The Drug War

My sentiments on the whole drug question have been influenced by some experience with the medical aspect of the problem. Drugs are slipping out of any control due to developments in synthetic variations of older substances that stimulate brain chemistry, sometimes in unknown ways. The traditional drugs, if we can use that term, are also slipping out of control with Mexican drug wars replacing the Columbian cartels even more violent than their predecessors.

What about marijuana ? It is widely used by the younger generation and, while I do think there are some harmful consequences, especially in potential schizophrenics, the fact is that the laws are widely ignored and do little good and much harm. First, what about the link to psychosis ?

Epidemiological studies suggest that Cannabis use during adolescence confers an increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms later in life. However, despite their interest, the epidemiological data are not conclusive, due to their heterogeneity; thus modeling the adolescent phase in animals is useful for investigating the impact of Cannabis use on deviations of adolescent brain development that might confer a vulnerability to later psychotic disorders. Although scant, preclinical data seem to support the presence of impaired social behaviors, cognitive and sensorimotor gating deficits as well as psychotic-like signs in adult rodents after adolescent cannabinoid exposure, clearly suggesting that this exposure may trigger a complex behavioral phenotype closely resembling a schizophrenia-like disorder. Similar treatments performed at adulthood were not able to produce such phenotype, thus pointing to a vulnerability of the adolescent brain towards cannabinoid exposure.

This suggests that adult use may be less harmful.

The legal situation is actually more serious. The data is disputed and may be influenced by the politics of the drug using public. Two states have “legalized” marijuana. The Federal law still, of course, applies.

In the lead-up to the referenda in Mexico and Colorado, the Mexican Competitiveness Institute released a study estimating that Mexico’s cartels would lose $1.425 billion if the initiative passed in Colorado and $1.372 billion if Washington voted to legalize. The organization also predicted that drug trafficking revenues would fall 20 to 30 percent, and the Sinaloa cartel, which would be the most affected, would lose up to 50 percent.

But that’s a much more severe impact than the one predicted by the Rand Corp., which previously found that cartels would barely feel the pinch from legalization initiatives in the U.S. As Booth reported:

A 2010 Rand Corp. study estimated that legal marijuana use in California, a state that consumes about one-seventh of all the pot smoked in the United States, would cost the cartels 2 to 4 percent of their revenue. So losing consumers in states such as Washington and Colorado that have a smaller population might not affect the cartel bottom line by much.

National legalization would, of course, have a greater effect. Is it politically possible ? Probably not.

What about other drugs ? It has been written by prominent people that we are losing the war.

I have been concerned about the drug issue since I became secretary of labor in 1969, my first cabinet position in the Nixon administration. There was growing worry back then about the damage inficted on individuals and society by the use of addictive drugs, so an informal effort was started to keep these drugs out of the United States. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a friend of mine who was then counselor to the president, worked diligently on this problem. I was concerned but skeptical about the effectiveness of this approach to the issue, which focused on stopping the flow of drugs into the United States while seeming to overlook the growing demand for drugs from within our country.

Some factors are not mentioned such as the effects of different “traditional” drugs. Heroin has been outlawed since the original Harrison Narcotic Act.

On its face, moreover, the Harrison bill did not appear to be a prohibition law at all. Its official title was “An Act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax upon all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes .” The law specifically provided that manufacturers, importers, pharmacists, and physicians prescribing narcotics should be licensed to do so, at a moderate fee. The patent-medicine manufacturers were exempted even from the licensing and tax provisions, provided that they limited themselves to “preparations and remedies which do not contain more than two grains of opium, or more than one-fourth of a grain of morphine, or more than one-eighth of a grain of heroin . in one avoirdupois ounce.” Far from appearing to be a prohibition law, the Harrison Narcotic Act on its face was merely a law for the orderly marketing of opium, morphine, heroin, end other drugs-in small quantities over the counter, and in larger Quantities on a physician’s prescription. Indeed, the right of a physician to prescribe was spelled out in apparently unambiguous terms: “Nothing contained in this section shall apply . . . to the dispensing or distribution of any of the aforesaid drugs to a patient by a physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon registered under this Act in the course of his professional practice only.” Registered physicians were required only to keep records of drugs dispensed or prescribed. it is unlikely that a single legislator realized in 1914 that the law Congress was passing would later be decreed a prohibition law.

