Right now - in small towns across America - the working poor who've been hit hardest by the second Republican Great Depression - are turning to meth to get by. Either by manufacturing and selling it - or just by using it to escape. It's as though recessions are the harbinger of meth. As soon as an economic downturn hits - meth comes along right behind it. In his recent book - "Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town" - author Nick Reding goes to an Iowa town of about 6,000 people - to document how the economic downturn wiped out the local economy - and how meth eventually crept in to finish everyone off. He didn't go to Iowa to talk about meth as a singular problem affecting small towns - across America. Instead - he went there to show how meth is a consequence - or a symptom - of an economic breakdown in which the middle class is disappearing and more and more Americans are unable to find economic success. After the banksters blew up our economy - and corporate America - companies like Apple or HP or Amway - decided to stash their profits away or invest elsewhere rather than help put Americans back to work - small towns went into a death spiral.
Small businesses couldn't get loans - so they had to lay off workers or close down altogether. Now out of a job - people didn't have money to spend - so other businesses went under. Since no one is making money - local governments weren't collecting as much revenue - so they had to cut back on social services - like making sure there are enough cops to crack down on meth dealers - or making sure there were enough social workers and counselors to help those who were getting hooked on meth. So small towns across America became the perfect breeding ground for crank. And it's at this point that big companies are making the problem much, much worse.
First - with the help of lobbyists - the pharmaceutical companies have blocked any attempts by state and federal governments to restrict the sale of over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudo-phedrin - the primary ingredient of meth. But that's just how corporate America is preventing us from treating the symptoms of the disease - and not the actual disease itself - which is an economy with deep structural problems. We have a long history of blaming poverty - and the social ills that come along with it - on those who are in poverty. That there's something genetic that predetermines people to failure - or that they naturally have some sort of moral-failings that make them more inclined to take drugs.
When a wave of Irish immigrants came to America in the 1850's after the potato famine - they were forced into the slums and denied work. They lived in poverty - which led to violence and crime. Which in turn - led to many social theorists suggesting that Irish people were defective - that the "Irish Gene" made them more likely to commit violence. Then - decades later - when a wave of Italian immigrants came to America - and were forced to start at the economic bottom in poverty - the same specualtion sprung up - maybe there was an "Italian Gene" too that made them more likely to enagge in criminal behavior. But after the first generation of Irish and Italian immigrants - each subsequent generation worked their way into the economy - found opportunity - and even found success. And today - the idea that there is something genetically wrong with Italians or the Irish is absurd.
There's something wrong with poverty - not the people in poverty. As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett over at the Equality Trust in the UK uncovered - nations that have higher wealth inequalities - and thus signifact portions of the population living in poverty - also have more social ills - like drug abuse. So the answer to meth abuse - is jobs and more economic equality - a strong middle class. Something that corporate America seems to have a stake in denying. From investing in elections to putting corporate shills in office - to lobbying to kill stimulus legislation like rebuilding our infrastructure - to off-shoring manufacturing jobs and committing Americans to the unwinnable race to the bottom - corporate America is playing an active role in killing off the middle class. And thus, is responsible for the ongoing meth epidemics.
There's nothing genetic about poverty in America, as much as we have a long history of pointing to the idea that poverty is a moral failing. It's not, and history shows that when those SAME PEOPLE have an opportunity to enter the middle class, the "epidemics" vanish. We need a national manufacturing policy - a brand new national trade policy - and more enforcement of the Sherman Act to give people a chance to start small business and compete with transnational corporate giants. And we need to move wealth down the ladder by rolling back the Reagan tax cuts - this whole mess all started when Reagan took a prosperous nation and, using voodoo Reaganomics turned it into a wasteland - and it needs to be reversed NOW. We need to kick corporate power out of our government and dump the last vestiges of Reaganomics - so that we can finally lay the soil in which to grow a new middle class - instead of growing drug-addiction epidemics.
Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)