Opium's Role In Globalization And State Power, Contemporary And Historical

1817 words - 7 pages

Opium's Role in Globalization ans State Power, Contemporary and Historical

Opium and opiates, today and in the past, have been seen as unusual commodities in that their use and proliferation cause very obvious social problems. This shouldn't necessarily lead to any great conclusions; quite like all commodities, the social problems created are almost irrelevant when it comes to actors of all social classes who can take advantage of how its trade is organized, and on this note restrictions on the opium trade ought to be examined with economic power structures in mind as much as restrictions on cars, textiles, or grain. This may have been very obvious during the conflict between China and the British Empire, in which both were using restrictions and forced liberalization/illegal smuggling (to put things in very general terms) respectively to leverage a better balance of trade for themselves. Today, in a world in which [non-medicinal] opium is almost universally illegal, similar patterns can be found in different circumstances, as the demand for opium never really stopped. In modern Afghanistan networks of small growers pushed to opium by general insecurity (economic and otherwise), the local officials they bribe, and state and tribal leaders whos' constituencies (and thus the base of their power) depend on the opium trade's continued survival. It's no mystery why the shoestring state of Afghanistan and its American occupiers have proven unable (and often unwilling) to significantlly combat opium (Chouvy 2011). The sale and use of opium was restricted in 19th century Britain because its restriction was far more useful as a state weapon against the poor or deviant social elements, as well as arguably fighting legitimate social ills, than potential opium profits could be (especially considering that the opium industry was important but not integral to the domestic British economy and the capitalists involved in opium had to compete with steel capitalists, textile capitalists, etc for control of the state), while at the same time the British state was pushing the envelope as far as it could manage for opium markets in India and China. So Britain's domestic economy had developed enough for opium to become somewhat irrelevant, but a massive chunk of China's economy had become dependent on opium (middlemen, corrupt officials, even later cultivators), and Britain was trying to fight a trade deficit with a convenient cash crop (Brown 2002). The current opium situation in Afghanistan is symptomatic of similar problems.

To begin with it's important to look at why opium hand other drugs have been banned in most of the world. The facts of drug prohibition, and the real world effects it has had, are more or less make the rhetoric about morality coming out of politicians and state functionaries irrelevant. The purpose in most cases is to keep a certain class of citizens or segment of society in line. The United States provides a stark example; while all races...

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