Johns Hopkins Magazine - June 1996 Issue

In Short - Public Policy & International Affairs

By Elise Hancock and Dale Keiger
The middle-class origins of today's drug scourge conservative ammunition for debate a not-so-bright future for Haiti

Blaming the boomers

In the mid-1980s, journalist Jill Jonnes (PhD '92) was completing a book about three neighborhoods in the South Bronx. She says, "What struck me was the role of drugs as the final finishing factor in these neighborhoods." And that posed two questions in her mind: "Why, of all the industrial nations, does the United States have the worst drug problem? Why has it historically had the worst drug problem?"

She tries to answer those questions in a new book, Hep-cats, Narcs and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs (Scribner, 1996). The book traces America's drug history from the first addicts in the 1800s, who were mostly middle-class women addicted to opiates they had begun taking for medicinal purposes, to the present social devastation wrought by addiction to crack cocaine.

Jonnes asserts that the U.S. has a major problem due to a confluence of several factors, including availability of drugs and a large population of socially marginal people for whom drugs represent either an escape or a business opportunity. One of her more interesting arguments concerns a third factor: citing research by David Musto of Yale, Jonnes says that every 30 years or so, the United States undergoes a lapse of cultural memory when it comes to drugs.

For example, she notes how in the late 1950s and early 1960s, pop music stars as well as Beat Era hipsters like Allen Ginsberg and counter-culture heroes like Timothy Leary advocated the use of substances like marijuana and LSD as a means to greater creativity, higher consciousness, and rebellion against authority. Drug use soared. Then, as the youthful users of that period aged and began having their own children, drug use declined. Experience had taught many of them the perils of abuse.

But that experience doesn't seem to translate from generation to generation. Now, Jonnes observes, 30 years later crack is the scourge of inner-city neighborhoods, and alarming numbers of middle-class teenagers are once again getting stoned on marijuana and LSD, as well as new concoctions like Ecstacy.

Jonnes, who spent more than a decade doing research and reporting, is tough on the baby-boom generation. She draws a direct line of responsibility from white middle-class marijuana smokers of the 1960s to the Colombian cocaine cartels. "Many middle-class people went into dealing marijuana," she says. In her book, she writes, "What was new and shocking in the '60s and '70s was the amazing assortment of ostensibly respectable middle-class Americans who had decided international drug trafficking was the career or part-time job for them...How was American law enforcement to shield the public from illegal drugs...when middle-class adults were actively out to thwart them?" Many of these middle-class adults, Jonnes says, were former military pilots who rationalized their smuggling by considering marijuana, and for a time even cocaine, to be innocuous drugs.

Events took a significant turn, Jonnes says, when some of these traffickers came into contact with Colombian cocaine lords. The Colombians soon realized that what worked for distributing marijuana would also work for the mass merchandising of cocaine to the United States. And baby boomers played another critical role--as customers. "White middle-class Americans created the coke market," Jonnes says. "When that group retreated, suppliers found new customers." Criminals perfected the manufacture of the cheap and highly addictive crystalline form of cocaine now known as crack, and thus created a huge new market in inner-city slums.

In Jonnes's view, what began as one generation's embrace of marijuana as a cool form of social nonconformity has ended up creating the present-day scourge of American cities. "We baby boomers hold a big responsibility for glamorizing this stuff and putting it out in quantities that never were before," Jonnes says.

She adds, "I launched myself on this book with no pre-conceived notions. Where I ended up was concluding that illegal drugs in all manifestations are utterly corrupting. Whatever minor benefits certain artists might achieve have been far outweighed by the bad experiences of the drug culture. Drugs are corrupting to those who use them, and for their families and friends and community. You see it in any country where addiction occurs."
--Dale Keiger

A new conservative voice in Maryland

Two former Hopkins political science graduate students have founded a conservative think tank in one of the most Democratic states in the union. "I think we have a stultified political debate in Maryland," says Douglas P. Munro (PhD '92). "Topics don't get aired. We can broaden the debate by introducing people to new ideas they might not otherwise hear." To do that, last year he and Ronald W. Dworkin (MD, PhD '95) incorporated the Calvert Institute for Policy Research.

Like most think tanks, the Calvert Institute plans to provide elected officials, public policy makers, and influential business figures with research data, position papers, and opinion pieces. Though officially non-partisan--its mailings go to all state legislators, for example--the institute will approach policy questions from a conservative (Munro prefers the phrase "limited government") angle, or as its brochure reads, "based upon the principles of free markets and personal responsibility."