Thus the Act as originally written was NOT a prohibition. However, it was interpreted as such by law enforcement.

The provision protecting physicians, however, contained a joker hidden in the phrase, “in the course of his professional practice only .” After passage of the law, this clause was interpreted by law-enforcement officers to mean that a doctor could not prescribe opiates to an addict to maintain his addiction. Since addiction was not a disease, the argument went, an addict was not a patient, and opiates dispensed to or prescribed for him by a physician were therefore not being supplied “in the course of his professional practice.” Thus a law apparently intended to ensure the orderly marketing of narcotics was converted into a law prohibiting the supplying of narcotics to addicts, even on a physician’s prescription.

Many physicians were arrested under this interpretation, and some were convicted and imprisoned. Even those who escaped conviction had their careers ruined by the publicity. The medical profession quickly learned that to supply opiates to addicts was to court disaster.

The medical profession quickly learned to avoid addicts and they turned to the illegal market. Heroin, in particular, became the illegal drug of choice. Addiction increased rather than falling as a result of the law.

Congress responded by tightening up the Harrison Act. In 1924, for example, a law was enacted prohibiting the importation of heroin altogether, even for medicinal use. This legislation grew out of the widespread misapprehension that, because of the deteriorating health, behavior, and status of addicts following passage of the Harrison Act and the subsequent conversion of addicts from morphine to heroin, heroin must be a much more damaging drug than opium or morphine. In 1925, Dr. Lawrence Kolb reported on a study of both morphine and heroin addiction: “If there is any difference in the deteriorating effects of morphine and heroin on addicts, it is too slight to be determined clinically.” President Johnson’s Committee on Law Enforcement and Administration of justice came to the same conclusion in 1967: “While it is somewhat more rapid in its action, heroin does not differ in any significant pharmacological effect from morphine.”

In fact, these laws allowed the use of existing stocks of heroin and Johns Hopkins Hospital used heroin for labor pain until the stocks ran out about 1928. Heroin does seem to have a euphoria effect which was useful in labor.

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent article about 25 years ago on why cocaine use declined in the 1920s. It was social pressure rather than law enforcement which resulted in a decline to low levels until the 1970s. I remember patients asking me if there was any harm in using cocaine in the middle 70s. They did not realize that it is far more addictive than heroin or morphine. They thought it was harmless. It is also a problem for legalization as it makes heavy users hyperactive and paranoid, a bad combination. Fortunately, its use seems to have declined in recent years although a study from Germany in 2006 suggests heavy use in urban centers world wide. Cocaine produces a metabolite for a month after use which can be identified in sewage water. This metabolite in the urine is useless legally as it persists for some time after use.

But the “World Drug Report” says the average user, at least in Central and Western Europe, consumes only 35 grams of pure cocaine per year. Unless the appetite of the average American is considerably greater, present estimates of overall consumption are likely to be too low. Either there are more coke-heads than reflected by the official statistics, or they snort far more Charlie per year than yet realized.

And there’s more. IBMP Director Fritz Sörgel says there are a number of further lessons provided by his study:

Good news for Germany — cocaine consumption has, according to his data — stagnated.

New York continues its reign as the Cocaine Capital of the World. One is almost tempted to upbraid them for wasting the stuff. Nowhere did researchers find as much pure cocaine as they did in the Hudson River.

Europe is catching up in cocaine consumption, with Spain bravely leading the way. The British and Italians also display a ravenous appetite for blow.

These are gross numbers based on the concentration in water with very rough estimates of per capita consumption.

It does suggest the hopelessness of prohibition. The report from Schultz has a conclusion:

These efforts wind up creating a market where the price vastly exceeds the cost. With these incentives, demand creates its own supply and a criminal network along with it. It seems to me we’re not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business and the incentives for criminality out of it. Frankly, the only way I can think of to accomplish this is to make it possible for addicts to buy drugs at some regulated place at a price that approximates their cost. When you do that you wipe out the criminal incentives, including, I might say, the incentive that the drug pushers have to go around and get kids addicted, so that they create a market for themselves. They won’t have that incentive because they won’t have that market. . . .

