this part of my report, the person who first reads this book, maybe you - is thus the first to know the whole truth about the event. One consequence of this is that I have been bent, and though it is partly my own fault, it is also partly the drug racket’s because it was the existence of the drug racket that caused the question that I in answering was found wanting to be asked. I, personally, therefore figure that I have got the right to accuse the drug racket – or, rather, what causes the drug racket to exist: illegality and SODPs – of, by means of conduction, having harmed me.
I do not know what conclusions Peter drew from this story, if any – maybe that in addition to harboring amorous feelings towards a married woman, I am, morally speaking, a murderer – and that I therefore definitely deserve no second hearing before getting sent to some other place. My own conclusions are that the drug racket corrupts not only through the investment of its surpluses, but also through the parts/ actors that it creates, and I believe that I have understood what Peter meant by suggesting I should think about the racket’s morality as spreading through convection and conduction. I believe Peter was thinking of the two terms as used in astrophysics, where they both refer to energy/ heat transfer within stars: convection by moving currents and conduction by particles colliding into one another.
The driving force of the drug racket is the money that is available for clever or hard people, especially clever or hard people that lack the qualities necessary to be successful elsewhere. The hankering after “drug racket money,” and the fact that the acts suggested by such hankerings often are criminal, affects the minds of the hankerers. In so being affected the hankering after drug money turns the hankerers’ minds towards “bad,” because what the possessors of these minds are “obliged to do” in order to procure what they are hankering after is quite frequently morally “bad.”
The drug racket, by the bad money it puts on offer, thus creates bad people, and these bad people corrupt not only through the use of their surpluses but also, as illustrated by this second story, by their tendency to infect/ make bad much of what they come in contact with. Conduction-like they affect much of what they happen to bump into, and even if we legalized drugs tomorrow, the corrupted and corrupting individuals shaped by its illegality would not recover anytime soon. These individuals, sometimes wicked to the core, would still be there, and they would be there with hands that probably would have great problems learning how to become idle or honest; a knack they probably often would not acquire before they, together with their owners, were put into their graves.
These people – those made wicked by the racket’s conduction rather than its surplus’ convection – must not be forgotten in the overall equation, because whereas the wicked consequences of the surplus-makers morality, big as they may be, would start to vanish the moment illegality came to an end, those of the individual racketeer’s conduction would not. Or, rather, it would do so much slower, quite possibly requiring a generation or two.
The scariest things about the experience described above, I figure, is not that a man got shot or even that your writer nearly got killed or decided to try to kill his would-be executioners. Instead, I feel that the scariest things are:
- For most or maybe all of the actors in this drama, it can be said that they probably did nothing but what they felt was the right or at least proper thing to do.
- In every interaction between the racket and its surrounding, in this case mainly I, the influence was that of bad making good bad or at least less good, rather than good making bad good or less bad. Whereas I, being the closest to “good” in this story, failed to smear any of “my goodness” onto the bad guys, they most certainly did not fail in smearing some of their badness onto me.
If you, dear reader, do not think this is scary - that we, as in “we humankind,” do not stop a drug policy that produces such surpluses and such people together with such a direction of influence - then you are definitely made out of sterner stuff than I am.
These two pieces of writing, “A Drug Lord's Tale” and “Your Writer's Tale,” suggest to me that the drug racket, through its money and through its people, corrupts. They suggest to me that the racket, through the vehicles of surplus convection and member conduction, passes corruption on to more or less everything they come into contact with; surreptitiously and obviously, respectively. Together, or possibly even individually, these two harms could well be among the most serious of all drug harms and a very strong indicator that it is time to revise our approach to drugs. Summarizing the two “forces” I sensed that there could well be something further to be had by thinking about them dialectically: they sort of felt similar, and as both were caused by drugs illegal status rather than drug use it should be an interesting undertaking to explore whether they could somehow be unified or at least brought closer. However, as I wanted to get back to Peter and inquire about Gladys and her whereabouts I decided not to, and instead, I went on to Peter’s next job for me; to try to find out who would stop.