advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Friday, January 25, 2008

On Drugs, Or, Through The Looking Glass

As so often happens, I was getting my daily coffee and doing the blah-blah with my friendly baristas, and in the course of the conversation we discussed how the choices we make about drugs are so strange.

My basic point was that crack is a crime...while coffee is a growth industry...but fundamentally, the two are not all that different.

Then the conversation got really strange: I began to speculate what the world might look like if the reality had been reversed.

The next thing I knew, I was writing this story.
Follow along and we’ll see what happens.
And a small warning: there’s satire ahead, so be careful.

For starters, long-haul trucking might not really change that much; except that truck stops would no longer sell those “energy” pills you so often see near the cash register today, and the diner would be real popular.

I’m old enough that I can remember some of the “vintage” ads—and my favorite would likely feature a wife out for dinner at the neighbor’s house...dessert is being served...and a muted voiced that represents her thoughts says: “He never has a second hit of crack at home...”. The camera then pulls away to reveal the neighbor uses Smaxwell House crack...the smoother, never bitter, more robust crack that really satisfies.

Companies like Folgers and NestlĂ© would have major operations in Columbia (sound familiar?)—and it’s reasonable to presume that mountainous, tropical countries around the world would also have coca plantations...meaning players we know today in Africa, Indonesia and Asia would likely be involved in the crack business as well.

The restaurant business would be similar but different—some would gather at the all-night diner for a late night pick-me-up (art would be affected as well...imagine what Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” might look like), breakfast would feature Flo down at the Denny’s serving “hits of Joe”; and it’s unlikely refills would be free.

Dunkin’ Doughnuts (and certain Tim Horton’s) would look a lot different...except between 1:00 and 6:00 AM, where things would hardly be any different than they are today.

Just like everything else in America, somebody would come along to “kick it up a notch”; and there’s no reason not to believe a Starbuck’s-equivalent company wouldn’t emerge. Those who are familiar with the arc of corporate history might be able to envision the result: the rise of Crackbuck’s from a single store serving dozens of “hits” a day to a giant chain spreading its unique brand of ambiance so far and wide that eventually you could, as I can today in my own home town, stand in front of a Crackbuck’s, turn around, and see another Crackbuck’s across the parking lot.

Eventually trash cans across the world would be filled with “to go” pipes emblazoned with the Crackbuck’s logo...the words “Venti”, “Grande”, and “Doppio” will likely remain in the lexicon...and it’s not that hard to imagine the migration of the Crackbuck’s brand into “lifestyle” products such as logoed non-spill “commuter pipes”, music, and maybe even movies—“Akeelah and the Buzz” being the first title in the series, and if that’s successful, maybe more.

But just like fine wines, and handcrafted beer, competition would eventually come along.

That’s where I told my baristas they would be in this scenario: the ones with extra skill hand-crafting hits for each individual customer; as opposed to the Crackbuck’s business model of automated crack machines and volume, volume, volume. They would probably be among the group of companies trying to bring more of the crack dollar to the farmer by supporting some kind of an organization like “Pipe of Excellence”.

The ones who aren’t just a “to go” operation; but instead the kind of place where customers sit by the fireplace and linger for a while.

What about offices? For those workers, the endless cubicle hours might well just fly by, and managers could actually find their employees anxious to return the next day. Some may actually look forward to Monday morning gossip, doughnuts, and the office crack dispenser.

Personalized pipes at work would replace the coffee mug; which would itself be an object of suspicion, and the sort of thing you would have to hide if you had one at home and your parents were coming over for dinner.

Mormons would spend less on dental care than other Americans; but due to the enormous volume involved heart valve replacements in this country would be no more expensive than Lasix...and everyone would have their favorite heart valve brand.

Imagine what it would be like for law enforcement: smugglers trying to get coffee into the US hidden in kilos of cocaine, coffee-sniffing dogs deployed at the airports...and along I-95 sheriffs and “Coffee Task Forces” would be constantly seizing the vehicles of those who try to move their illegal beans up the East Coast.

Presumably the jails would be so full of the bean-addicted that alternative means of detention would be studied...which would mean coffee would also be a growth industry, in a “we can charge for home detention” kind of way.

Coffee filters and little tiny baggies will be sold in special stores; and they will be “not intended for illegal purposes”, the owner will tell you, but instead intended for some industrial use—or perhaps, for tea. Melitta products would be something you have mail-ordered into the country in a plain wrapper from Amsterdam.

So what’s the point of all this musing?

How about this: everything I’ve been describing sounds ridiculous on its face...but in contrast, so does the current reality of drug enforcement in this country. Coffee is OK, those “energy” drinks are OK, the pills at the truck stop are OK...and until the beginning of the 20th Century so were the very drugs we’re locking people up for today.

But today, crack is a crime, and coffee is a growth industry.

It’s all very strange, isn’t it?


jmb said...

Well it was entertaining, no doubt about it.

But you don't get young 20 year olds dying of coffee overdoses and I don't think the offices would be quite so productive staffed by cokeheads instead of caffeine addicts.

I know the system is not working but legalization of these drugs is not the answer. I wish we knew what it was.

Donvila said...

A different scenario would be that no one bothered to invent crack. With the lower price and ease of "manufacture" and use, powder cocaine may have remained the standard.

Just think, second hand smoke (from crack) issues in public places, wouldn't exist.

fake consultant said...

to jmb--

i have mixed feelings about legalization: on the one hand, there are a relatively small number of people dying from drugs (in the usa, about 30,000 annually) as opposed to the large numbers dying from legal causes (alcohol: 250,000, tobacco: 450,000, heart disease: 750,000 annually)...but on the other hand, those dying from drugs tend to do so younger in life, making their personal loss more significant.

i'm not sure criminalizing these more dangerous drugs is the answer either...but given the choice, i think i'd rather see us spend the money we put into incarceration on treatment for those who feel they need it.

mr. vila--

i had not considered second-hand smoke, but you raise an excellent point....

Donvila said...

Yet a different angle...How many people die, or at least die sooner because cocaine is illegal.

The current system doesn't foster unionized labor with it's attached health care benefit. It's more like the military system without oversight. Consumers die needlessly, as do suppliers. I don't discount what the first commenter said, but the original post gives good food for thought.

fake consultant said...

an excellent point--health care for drug workers would save lives...and it's something that usually doesn't enter into our calculus.

Colin Campbell said...

Interesting ideas. I wonder what coffee would be like if it was cooked like cocaine.

fake consultant said...

if i understand the chemistry correctly, the purpose of making crack is to create an alkaloid which can be more readily absorbed in the lungs.

the oil in coffee beans is also acidic...which means your question really does have an interesting element of biochemical reality that bears consideration--assuming a processing method could be developed.