I find it very difficult to say that. Sometimes at a reception or cocktail party I advance these views and people head for somebody else. They don’t even want to talk to you. I know that I’m shouting into the breeze here as far as what we’re doing now. But I feel that if somebody doesn’t get up and start talking about this now, the next time around, when we have the next iteration of these programs, it will still be true that everyone is scared to talk about it. No politician wants to say what I just said, not for a minute.

What about the synthetic drugs ? This is a growing and, thus far, uncontrollable problem. Many of these drugs do not even have known chemical composition.

“Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” Vanilla Sky,” and “Bliss” are among the many street names of so-called designer drugs known as “bath salts,” which have sparked thousands of calls to poison centers across the U.S.

These drugs contain synthetic chemicals that are similar to amphetamines. Some, but not all, of the chemicals used to make them are illegal.
What Are Bath Salts?

“Is this what we put in our bathtubs, like Epsom salts? No,” says Zane Horowitz, MD, an ER doctor and medical director of the Oregon Poison Center.

These drugs have nothing to do with real bath salts — or “jewelry cleaner,” or “plant food,” or “phone screen cleaner,” which they’re also sometimes called, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Exactly which chemicals are in the drugs isn’t known.

“The presumption is that most ‘bath salts’ are MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, although newer… derivatives are being made by illegal street chemists,” Horowitz says. “Nobody really knows, because there has been no way to test for these substances. However, that is changing, and some tests for certain of these chemicals have been developed.”

There is no hope of legalizing these concoctions. Should we consider legalizing some less dangerous drugs ? I think so. Marijuana, aside from its risks in schizophrenia, is relatively harmless. It has social costs like lack of ambition but these characteristics may be less an effect of the drug than characteristic of the user.

Misuse of prescription drugs is beyond this discussion. Misuse of some OTC drugs, like the cough syrup ingredient, dextromethorphan, is a real problem in some areas. In the southeast, there is wide use of a concoction made up of cough syrup, sweetened drinks like Arizona Iced Tea grapefruit flavor and sweet candy, like Skittles. It is called by various names, like Purple Drank, or “Lean” or Sizzurp. The similarity of the ingredients to those purchased by Trayvon Martin I will leave to the reader. It is widely popular with rappers, sometimes with lethal results. Convenience stores, like 7-11, have begun placing cough syrup behind the counter and reports state that the 7-11 clerk refused to sell cough syrup to Martin because he was not 18.

Maybe it’s time for an honest discussion on options on drugs. I’m not optimistic.

26 thoughts on “The Drug War”

  1. When Carl and I went to Lollapalooza a few weeks ago I was astounded by how much pot the younger set was smoking. And also astounding was the fact that they just did it in the open, seemingly not worried at all about being arrested/prosecuted. Maybe the laws in Chicago are lax for possession, I don’t know.

  2. Used the stuff for years…simply would not hear any negative comments, etc. In retrospect, I’d have done many things differently, and staying clear-headed would have helped a lot. Sometimes it’s not the full on blast of lightning that blows the transformers and shakes the house, but the gentle gust that pushes in the door. Keep it illegal where possible, and keep it away from your kids and grandkids.

  3. I would legalize everything. Some people are going to use the stuff no matter what. Others may be deterred but at what cost. The militarization of law enforcement and the bureaucratic assaults on financial and medical privacy were begun in attempts to catch illegal drug users who would not otherwise be detectable. There is a tremendous amount of crime and official corruption as a result of high drug prices that result from prohibition. The widespread jailing of otherwise-law-abiding people for nonviolent drug use is an abomination, as are official efforts to stymie addicts by restricting supplies of opiates to pain sufferers. On a societal scale the prohibition cure is worse than the disease.

