On The Money;
Economics for the 99%
The Economics of Addiction
Intro: Since Joe brought up the subject of addiction in his comment to last weeks post, I thought I’d share my economic perspective on the subject. I’ve been very busy finishing up the book, On the Money; Economics for the99% which I hope to complete very soon. this is an excerpt.
Alcoholism has touched everyone’s life in one way or another. If it hasn’t happened to you, someone you love, or at least someone you know, has suffered tremendously, or perhaps even died from their inability to control their alcohol addiction, so I don’t need to tell you how awful it is.
Narcotics, like heroin, morphine, and other opiates, as well as most prescription pain medications quickly become habit forming, and produce strong physical addictions.
Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco products produces an even stronger physical addiction that alcohol or narcotics.
Cocaine, methamphetamine and other stimulants, through a completely different mechanism, have strong addictive potential because of how they alter brain chemistry.
Even caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee and soft-drinks, produces physical withdrawal symptoms, including headache, nausea and irritability, but not as severely as the previously mentioned drugs.
Taken together, business in these addictive drugs forms a central pillar, if not the central pillar, of our modern economy, with the alcohol and tobacco industries forming the fattest slices of the addiction pie. Marketing addictive drugs makes excellent business sense because of the repeat business they generate. Few businesses enjoy the kind of reliable customer loyalty as do the purveyors of addictive drugs, and although highly profitable, these drugs produce almost unimaginable suffering for their users, their loved ones, and society as a whole.
The powerful physical addictions these drugs produce, can easily enslave users to the degree that they will often sacrifice everything, including their health, dignity, family relationships, home, and environment to feed the physical cravings these drugs create in the people who use them habitually. Most drug addicts however, function very effectively within society and the economy, and suffer no such indignity Everyone knows a few cigarette smokers, habitual heavy drinkers, and people who do both. While these behaviors are quite common, and socially acceptable, many more imbibe secretly, or at least with some degree of discretion, so their addictions remain mostly unnoticed by the people around them.
Most addicts treat their addictions as part of their basic living expenses, like food or housing. They simply budget for the additional expense associated with their addiction, by working more than they would otherwise need to. Few earn so much that they don’t notice the cost of their addiction. Most, on the other hand, require significant extra resources to satisfy their craving. Contrary to the popular myth that drugs make people lazy, drug addiction is, in fact, the true source of our modern “work ethic”, and all of this extra work, does take its toll.
People living in tribal hunter/gatherer cultures generally work very little, by modern civilized standards, to meet their physical needs. At times, however, hardship may demand considerably more from them, and evolution has provided for that. Humans have evolved considerable reserve capacity to cope with these occasional hardships, and in good times hunter/gatherer tribes expend considerable energy socializing, dancing and in other activities that they enjoy, and that promote group cohesion.
Drug addiction adds significantly to a human being’s perceived daily physical needs, so addicted people use more of this reserve capacity, usually considerably more, just to cope with the added cost of the drug. As a result, addicted people work harder, feel more tired, and have less energy for the kind of social activities that build group and family cohesion. On the environmental side of this equation, trees, plants, and animals don’t grow any faster, or reproduce any more prolifically, just because humans have adopted a drug addicted lifestyle, so this additional human neediness leads to additional stress on the natural environment.
So, addicted people put in more hours at work. At first, this meant clearing land for drug crops, as the ancient Sumerians did in Mesopotamia, to grow barley and wheat for their beer. This gave rise to farm life, a lifestyle defined by endless toil. As tribal people fall under the influence of addictive drugs, they hunt more than they need, and trade the surplus for drugs.
As game becomes more scarce, addicted people make more clothes, baskets, drums, arrows, or any other craft items they previously made only for themselves, in order to trade them for drugs. All of this extra work further depletes the natural environment, so addicted people then go further afield to find the resources they need to feed themselves, and their addictions, which brings them into conflict with tribes who inhabit those areas.
In this way, drug addiction produces physical, social and environmental stress, that eventually leads to physical, social and environmental collapse. There in a nutshell, you have the economic history of civilization. It’s not pretty, (or funny I’m afraid) but its On The Money.