Atanu Dey On India's Development

Drugs, and deaths, and bad servers

God save the king. Surreal is the word that springs to mind while reading the news. Here is what I mean. Amitabh Bachchan, arguably one of the most well known Indians in India, is recovering from some minor surgery in a hospital in Mumbai. BBC News report that

… fans have been offering prayers to the actor’s speedy recovery in temples.

“God has listened to our prayers. Amitabh’s surgery was a success last night,” said a fan, Sougata, who has been offering prayers at a temple in the eastern city of Calcutta for the past four days.

So let me get this straight: this alleged god is someone who when petitioned earnestly enough by fans bows to popular pressure and fixes things so that the outcomes pleases the fans. A pretty pathetic conception of god, if you come to think about it. This god appears to be not fully in control of his alleged creation. He needs to be told what to do. Then he may or may not “listen” to what he is told. And if the outcome pleases the devotee, he praises god for his wisdom in answering prayers. A fickle-minded stupid god is the most generous description of the entity that the fans so earnestly believe in.

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Thousandth dead man walking. The US to carry out the 1,000th execution since it reintroduced capital punishment in 1976. Texas has chalked up 355, many under the watch of Bush the Idiot (a murderous SOB.) California, my adopted home state, ties with Nevada at 11. Not too bad considering that it is a very populous state.

I do not oppose the death penalty in murder cases where there is not the slightest doubt regarding the murderer. If a person knowingly kills another, that person forfeits his right to live. In a sense, if A kills B, A is actually also in effect killing himself, under this system of justice. I conjecture that a lot of would-be murderers will think twice if they were convinced that when they pull that trigger or use that knife, with some good probability they are pointing that gun or knife at themselves. I do oppose the death penalty for minors, mentally unstable people, and in cases where there is even the shadow of a doubt about the guilt of the accused.

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Drugs kill. So the Singapore government has hanged a convicted Australian drug smuggler who was caught smuggling 400 grams of heroin. The Australian, of Vietnamese descent, was caught in Singapore airport on this way to Australia from Cambodia.

The Australian government pleaded for clemency to the Singaporean government. The Australians did what needed to be done but the outcome was predictable: they hang drug offenders in Singapore. And if that is the law of the land, it will be carried out without flinching. Doesn’t matter who pleads, the law is the law. And once everyone understands that the law will be impartially applied, everyone knows the risks of breaking the law.

In India, for instance, there is a law but its application depends on who you are. If you are a rich Bollywood hero, you can get away with murder. Run over a few people in your SUV and kill them? Here is a get-out-of-jail card for you if you are rich and influential.

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Take the profits out of the drug business. The war on drugs is the most bogus war, worse than Bush the Idiot’s so-called “war on terror.” Criminalizing drugs leads to all the crimes that are associated with it. Criminalizing restricts supply because the cost of supplying goes up. It also restricts suppliers to the already criminally inclined. Profits and prices have to go up to match the risk—a sort of risk premium. The high profits force the desperate to take chances that sometimes lead to the hangman’s noose.

The obvious solution is to de-criminalize drugs. If you do that, then the criminals get out of the drugs business, competitive markets reduce the price, and hence no economic profits remain to lure people to their deaths. That is the solution for laissez faire states such as democracies. For a state like Singapore, I support their zero-tolerance approach to drugs. If you want to live or work or even transit through Singapore, don’t have drugs. If you want to do drugs, do it elsewhere where it is legal.

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Incentives matter. Orkut, the social networking site, is struggling with servers that are clearly not well-trained. Their solution: withhold donuts from inconsiderate servers till they behave. Here is the message I was getting yesterday when I tried to access some page on orkut:

Bad, bad server. No donut for you.

Unfortunately, the orkut.com server has acted out in an unexpected way. Hopefully, it will return to its helpful self if you try again in a few minutes.

It’s likely that the server will behave this way on occasion during the coming months. We apologize for the inconvenience and for our server’s lack of consideration for others.

When I worked for HP many years ago, we used to get donuts every morning at the coffee stations. So we were good servers and HP did well. Then the management decided that free donuts was not such a hot idea. So they stopped with the free breakfast altogether. Result: HP is rapidly going down the tubes.

Google, on the other hand, is rising. Why? Just walk into their free cafeteria in Mountain View, California, like I did a few months ago. Not just free donuts, but an incredibly huge variety of foods and drinks from all parts of the world totally free. Lesson: want good servers, serve free food.

  • Navin

    Atanu,

    Just wondering, shouldn’t the word “God” always be appearing with a capital “G” even if it occurs in the middle of the sentence ?

    Also, when you refer to God as “he” or “him”, shouldn’t the H be in capitals as well ?

    I remember this being taught way back in my childhood.. or is it one of those things I misunderstood and carried it over the years ? :-)

    Coming to your point on capital executions, I read in todays morning paper (telegraph in London) that China had 3500 executions this year ? Sounds horrific. Second is US though.