  4. I read a very perceptive comment – I think at Classical Values – that with regard to drug use, you are either going to have a law enforcement problem, or a public health problem. Whichever one we opt for, there is no free lunch; there is going to be a problem.
    Seeing what has happened with regard to law enforcement over the last thirty years and more … maybe we should try the public health problem option for a bit. The law enforcement option is getting more ugly than we can stand.

    (Hey, NSA guy monitoring my blog comments and email? We’re having baked mac-and-cheese with fresh-roasted Hatch chilies. There’ll be some left over, if you’re hungry, stop by and I’ll make up a plate for you. You know the address. 6:30 is fine…)

  5. The drug war is Prohibition all over again, but even worse in its failures and negative effects.

    (It is no accident that many ex-prohibition agents went into narcotics enforcement after the repeal of the 19th amendment)

    The corruption, the lawlessness, the endless list of new drugs, natural and synthetic, that have to be added to the prohibited list, the wasted police and judicial resources, the catastrophic cynicism about the validity of routine law enforcement activities bred into each new generation as drug suppression attempts use more and more intrusive tactics, and the list goes on and on.

    If there was any true indications that all this effort had any positive effect, other than the undocumented claim that it prevents a certain amount of addiction, there might be a case to continue some modified version of the current system, but I fail to observe any such results.

    Legalize like alcohol or prescription drugs, tax, and regulate quality with the inspection system already in place. At least, then, victims of bad drugs would have some legal recourse to recover damages from toxic formulations, and every dispute would not have to be settled with gunfire in the streets.

    Nearly every human culture has had some form of intoxicant or other stimulant that it used for recreation or ceremony. Making beer, for example, is one of the oldest documented forms of ordinary people concocting something for relaxation and relief, as is mentioned in ancient writings from thousands of years ago in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

    Other drugs have similar histories, although it was ignored for a long time because it was considered disreputable, like sexual practices, or erotic art. The time for that type of Victorian attitude is long past.

    There are many issues which must be dealt with, of course, not least of which is how much society should underwrite treatment for abuse. But, given that our streets and towns now are teeming with any number of chemically dependent people already, I fail to see any looming catastrophe on the horizon if lawful adults are allowed to choose their own form of preferred intoxicant without the permission of some state cadre, or the threat of arrest and imprisonment because their choice is not approved.

    As a side benefit, the money base of any number of gangs, foreign and domestic, would be greatly diminished by legalization, and some positive ripples for governments and law enforcement agencies might replace the corrosive effects of the current prohibition.

  6. Like Jonathan I say legalize everything – but with the caveat that society isn’t to pick up the check for the inevitable health problems down the road. Just put them all in an area by themselves to die naturally.

    Of course that is harsh but efforts at enforcement seem to be failing.

  7. Just as soon as we have a night watchman state and absolutely NO government subsidies, we can revist this issue.

    I don’t think you’re in touch with the street level at all. Your tax dollars are already the great contributor and funder of drugs and alcoholism. SNAP/EBT and the rest are MONEY. If you’re wondering how food is converted to drugs you don’t understand the drug retail trade.

    Call it the velocity of candy. You feel sorry for a street person but don’t want to give him cash as you should know this will be used for abuse . So you buy him a candy bar. He runs to the dealer who aggregates the candy and trades it to the bodega owner you bought the candy bar from, said bodega owner washes said dealers money. Tomorrow he sells the candy bar to you again. You give the same candy bar to the street person again..and the cycle repeats. There’s a reason junkies steal anything and everything. Because it’s fungible.

    So if you want say the amount of serious substance abuse in the population of estimated 9% to increase to say equal the amount of people on permanent disability/food stamps, by all means legalize drugs.

    That’s more than 9%.

    As to the people jailed for non-violent drug use…umm..ah..WHO exactly? The courts don’t want addicts in prison. Or DUI offenders who are a cash cow – since they’re usually lower middle class and will pay to stay out of jail, but can’t afford the lawyer who will get them off. The courts don’t jail people for possession or purchase. They don’t have the room in prison. You’re also ignoring the war on drugs has always been a war on violent street crime, that is to say NAMs.

