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If you liked The Wire, you'll like this
on 7 November 2012
If you like the TV show The Wire, you will enjoy this book. Although this 'non-fiction' let me point out right away that Feiling's writing is compelling, fluid and I had trouble to put the book down. The book explains how the drug/cocaine industry evolved, how it works, what damage it does to supplier and transit nations including Colombia, Mexico and Jamaica and how turning drugs into a moral question has produced a serious of laws that, if anything, waste enormous amounts of money without making any difference.
Perhaps often heard, Feiling shows that criminalising cocaine is not a solution to eradicate drug related crime but rather the root cause and that the disconnect between the war on drugs and the key drivers of the drug economy has never been wider: Like in The Wire, for every dead or imprisoned drug dealer, there are ten others who are ready to fill that place, simply because criminalising drugs made them lucrative. (Demand, he argues will not go away, it hasn't in the past). This in turn drives crime especially over supplier networks and territory.
Feiling describes how time and again, cocaine was hijacked to serve different political agendas both in the US and the UK. For example, Nixon's brilliant concept of a 'war against drugs' was nothing more than the politics of fear. He successfully enlisted the electorate against what he perceived to be a threat to WASP values by a 'nascent youth culture' and equated drugs with culture war. 'Ike [Eisenhower] he wrote it's just amazing how much you can get done through fear. All I talk about in New Hampshire is crime and drugs and everyone wants to vote for me- and they don't even have any black people up there'(Feiling 2009:34).
In the end the war on drugs consumes billions of dollars annually with little effect. Abroad, meanwhile the US has assumed a dominant role in the international fight against drugs for which it has pushed supplier countries to sign up to the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The Convention,now archaic, binds the hands of governments to pursue alternative ways in reducing the very drug production that is driven by US and European demand.
If this sounds a bit dry, don't worry, the book reads at times like a thriller. Feiling draws on a vast volume of sources: reports, studies and interviews on the ground both in the US and South America. Having lived in Colombia obviously helped in gaining access to good sources. Although he sometimes loses the red-thread, overall the chapters build up to a coherent argument: we need to change our policy approach to drugs if we want to eradicate crime and misery.