[off the cuff research idea memo]
There is an uncanny analogy between China in the 19th century and the US this very moment: in both cases a large part of the general population could not be persuaded away from drugs by morality or prison. Opium in China then, opioids in the US now. Could it be the case that the essential mechanism is that those at the bottom of very unequal societies cannot say no to drugs and that with a stagnant society, the elites cannot say no to drugs money because growth has then come to be zero-sum? So the combination of inequality and stagnation spells great trouble with drugs? Let’s go over the core bit of this idea and how to check for it in other historical episodes.
In China, the opium offered on a large scale by foreign invaders was too seductive to the general population to ignore. China was under great strain with high inequality, no longer able to ward off foreign powers (the UK and France) or maintain efficient government. The US now too is under strain from foreign competition (from China but also the EU), has high inequality, and is subject to a quite stunning opioid crisis, one essentially engendered by corrupt insiders to the US establishment, exactly as in China the establishment was corruptible when the Opium trade came round.
Now, the US is stagnant in a very particular way: whilst its GDP is growing, the majority has seen little improvement in their lives and nearly all the growth occurs at the very top of the income and wealth distribution, so all those lowly government bureaucrats have seen their relative income and status drop the last few decades, just as was true in China when the UK pushed its opium on the people. The US is stagnation in the echelon of the elites that it needs to keep law and order functioning: in its basic bureaucratic machinery.
The EU countries are not suffering from the same opioid epidemic, where the upsurge in problems is far less than in the US. At the same time, the EU is not stagnating in its middle ground: employment levels are high, inequality is much lower than in the US, and its basic government machinery has not become corrupted to the same degree as the US’ machinery has. Perhaps most importantly, much of the EU feels it is doing well, with happiness levels up markedly in many countries (including Italy), and the Eastern countries growing in confidence and stature.
So the basic pattern fits the big power players. Let’s check some of the other drug-related knowledge history provides. Continue reading