It’s an old story. At bottom, the problem isn’t the drug cartels per se. Much less is it — and here I can sense the collective blood pressure of the Cato Institute rising — America’s drug laws.
The problem is Mexico’s record of corrupt, weak and incompetent governance, which has created the environment in which the cartels have hitherto operated with impunity. The same might be said about other countries in Latin America: These states did not become basket cases on account of the drug trade. It is the fact that they were basket cases to begin with that allowed the drug trade to flourish.
For serious? I’m reminded of the introduction to Matthie Kassovitz’ 1995 film, La Haine: C’est pas la chute, mais l’atterrissage. It’s not the fall that kills you, but the landing. It’s not the gunshot that kills you, but the rapid loss of blood. Running the red light didn’t cause the accident, it happened because the other car was in the intersection at the same time. I didn’t punch you in the face, your head got in the way of my fist. If you’re starting to get the point, Stephens has completely ignored the salient question: why are these regimes so corruptible?
The problem isn’t cartels. The problem isn’t drug laws. The problem is corrupt politicians. Kidding, right? This is just a tired rehashing of the old “if-only-the-right-people-were-in-power” cliché… Count me along with the folks at Cato, you dipshit.
Politicians exercise their power, always and everywhere, by dealing in favors, and they deal in favors because they can exercise powers over the rest of us: quid pro quo. That’s all they’re capable of doing! Saying that “corrupt politicians” are to blame for drug war violence is simply not going far enough, it’s not examining the root cause. Even if American drug laws are not the proximate cause of the drug cartels’ impunity (an argument I’m more than willing to entertain), blaming the problem on “basketcase” governments is an intellectually lazy cop-out.
What if these governments were in-fact “basketcases” to begin with? The decades-old epic fail that we know as the war on drugs is certainly responsible for exacerbating the problems, escalating the violence, and further encouraging (by profitablity) the corruption of already-failed states. But Stephens, who is quick to blame government failure for the drug war violence, is equally quick to blame lack of government:
The Calderón government has vastly increased military and police budgets, but remains vastly outspent by the cartels.
Why can cartels outspend governments? Because there are monopoly profits to be made, and there are going to be monopoly profits as long as long as the substances are outlawed, as long as America continues to deny the rights of her own citizens, while sending Cowboy-wannabe testosterone junkies in the DEA to “stir up some violence” between rivals cartels south of the border. The profits are there for the taking, and as long as they are, the cartels will have enought money to continue fighting the war.
The war on drugs enables terrorism, and the only way to eliminate the war and all its violence, is to make violence unprofitable by freeing the market; remove the profit incentive by decriminalizing and/or legalizing ALL drugs, and consequently forcing the cartels to compete honestly. Stephens, on the other hand, falls back on the statist’s favorite solution to any problem: more power for the state (and more violence):
What Mexico urgently needs are stronger institutions of state, beginning with its army but also including the judiciary and the police.
If it looks like fascism, sounds like fascism, and smells like fascism…