Cultural Psychology

Priorities: Anti-Human Trafficking or Drug War?

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Over the weekend, Lucy Liu and other activists discussed the global problem of human trafficking in a special edition of CNN’s Larry King Live.

One television reporter mentioned that what the US federal government spends on stopping human trafficking is less than .1% of what it spends on the War on Drugs.

That is certainly a revealing statistic, and I checked the numbers.

According to this USAID web page the “USAID spent a total of $134 million on anti-[human] trafficking activities between fiscal years 2001 and 2008.” That averages out to roughly $17 million per year.

Federal expenditures on the War on Drugs for 2009 were, according to this webpage, conservatively estimated at $22 billion.  (This doesn’t include an estimated $30 billion in state expenditures, and possibly also doesn’t include costs of military anti-drug activities in Afghanistan).   That does indeed work out to anti-human trafficking expenditures of less than 1/1000 (or < .1%) of what the federal government pays in connection with the War on Drugs!

And note that the War on Drugs is on questionable moral grounds to begin with.  To me this demonstrates the hypocrisy and ulterior political motivation of the War on Drugs.  If it is truly social justice we seek, this would be far better served by addressing the more serious problem of human trafficking.   Instead of freeing actual slaves, that is, people who are oppressed and exploited against their will, we spend 1000 times more resources in an ineffective attempt to protect drug users from themselves.  Drug use is, at worst, a victimless crime, and in many cases it is a freely chosen recreational activity.  Nevertheless, the point of this post is not to criticize the drug war, but to support efforts to put an end to global human trafficking.

I propose that a bill be introduced in Congress to reduce the budget of the War on Drugs by 1%, and to devote this money instead to anti-human trafficking activities, whether by the USAID or UNICEF.  Even if this is only a symbolic gesture, there is nothing wrong with making a symbolic statement per se.


Written by John Uebersax

April 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm

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