"Legislators want to know three things," Munro says. "They want to know how much money you can give them, how many votes you can muster, and things they can use as ammunition in intellectual debates. The first and second are for lobbyists. We can supply the third. Whether or not that impacts the way they vote, I can't tell you. But better that they have the information than not."

He adds, "Conservative think tanks typically divide into two types: the libertarian type, which on abortion, for example, would tend to be pro-choice, and the social or family issues type, which would tend to be pro-life. And never the twain shall meet. We will try to bridge that gap. There is merit to both sides of most arguments. Pure, unfettered markets--the libertarian position--are probably not the answer to all social problems, for example."

Munro believes that in the immediate future, state policy makers are going to need organizations like his as they cope with programs formerly run by the downsizing federal government. "No congressman, Democrat or Republican, is going to run [in the near future] on a ticket of big government," Munro says. "So there's going to be a devolution of responsibility to the states." As examples, he cites proposals for block grant programs that would devolve responsibility to the states for Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. And the states, he believes, are ill-equipped to handle these responsibilities: "State governments have been pretty much emasculated since the New Deal. They've become sort of big counties."

State think tanks have been springing up like crocuses since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Munro says the Calvert Institute makes Maryland roughly the 40th state to have some sort of public policy institute.

Munro, who formerly edited Hopkins's conservative student publication The Spectator, says that this year the institute will produce four issues briefs, a series of policy commentaries, and a quarterly journal.

A glance at the first issue of Calvert News provides a sampling of the think tank's viewpoints. An article by Edward L. Hudgins of the libertarian Cato Institute advocates that Maryland state government break free of federal welfare programs to better pursue welfare reform. Michael I. Krauss, professor of law at George Mason University, blasts public subsidies for constructing professional sports stadiums. Another article criticizes Maryland's governor for failing to cut state taxes.

Funding for the institute has come from a variety of contributors, primarily the libertarian Atlas Economic Research Foundation, based in Virginia. At the moment, the institute is a shoestring operation working out of a room in Munro's Charles Village house. He's the only full-time employee; co-founder Dworkin works as an anesthesiologist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

A grim prognosis for Haiti

As the last of 20,000 American troops were pulling out of Haiti in April, former U.S. Ambassador Ernest H. Preeg addressed the question of what might happen now to that benighted country. Can Haiti avoid sinking back into chaos? Should the U.S. worry about it?

Preeg, who was ambassador from 1981 to 1983, said yes to the second question, but was not very optimistic regarding the first. He delivered his remarks in a luncheon lecture at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Haiti's fate matters to the U.S., said Preeg, simply because of its proximity. Another civil and economic collapse in a country that has known little else recently would mean one more flood of refugees steering ramshackle boats toward the Florida coast. But Preeg sounded gloomy in his prognosis.

American intervention in late 1994 returned Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency he had won in a legitimate 1990 election, but Preeg said, "Quite frankly, it wasn't a very competent government." Despite massive American aid (coming on the heels of an American-led embargo that wrecked what was left of the country's economy), Aristide's administration failed to revive a working infrastructure. Cash transfers to Haiti did not lead to development, Preeg noted, but to the increased importation of consumer goods that did nothing to restore the nation's economic infrastructure.

Unemployment in the capital of Port-au-Prince now runs about 70 to 80 percent, Preeg said. The modern container port is a mess. The agricultural sector needs resuscitation. The Haitian middle class has fled to Florida, and the country now lacks the technocrats who might know how to make its industries work. Preeg said that U.S. companies are ready and willing to invest in Haiti, but can't until it has a functioning infrastructure.

Against this backdrop, Preeg sounded pessimistic about the ability of the recently elected government of Rene Preval (the Haitian constitution limited Aristide to one term) to maintain order. The final contingent of United Nations peacekeepers leaves this month, and Preeg said that although Haiti's new police force has received "extraordinary training," it is inexperienced and lacks leadership. Street crime is increasing again, Preeg noted, and it's virtually impossible to do business in Haiti without hiring your own security force.

Preval, Aristide's designated successor from the Lavalas political movement, won a suspect election last December in which only about 15 to 28 percent of the country's voters bothered to cast ballots, Preeg said. "[With so feeble a voter turnout] Preval just doesn't have the popular political mandate Aristide had," added the former ambassador.

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