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November 8, 2012 / Jake Seliger

Bad academic writing: Rebecca Biron and the Mexican drug war in PMLA

In “It’s a Living: Hit Men in the Mexican Narco War,” Rebecca E. Biron writes:

Hit men in the twenty-first-century Mexican drug war engage in paid labor at the extreme end of capitalist exploitation. By “extreme end,” I mean the period of late hyper- capitalism in which transnational profit seeking trumps national as well as international regulatory systems designed to serve broad social stability. I also mean the outer limits of how capitalist interests use (up) human beings [. . .]

But “the twenty-first-century Mexican drug war” isn’t a good example of capitalism at work: to the extent that capitalism is about selling people things they actually want, with a (relatively) limited amount of state control, drugs should be legal: there’s a willing buyer, a willing seller, and no intermediary who gets hurt. Yet the state—which is conventionally associated with communism / socialism—prohibits drug use, using the logic of “serv[ing] broad social stability” and similarly bogus euphemisms.

If anything, the hit men should be considered exploited by state policies around prohibition, rather than capitalism or capitalists.

Plus, if exploitation is inherent capitalism, what kind of economic or political system doesn’t or hasn’t involved exploitation? And I’m not talking about a theoretical one: I’m talking about a real example in the real world. I don’t think any exist, at least in any meaningful sense. Although the U.S. and Western Europe certainly aren’t without warts and blemishes, both historical and contemporary, it’s notable that the Soviet Union exterminated millions of its own citizens in a calculated, industrialized fashion. The Soviet Union also engaged in foreign conquest and terror to a vastly greater extent than the U.S. did or, today, could even aspire to.

3 Comments

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  1. jolly2012 / Nov 26 2012 2:11 pm

    I think capitalism provides the environment for black markets like the illicit drug trade. By virtue of the fact that drugs are illegal, capitalists find ways of creating a market for them, a market that shadows legal capitalist efforts. But even in communist, socialist, totalitarian governments, black markets proliferate. Does this mean that capitalism is inevitable, even in states where it is forbidden? Does the inevitability of such markets, legal or not, suggest the necessity of those markets? I wonder if “necessity” might be the root of all evil in capitalism. Capitalism is necessary for the accumulation of money but, it does not provide social equilibrium any better than past efforts at communism because greed, and the capitalist economy necessary to serve greed, does not serve social need. I kinda rambled this out…hope it is somewhat understandable. C.J.

    • Jake Seliger / Nov 26 2012 5:15 pm

      Thanks for your reply. Still, I don’t see any particular link between Mexican drug hit men and capitalism.

      Capitalism is necessary for the accumulation of money but, it does not provide social equilibrium any better than past efforts at communism

      I beg to differ: modern, Western, capitalist countries haven’t murdered millions of their citizens.

      I think capitalism provides the environment for black markets like the illicit drug trade.

      I think prohibition provides the environment for black markets like the illicit drug trade. Take away prohibition and you’ll take away drug murders.

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