File this one under “I can’t believe I have to say this.”
Last week, as everyone was gearing up for the New Year, Slate published an article by Erik Vance that shows up in your Facebook feed as “Why Buying Cocaine is Like Donating to the Nazi Party.” You might want to chalk the click-bait title up to the editor, but in the body, you have this: “So yes, I say that paying for coke is equivalent to donating to the Nazi party.”
So, yes, he’s saying it. He’s absolutely wrong, and the comparison is disgraceful. The comparison ruins an otherwise worthy and important piece.
After describing how the drug trade relates to his reporting and detailing some vicious atrocities that those in the trade face daily, Vance starts doing some shifty math. In an attempt to calculate how many people have died as a result of the drug trade, he does a “back of the envelope” calculation:
“Around 60,000 were executed as witches during 150 years at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. Mexico alone has seen perhaps twice that many deaths during its seven-year drug war.”
So that gives us 120,000 if you buy his math.
“From 1990 to 2010, Colombia had some 450,000 homicides, overwhelmingly due to coke.”
Now we’re up to 570,000—and let’s keep in mind here that we have moved from a seven-year time span to a 20-year time span. But these are his numbers.
“Add all the rest of Latin America (counting all the military actions that were driven by efforts to control trafficking routes as much as by politics), [and] the U.S. share….”
He estimates that the U.S. share is around 15,000 per year. Well, I think I can do a better estimate than that. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 486,000 murders were committed worldwide in 2010, 31 percent of which occurred in the Americas (150,660). Now, if we assume all or a significant percentage of those were due to the coke trade (I doubt it), and that those numbers stayed relatively consistent, across a seven-year time span that gets us 1,054,620. Across a 10 year time span, we get, of course 1,506,600.
Add in our other numbers and we get a range of 2,076,600 on the high side to 1,624,620 on the low side of human deaths that are a result of human action due to the cocaine trade. Keep in mind that we’re also overlapping with the Mexico and Columbia figures he gave us, and we have made a gross overestimate.
Maybe Vance didn’t look this number up, but it is estimated that anywhere from 4 to 17 million people died in the Holocaust.
Two million is not close. Two million is not approaching. Two million is not “[starting] to be in the league of the atrocities of Nazi Germany or American slavery. ” No way.
How does he think that he gets a number that “approaches” the atrocities of the Holocaust or slavery? Overdoses. Vance says, “…now add an estimate of all the uncounted murders and overdoses and track that carnage back to the 1960s when the modern drug war began.”
Uh, okay. First off, even if you tripled the number of murders we accounted for here, that still doesn’t get you up to 17 million. Not even close. Second of all, overdosing on cocaine is not the same thing as being systemically rounded up and murdered by Nazis.
I can’t believe I had to say that.
Vance seems to, on the one hand, blame cocaine addicts and users for their use of cocaine (“Not that the fisherman here are wholly innocent”), then, on the other, count them as victims akin to what black people and Jewish people (not to mention dozens of other ethnic groups) who were slaughtered mercilessly and systemically because of the way they were born. He can’t have it both ways. They are not the same thing.
The comparison here is not only false, it’s disgusting. Vance may be genuine in his belief, but it’s incorrect and an insult to people who have died in genocides all over the world.
Even if this comparison were somehow accurate, Vance directs his ire to the wrong place. Consumers of cocaine aren’t directly harming anyone, and we can’t be held accountable for the various ripples our actions may cause. The atrocities that Vance mentions in his piece are horrific, and no one should ever be subjected to that, but if he’s looking for where to place blame, he needs to start with drug prohibition in the U.S. It keeps the drug cartels underground and murdering, and it keeps addicts from getting the help that they need.
If you follow Vance’s logic, though, voting for Obama is like donating to the Nazi Party, too. But I suppose he wouldn’t like that very much.