    Mind you if the fines for drug possession matched those for DUI, you’d see this. MONEY. Cash cow for the state of PA for example. If you want drugs to be legalized make the fines, court fees, lawyers fee equivalent to the DUI penalties. Which still won’t work, as drug use consumes every cent you have up to say Keith Richards money. And drug addicts are going to lose their jobs – and everything else – much faster than alcholics. Putting them on welfare…

    There’s a reason drug use exploded with the Great Society. Mind you I feel terrible for them. But legalization isn’t the answer, barring draconian destruction of welfare. They’re still gonna be addicts, but they’ll die off faster. A soft eugenics if you will.

    If you’re doubting the velocity of candy, talk to any addict in recovery. IN RECOVERY. The active addict will probably…ask you for money. Or at least a candy bar.

  8. What your argument misses is that legalization removes the black-market price premium that drives organized crime. That’s a huge benefit, especially for non-drug users. Nobody gets gunned down over illegal alcohol anymore.

    There are no non-violent drug offenders in jail? Then why this effort to repeal mandatory minimum sentences? It’s one of the few good things the Obama administration has tried to do.

  9. I’ve wondered why terrorists haven’t attempted a decapitatin strike at the USA by mixing anthrax with black market cocaine.

    Legalization of tobacco hasn’t eliminated that black market. Though if you want to suggest that sales taxes be abolished, I’m for it.

  10. As we all know, there is nothing fouler nor more hateful than the vices of the lumpen proletariat. In 18th Century England, it was gin. Hogarth’s Gin Lane was an attack on the depravity caused by consuming gin. “By 1721, however, Middlesex magistrates were already decrying gin as ‘the principal cause of all the vice & debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people'”

    Further, one way elites have of controlling the proles is by attacking those vices. The history of Prohibition in America is a case in point. Not only was Prohibition directed at suppressing the vices of the lower classes, it was also an attack on the social structures of working class neighborhoods. Further, the movement was destructive of the constitutional order resulting in the adoption of the 16th, 17th, and 19th amendments, as well as the execrable 18th. I highly recommend, “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent

    The Drug War has been more of the same. Not only has it failed, not only has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but it has warped out law enforcement system by encouraging military style SWAT tactics and depreciating the 4th amendment.

    My own preference would be to end the war and legalize the manufacture and sale of what are now scheduled drugs under the same FDA rules as apply to headache powders. But, I am fully aware that in a full legalization scenario a fairly large segment of the population, many of whom will be children of the elite, will become permanent addicts. (OTOH, many of them are already addicts, and few addicts have been deterred by the Drug War.) However, I do not anticipate that this should cause us to back off from legalization anymore than alcoholism gave any impetus to a re-imposition of Prohibition.

  11. Robert, Prohibition was part of the Progressive agenda early in the 20th century. It is often blamed on Bible thumping Republicans but that wasn’t it at all. Just as the purposes of Margaret Sanger and the Planned Parenthood organization she founded are ignored. I skimmed the Wikipedia article and saw nothing about eugenics. I guess that went into the memory hole.

  12. When I was in high school in the 1970s canabis, LSD and cocaine and some other narcotics were used by some of the students. Nowadays the variety of drugs has never been greater, especially where synthetic drugs are concerned. Most years for the past twenty years I have attended an unofficial reunion of the class of 74. What is interesting, is that those who hadn’t died through drug overdose but survived into their 40s and got off the drugs began dying off. The reason is the damage that drugs had done to their minds and bodies is irreversible and as one gets older the body tends to cope less with repairinf itself. Now, I don’t give a toss about what the academics, social scientists, politicians, do-gooders or laboratory rats and mice subscribe to. People tend to be stupid in all manner of things. Those taking drugs are committing suicide by a thousand cuts and will die prematurely. The tragedy is that druggies cause so much mayhem to themselves, their relatives and society. Whether one legalises drugs or introduces prohibition, the bottom line is that taking drugs will increase one’s mortality substantially once you get over 40 years of age. Stupidity knows no bounds, especially where drugs are concerned!

  13. The drug discussion is as stimulating as the abortion discussion. The stakes in both are very high and the reasoning by most is simply emotional. And nothing will change.

