Whilst global capitalism goes into meltdown a curious fact struck me as I watched Newsnight yesterday and some of the key players in the UK and US Government's financial oversight moved to center stage in the fevered media coverage. Both Barney Frank, US Democrat congressman and chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services , and Adair Turner, Peer and newly appointed chairman of the Financial Services Authority, are both outspoken critics of the drug war and advocates of drug law reform.
Congressman Barney Frank
Barney Frank has been all over the news in the last 48 hours for his cutting comments about the Republican bellyaching that followed the collapse of the Bush $700 billion banking bailout plan, (defeated in Congress yesterday). You can see the much played clip of him in action here (from CNN). As an aside here he is again, rather brilliantly slapping down Republicans who seek to criminalise homosexuality on the Bill Maher show:
This year Frank introduced "The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008,"which would eliminate the threat of arrest and prison for the possession of up to 3.5 ounces of cannabis and/or the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of cannabis. It would not affect federal laws prohibiting selling marijuana for profit, importing and exporting or cultivating cannabis. He has argued that;
"I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public."
Adair Turner is a UK Peer, the former boss of the CBI, former chair of the pensions commission, chair of the Government's new committee on climate change and now chair of the Financial Services Authority (you see him in action last week discussing city bonuses on the BBC here).
Lord Turner (who attended the Transform event in the Houses of Parliament last year, to mark the launch of our latest major publication), whilst less outspoken and proactive than Congressman Frank has none the less made his views on drug policy publicly known, arguably taking the analysis some way further and evidently with no deleterious effects on his career or positions of influence; a useful lesson for the some of his Whitehall colleagues fearful of speaking their views in public. As long ago as 2003, speaking at a WWF event he noted that;
So what can we deduce from these high profile figures in financial regulation and the debate on drugs? Its probably reaching (no doubt opponents would blame the global meltdown on crazed drug legalisers) but maybe it points to some sort of common thread between more effective financial market regulation and more effective government regulation generally, including the future of drug markets.
"And if we want to help sustainable economic development in the drug-ridden states such as Colombia and Afghanistan, we should almost certainly liberalise drugs use in our societies, combating abuse via education, not prohibition, rather than launching unwinnable 'wars on drugs' which simply criminalise whole societies."
If nothing else is does again highlight the distinct historic current of pragmatic drug policy thinking amongst economists.