    Excellent description on incentives.

  • http://www.sakshijuneja.com/blog Sakshi

    It could also be said that the reason why Australia was NOT able to free Nguyen Tuong Van because they did’nt have anything to pressure Singapore with.

    Where as if you look at Australian model Michelle Leslie’s case where she was found using ecstasy in Indonesia was set free after a 3 months jail term. Though the drug laws are very strict in Indonesia…but the Australian got away just because the Indonesian government is highly depended on Australia…aid relief work…tourisim..etc.

  • sanatan

    Navin,

    god with a Captial “G” is christian theology. Most likley you learnt it in a covent school in India, which are making educated Indians half or crypto or soft christians.

  • Navin

    Sanatan –
    Bingo. Thanks for the info.
    I studied in St.Josephs for a while. ;-)

  • Patel

    Atanu,
    I don’t think decriminalizing drugs and allowing market forces to use should ever be a solution. Drugs are addictive, there will always be a demand for them. If legalized their will be no shortage of corporations willing to supply them. So what you in effect end up doing is make crack cheaper than soda pop.

    An perfect example of what you call allowing market forces in such a situation would be the forced sale of opium by the east India company to China.

    Atanu’s response: Well, I disagree. To which substances are you yourself addicted? What if heroin were freely available at a store? Will you go and get yourself some so that you can get addicted?

    Prohibition was meant to cure the alcohol habit. Did it? No. Did it fuel criminal behaviour? Yes. Does everyone drink now that there is no prohibition in the US? No. Is anyone who drinks an alcoholic? No. Will there be alcoholics if there was NO alcohol? No. Will there be alcoholics if there is prohibition? YES.

  • Patel

    Atanu,
    sorry, just one more thing, you made it seem as though the primary problem with drugs is drug dealers, not the impact drugs have on their users. I believe you are highly mistaken on this point.

    Atanu’s reponse: The primary problem with criminalizing drugs is that it is a blunt instrument. Using a blunt instrument is like using a hammer where a needle is more appropriate: it hurts more than it heals. People who have spent a lifetime dealing with the drug problem have unequivocally reached that conclusion. In my followup post, I will write more about it.

  • Pingback: Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Decriminalize and de-governmentize India

  • http://driveindia.blogspot.com Pranay Da Spyder

    Patel,

    Atanu is absolutely right. Criminalization of addictions only leads to greater desperation on the part of the addicted and those who supply their addictions get more profit out of delivering the same.

    Consider this, an unorthodox way of analyzing why the South American drug cartels are so rich, is that because the USA bans drugs like cocaine, the price of the drug is extremely high (and therefore not plainly market justified) – the illegality of its sale/supply, contributes an external factor that jacks up its price.

    As a result, it becomes profitable for cartels to run huge risks to ship the drug to the US. And as they make huge profits out of it, it makes them richer and with more means to deliver even more drugs.

    Now consider, if cocaine wasn’t illegal in the US, the risks involved in its shipment to the US would be negligible, therefore market externalities would not come into play in its price, as a result it would be much cheaper.

    There is the argument that cheaper prices would imply a greater market, but in the case of drugs, how much bigger could the market become? Would you as a non-coke user, suddenly go to a store and buy it?

    It is unlikely, as with greater freedom, populations are known to become more responsible.

    The best example of this in the world is Holland. With legalized drug use and prostitution, it is the tourist center for people interested in experiencing these freedoms. However, talk to Dutch guys and you will realize, an extremely small insignificant percentage of them does drugs – the rest don’t care and have never tried.

    I would say, the same solution will work anywhere in the world, provided the population is educated and made aware of all risks as they become known. The US, being quite conservative, does not fall in this bracket yet, but as long as drug cartels are rich, the smaller countries in South America are unlikely to see consistent and stable democracy.

  • http://driveindia.blogspot.com Pranay Da Spyder

    And Atanu, thats a brilliant argument on the blind faith in God (notice, I capitalize God, but only because I hope its a proper noun!)

    I’m an atheist, well, rather, I’m someone who believes there is no God, so this is something I have noticed time and again. On the other hand, most religious people tell me, that faith and logic can never predetermine each other.

    Another one, which I thought you might make a mention of in a post on Amitabh, is that I particularly, am aghast, that one person’s intestines make national news on all national dailies and television channels. Please, I do not wish to relegate a national icon to obscurity, rather, there are more important things happening that are getting clouded.

    Even the coverage on Amitabh though, is abysmal. There are few detailed reports on TV, only repeated live interviews with journos embedded at the hosiptal shouting out the recent updates (which count to nought) amidst the chaos that surrounds them. I laugh when I see such clips.

  • http://driveindia.blogspot.com Pranay Da Spyder

    I do not oppose the death penalty in murder cases where there is not the slightest doubt regarding the murderer. If a person knowingly kills another, that person forfeits his right to live.

    I disagree.
    A person knowingly kills another, but no other person or body, regardless of their political or judicial rights, has a right to take away his right to live from him.