  14. Some years ago I enquired on a British blog why the sensible and effective British drug laws of my youth had been replaced by ineffective, more punitive laws. I was told that it was because of pressure from the US. I scoffed. I implied lazy anti-Americanism. But no: a well-informed chap replied citing chapter and verse. We really did make our drug laws bone-headed to please the US.

  15. Dr. Kennedy – A year or so ago, the British Lung Foundation published a pamphlet summarizing their position on marijuana use. One of the most interesting claims — which was a new one for them — was that smoking one joint, as it is usually done in Britain, was as likely to cause lung cancer as smoking a pack of cigarettes.

    Now I have always thought that inhaling the smoke from burning leaves couldn’t be good for your lungs, but the magnitude — one joint = one pack — was.

    (I didn’t bother to check out their source for that claim, thinking it too much work, especially in a field so politicized.)

    Dan from Madison – You may find my post on Doritos yesterday of interest. Marijuana was effectively legalized in Seattle, long before it was, sort of, legalized in Washington state.

  16. The results in that study are no surprise. Once, many years ago, I admitted four teenagers who had injected a tea made from marijuana IV ! The amusing part was that the first was already retching and showing signs of a severe reaction at the time the fourth did his injection. I think they survived but were very ill for some time. Drug use is a crude common sense test. Some people with high IQ fail it.

    That doesn’t really negate the arguments about legalization. Common sense is almost extinct.

  17. “renminbi Says: vxxc: What are NAMs?”

    Well….When someone from the country who’s currency is renminbi inquires about living in a US neighborhood, and is warned “I heard the schools are bad” that is a PC way of saying NAMs live there, when the Renminbi speakers fail to take the hint they become a crime statistic.

    [Non.Asian.Minority] SHHH.

  18. This issue will continue to be debated without much light but indeed much heat for awhile more, responsible and otherwise law abiding citizens who like [or need, NEED] drugs don’t understand why we don’t just legalize them.

    I have mentioned that if you do that the addiction rate::food stamp, disability, dole rate will equalize, a net loss for society. You are already paying for it. There is no well of money that ever existed to fund this, but as ye are scholars ye will try.

    Because ye want it, consequences be damned. At least admit it.

    Mr. Schwartz – what families, what work? WTF are you talking about?

    The war on drugs came into existence because crime was exploding starting about the mid 60s. It’s a way to put criminals away for long stretches.

    Something caused our society to explode for 30 years [1965-1995].

    Something worked to lower the levels of crime in our societies about 15 years ago. Several somethings, but common problem.

    As Renmimbi may be learning, we can’t say why. Can we? So until we can, we will continue the most exquisite, tortured debates, ridiculous laws.

    This blog is named Chicago Boyz.
    ***If you are in Chicago: Name the problem. I dare you.***

    If not, OK. Some people from Renmimbi’s neck of the woods probably still believe in Communism.

    I know..I know..we could perhaps categorize, that is to say draw up a makeup, almost a topography, a P-P-P-Personality of the responsible vs irresponsible drug user..and then based on this P-P-P-PUHH have the law not written but perhaps enforced differently.

    Call it a Non Anti-social Marijuana codicil to our current criminal codes. NAM for short.


  19. My wife taught NAMs in NYC. Although almost all accusations of racism today are self-serving bullshit, there is much racism that is almost never recognized and that is the refusal to demand from NAMs the same decency we expect from everyone else. The administrators in my wife’s school did no one any favors by refusing to enforce discipline. This is condescension, and, I dare say, racism.

  20. As far as drugs go, we should not ignore the fact that pot has been de-facto legalized throughout much of the US. It is openly smoked in California, and in Denver as well. A friend of mine went to a recent CPA conference (of all places) and they were talking about how to do accounting and other legal and financial concerns for the thriving new drug trade there.

    Not to discount any of the discussions above, a giant drug problem is the massive scale of prescription drug abuse. I don’t know if you can test for it in urine like they do in Germany but the amount of painkiller abuse is enormous. And then there is a giant class of people who are taking ADHD and similar drugs and will be doing this forever. I am not saying that ADHD is an abuse problem but the amount of people ingesting pills is massive and those drug efforts are rarely discussed with the same intensity as busting local drug dealers and cartels bringing in cocaine and heroin even though the scales of both are likely similar.

