Two items caught my eyes and ears in the last 24 hours and after hearing both I couldn't help but feel that there was a link between them. First up I woke this morning to find a text I'd been sent just after nodding off, "I've just watched a TV show about fake vodka - it contained Machine Cleaner". This of course was a reference to the 'Fake Britain' programme on counterfeit alcoholic drink which he'd watched on the BBC iPlayer. Then while getting a lift home I heard a radio report (also on the BBC) about clubbers beginning to take stronger and 'more pure' form of ecstasy.
Now I've never taken E and I'm not about to do a Johann Hari and pretend that I have. The odd joint and a bizarre evening with a water bong were pretty much the limits of my forays into controlled narcotics. However, I was led to believe (perhaps wrongly) that it was impure ecstasy tablets that were the issue - ie dealers were cutting MDMA, its prominent 'ingredient' with other substances that were actually causing the health problems and (it should be said, very occasional) fatalities. It may of course be that both arguments contain a grain of truth, but hopefully someone can come on here and clear that up because I've heard it from more than one source who was, shall we say, in the know.
The statist message of both items was loud and clear - in the case of 'Fake Britain', the programme represented a firm instruction to only purchase alcohol from reputable sources, who themselves should not be procuring their stock from the back of a van or lorry, thereby endangering the health of their customers. After the explosion and death of five people at a 'vodka plant' in Lincolnshire, an investigation searched first for the producers and then retailers of the phoney product, with a pressing reminder of the amount lost to the treasury as a result of this black economic activity. Taxation was mentioned twice, with the £350 million of lost annual revenue dropped in at the start of the broadcast, and one gang in London personally blamed for "£18 million that could have gone towards schools, health etc...". Meanwhile, the ecstasy piece on the Radio carried constant tones of Mr Garrison from the cartoon South Park, and the "drugs are bad" mantra that he peddled ad nauseum to his class.
Being an anti-statist is difficult these days, but the creativity of the control freaks, manipulators and bullies deserves a sort of grudging acknowledgement, even if respect is something this bunny will never have for his natural enemies. Their latest brainwave with regard to taxing and regulating every aspect of our lives is minimum alcohol pricing, with the Socialist Republic of Scotland expressing particular enthusiasm for this new method by which to squeeze more money out of poor people who enjoy a drink more than the state are comfortable with. The argument for this, like many that statists peddle, is tired and predictable:- cheap alcohol encourages more consumption, worse health issues as a result and a further strain on the sacred cow of the NHS. Of course the same 'logic' applies to smoking and narcotics of any kind, so let's play the lifestyle fascists at their own game. If someone takes out private medical insurance and does not use the NHS, surely by the statists' own reasoning this should entitle them to the following:-
1) an annual tax rebate on all alcohol and tobacco they have bought in the previous financial year for which they can provide a receipt and:-
2) complete exemption from all laws controlling the possession and use of narcotics - if stopped they are allowed to carry on with their lawful business upon production of their card for BUPA or whichever private provider they use.
For if it is their own body that the individual are wrecking, and the health insurance paid for out of their own money that is picking up the tab, surely the 'costing the NHS money' argument is rendered obsolete with immediate effect? No you say, why ever not?
The reality is that just like 'green taxes' the war against 'cheap drink' is just another phoney cause designed to extract as much money as the state possibly can from already hard-pressed people. Two fundamental truths remain as they always have and explain why both the dismal 'war on drugs' and any notion of price-fixing with alcohol are doomed to failure. Firstly, people will always find money for their vices be they drink, tobacco or narcotics, and will in fact base the rest of their budget on what is left after these wants have been covered. More importantly from a political viewpoint, the bigger the attempts to tax or regulate any area where money is exchanged for goods or services, the greater the scope for black economic activity. For example, with trade in the areas of narcotics and prostitution currently illegal, this is a slice of the cake currently owned in its entirety by criminals. Therefore, the sex industry and at least the three 'recreational' drugs (marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine) should be legalised immediately in order to bring them under lawful control, while also ensuring that consumers pay for a product that has been tested (any volunteers?) and meets recognised quality controls.
On the question of alcohol, you have to think about who minimum pricing is aimed at before weighing up its likely effects. While I don't buy the suggestion that most drinkers will be 'untouched' by this, as any price increase at one end of the market is likely to have some sort of ripple or domino effect, the first to feel the pinch will be either the poorest or underage who purchase the cheapest products. They will have to either stop drinking altogether or drink considerably less (not likely), re-allocate what remaining monies they have to deal with increased prices (more likely) or find their drink outside the legitimate economy. Just as the high levels of tax on alcohol have sparked a 'black boom' in the fake drinks industry, minimum pricing will increase the rewards to producers of dangerous 'moonshine' products, and also those for retailers looking to undercut the competition and/or increase their margins. It's basic supply and demand market forces at work, and I find it baffling how many statists have either a failure to grasp or complete disregard for what is very simple economics.
The attitude of successive governments towards the black economy has been all wrong. It has actually served as an illustration of what happens when tax and regulation is greatly reduced, and instead of laughable 'crackdowns' and programmes to scare consumers on State TV (I occasionally defend the BBC but this was a shocker), we should be seeking to reduce its advantage over the legitimate economy, keeping the the creators of wealth and jobs, along with their customers inside it. This means significantly reducing the burdens of taxation on alcohol and tobacco, while legalising (not merely decriminalising) marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine, then applying the same lower duty to these products. Let's take away the incentives for rogues to produce vodka and whiskey that contains meths, industrial alcohol or machine cleaner, while returning the sale of recreational drugs to lawful enterprise, thereby destroying the criminal monopoly that currently exists. Then we can get the deadly drink and the ecstasy that is either too pure or too impure off our streets and out of the clubs.
Of course in 21st century statist Britain, that sounds far too much like sense to actually happen. Some of Malpoet's thoughts on this topic appear here http://malpoet.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/where-the-spirit-takes-them/ while I'll catch you tomorrow. Take it easy, and don't let the bastards grind you down...