    He may be imprisoned for life, but taking away something that is his supreme property and characteristic, merely shows that the judicial authority does not respect life in the first place (so how can they decide cases where it has been taken?!), thus its hypocrisy.

    Capital punsihment is tribal, inhuman and insane.

  • http://http:onlyvoid.blogspot.com Shivani

    Given that a person owns himself and has every right to dowhat he wishes to do with his own self. I was wondering if suicide should be considered legal. Is it legal, in the present law- in any country? . If it is considered illegal – then why is it so?

    Any answers?

  • http://diducee.blogspot.com V. Sriram

    Hi,

    Though I am a liberal at heart, find a small logical flaw in the Legalize Drugs hypothesis.

    Agreed that “the legality of something does not imply that it is harmless” and vice-versa. However, using this argument to pin-down the penalization of drugs is inappropriate on two counts. 1. Drugs ARE harmful. (The liquor example does not hold true here, as liquor consumed in moderate quantities may not be harmful. So, lets say, we are just talking about drugs proven to be harmful – even when consumed moderately and occasionally.) 2. Legalizing known anti-agents of the society can lead to a false precedent in other counts. For instance, legalizing nicotine today, has lead to the strengthening of the argument of legalizing drugs, and on a similar count, legalizing drugs tomorrow could lead to the demand of legalizing other acts of ill-effects to the society. Of course, the minor assumptions here are: 1. we are against the verb and not the noun, the act and not just the product. So, extending the same, can fairly say that the hypothesis is that the ‘act of consuming drugs’ be legalized. According to Pranay, whose post supports your argument: “with greater freedom, populations are known to become more responsible”. So, from the above statement and point 2, the deduction could follow, that freedom and responsibility are directly proportional to each other, and inversely proportional to criminal behavior and anti-social acts. Thus, from the above, one could deduce that to eradicate crime in the society, one needs to scrap all laws (as laws bind and are thus against the basic tenant of freedom) – and thus ‘legalize’ all crimes! Don’t know how prudent would that be? And if that is not appropriate, then our hypothesis falls flat. Hence the case against the suggested argument.

    (Though, if one neglects practicality, and limits oneself to the ideal state, then perhaps the hypothesis can be justified.)

  • http://www.anthonysmirror.blogspot.com tony

    legalizing drugs will only affect the supply side. Demand however is not induced by the supply crunch. People don’t use drugs because it is scarce, but because drug users cannot do without it. drugs in anyform must be made ILLEGAL, Singapore is a great example. How someone gets hooked to heroine is immaterial here, but once hooked it is very difficult to unhook. economics don’t work with drugs… If legalised, drugs will be so freely available, even kids will try it out.. teens who are the highest abusers of drugs are very tough students. I don’t learn, and if Drugs are given legalised and if properly distributed, God save us. have you even met or talked to a drug Addict? Meet one, experience his pain and how he is trapped and you will want to kill anyone dealing in drugs.. Legalise Drugs!!!

  • http://www.anthonysmirror.blogspot.com tony

    sorry, I guess it sounded like a rant, but knowing that drugs KILL, hearing an intelligent person like you say that it should be legalised was too much to take. On the other hand I am very vocal that prostitution should be lealised..

  • AM

    You speak much truth, it’s refreshing to have a forward thinking person write on this topic in India. It’s like finding life on another planet!

    Besides, today, hemp (human use + industrial) is the #1 cash crop in the world. And right here in India, our farmers are committing suicide out of economic plight. Giving them a profitable crop is surely the most straight forward way of bailing them out of their plight.

    And besides, Indians have used hemp (both for consumption + industrial use) since the days of Mohinjidaro & Harappa. It was legal till 1989, when UN pressure forced us to sign that dreaded criminilisation bill.

    And besides having a drug war completely wrecks backpacking tourism- which is a potential income generator into the rural parts of the country. At a time when the rural portion of the country is reeling, it’s imperative the government helps them out, not destroys whatever little possibilities of development there are.

    I suppose nobody “up there” wants to realise that substituting hemp with tomatoes just isin’t goning to cut it for the farmers. Especially if one is priced at 2 Rs/ kg and another @ 900 Rs / kg.

    Even in harder drugs, imprisoning heroin users- for example- would encourage them to go more underground. This would mean, needle exchange progs by NGOs or philanthropists and especially the govt. won’t be effective. Used syringes is the #1 culprit to AIDS.

    But alas, our shotcallers are more content with satisfying the UN dikats than about caring for the welfare of our society. The raids on raves in Pune sends chills up my spine. While the police was busy dancing for 15 minutes and arresting ravers, somewhere in an alley in Mumbai, a girl was getting raped- or a boy was getting bound to slave labour.

    I pray that sanity returns to India soon. I’d never thought I’d say this , but I actually am starting to long for India of the 70s.

    We have “modernised” our corporate economics, true enough. But other other aspects of our society have actually gone towards barbarianism…