    Realistically, the US is moving into de-facto legalization of many personal items and this will probably continue indefinitely. Some day we need to revisit the useless prohibition on young people drinking until they are 21, something not followed at all on college campuses or elsewhere. If you don’t think that increases the attractiveness of pot and prescription drugs as a counter then you are probably smoking something :)

    As far as what all of this means, I don’t know. As far as the addicts trading food for drugs and alcohol, they probably will keep doing it. It is not a glamorous existence that’s for sure. The vast majority of these people are of marginal use to a 21st century economy so it isn’t like we are starving for un educated and ill disciplined manual labor. How this is mainly solved in the US is just to keep them out of your neighborhood, and most of them lack cars and even public transportation is mostly controlled or inadequate so what is a problem to their neighborhood isn’t a problem to your neighborhood.

    It is only an issue when they leave their neighborhood and come to your neighborhood, or when their neighborhood becomes so decrepit that it is effectively abandoned (see Detroit or many of the inner city suburbs throughout the US). Those problems are dealt with as they flare up and then America just moves on. When you go to the south or suburbs of large cities you can see the net migration out of the productive citizens that follow jobs and want order and good schools, and they’ve left other places to get there. When the place that they live in gets full of addicts, they will leave and move on. On the other hand, if the location is intrinsically valuable, real estate developers come in and clear the land and install security and then the new, productive citizens arrive and the locals, many of which fall into the category of addicts as discussed in this thread, are thrown out. Examples of this are River North, which was once a home of bums and addicts, but is now sparklingly new and all the buildings have security and a heavy police presence. If you really want to get ahead of this game, buy in Oakland, which has a great location, but is in the process of falling apart. Some day that will be a beautiful place full of beautiful houses and condos and all new people arriving from everywhere except Oakland. The people that live there now will be displaced to who knows where.

    This is how we “solve” the problem, through investment in new locations and lack of investment in old locations. It is the city itself but much more private developers, since the government has pretty much abandoned housing in the US. Apartment building owners are keenly aware that they can charge more for better developments and tenants and are either upgrading choice properties or dis-investing in low end properties.

    In Chicago, there are beautiful old buildings in many parts of town that are now dangerous. Those buildings are expensive to maintain. No one is going to pay to maintain them for inhabitants that can’t pay expensive rent. Thus they will all fall into disrepair and eventually be bulldozed by the city. If the land is intrinsically valuable or useful (i.e. near some place that is useful), someone may rebuild, or eventually it will all be vacant lots, until either the whole neighborhood is redone (by private developers) or left fallow.

    In the US people are second to geography, and this is geography of investment in real estate. The addicts come in, investment stops, and then it moves somewhere else. Addicts are not correlated with people that are economically useful and pay high rents. Thus they are sorted out of the new investment. And where they live falls into complete ruin until it is either depopulated completely and either left fallow or in some Baltimore like state of anarchy, or it is redeveloped. Where they go is likely places on the down skid and they accelerate the down skid of that location. Sorry.

    Since the US doesn’t build public housing any more this is how it will go. Public housing was the only way that you could have permanent poor in your midst without the redevelopment effect occurring.

    And if you live somewhere on the down skid and there is little intrinsic value in the location then you should just plan on it getting worse and getting out. It will happen anyways if you want good schools or public order or any of the other things that come with high rents.

  21. Great analysis, Carl. AFAIK virtually all of Manhattan is becoming or has become gentrified. This includes Harlem, East Harlem, the East Village. I have been taking self guided architecture tours. I was surprised to see (white) people walking their dogs in Harlem’s St.Nicholas Park. When I was undergraduate (CCNY ’65) you didn’t dare go into that park. One is now probably a lot safer almost anywhere in NY than in London or Paris.
    I do wonder whether this is sustainable because of NY’s dysfunctional political culture (City and State) which is a playground for crooks and/or morons.

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