Something may be genuinely bad for people – but prohibition is never the solution.
Prohibition (and criminalisation) is the best way to turn an undesirable situation downright fatal. Yet, it enjoys mass public support – mostly because it’s the default way of handling things by political leaders. Not because it makes the undesirable thing go away but because it serves their political needs.
Unlike marijuana, there is actual evidence that sugar is bad for you. Now that the state-powered anti-fat lobby has lost favour in Washington we get plenty of scientific evidence against sugar.
We heard that
- Sugar is more addictive than heroin
- It is linked to insomnia, dizziness, allergies, manic depression, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, colon and pancreatic cancer, hair loss, ADHD, skin irritation, tooth decay, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes
- There is more of it in your food than you’d like to believe
- And yet, it is our go-to substance to please kids.*
So it begs the question, how would a war on sugar play out in real life. Luckily, we have precedents.
Who would benefit from a war on sugar?
Nixon came up with the drug war because 1) he needed a war 2) as a tool to intrude private lives and intimidate citizens because 3) he wanted to discredit (and jail) his political enemies: anti-war hippies and blacks. Allow me to quote his then adviser, John Ehrlichman:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
So a politician sponsored by the artificial sweetener industry would benefit from a sugar prohibition. So would anyone who cannot get the fat vote. To paraphrase Ehrlichman, outlawing fat people and stripping them from voting rights and credibility cannot be done directly – but criminalising their favourite substance does the job. Fat people are easy political targets too because they feel guilty. Society blames them, they blame themselves – that’s how it always works. (Even when they angrily combat fat-shaming in public.) So The Crusade would be “fighting obesity” and “the health of citizens”, maybe also cancer – with “our children” thrown in for good measure. I dare you to challenge it…
Having learned from the fiasco of the US-only alcohol prohibition (lived 13 years) vs. the juggernaut of international drug prohibition (turning 50) – sugar prohibition should also be pushed through the UN to leave no loophole for sane countries.
9 things we can predict about the war on sugar
1. All you need is war
If you’re a politician, war is your best friend. As a citizen that’s a last thing you need – but you will probably be fooled into supporting it anyway.
The drug war was 3-in-1: a war against 1) external enemy, 2) internal enemy, and 3) against ourselves. This means:
1) The Sugar Enforcement Agency will be able to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries – to “aid” their fight against
their sugar export industry their sugar cartels. You can sell them weapons. (If they cannot afford your weapons, you can loan them.) You can also supply their sugar cartels with weapons while you’re at it – but it’s optional.
Countries that used to have a sugar export industry would not only lose their income from sugar taxes, they would also spend on weapons to fight their own successful industry. They will get indebted, public safety undermined – and forget tourism, too. But they would still be better off than countries that get invaded to fight terrorism – which would also be inevitably financed by sugar-money.
2. A war against a substance is also a war against the enemy within.
War on a substance is the ultimate jackpot. No need to accuse citizens of being foreign spies when you can harass them for possession of sugar. Sugar sniffing dogs would cruise airports and heavily armed SWAT teams kicked in the front doors on families – because sugar.
3. It is also a war against ourselves. Your very own craving for sugar will keep you busy questioning yourself – and make you perfect target for guilt-mongering.
2. Huge profit margins (untaxed) to the least inhibited
“See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.”
― Milton Friedman
Today’s sugar businessman is a girl scout compared to the kind of people that would take over sugar trade. And due to the armed war against them by states – they would also get armed.
Under prohibition sugar production and trade would go from these hands:
To these people:
Private armies cost a lot. So does buying off cops, border guards, high-ranking law enforcement workers and politicians – but it will be worth it. (For sugar traders and law enforcement – not to you.)
Illegality pushes prices up – and makes it the most delicious piece of business ever. Untaxed. If you think that not one of the 7 billion individuals on this planet would move into the sugar trade just because it’s illegal – you must be mathematically challenged.
Opium costs 110 times more by the time it hits the end user (talk about fairtrade…) Based on this, a kilo of sugar would go from around 1 euro today to 110 euros on prohibition.
And not just sugar. Given that it is dangerous to smuggle the real thing, dealers on your end would cut it with anything white and powdery. One kilo of pulverized Aspirin, chalk powder, or rat poison would also sell for 100 euros as “the best quality sugar” when added to the real thing. And you will have nowhere to complain, because…
3. The states neglect quality control
Illegal? Forget quality control. The states would simply neglect the only useful tasks they could perform regarding sugar: quality control and consumer protection.
Prohibition of sugar will be about pushing responsibility on to the consumers – not about protecting them from anything. So when you try to get a sugar high but the chalk powder doesn’t agree with you, you won’t even be able to call an ambulance, let alone sue the dealer for fraud.
And when you die, they won’t call it “poisoning by chalk powder”. They will call it an “overdose”.
4. The states neglect provision of dispute settlement
Illegal product? No courts or contract enforcement for you.
Dealers can’t go to courts. There will be sugar crime in your neighbourhood, with sugar dealers killing each other – and it will be the straight consequence of the prohibition. (As evidenced by the fact that there is no sugar crime right now.)
And you will completely forget the good old days, when sugar business disputes were settled by dull lawyers in overpriced suits. Oh, and forget anti-cartel regulations. The price will be set high and non-negotiable, and you can’t go to a competitor for cheaper sugar.
5. The real damage will be done by society, not sugar
Society cannot wait for the rule-breaker to meet punishment. They will serve it themselves. Like this:
BIGOT: “That doughnut is full of sugar”
SUGAR JUNKIE: “I know. It doesn’t hurt you when I eat it, does it?”
BIGOT: “But it’s bad for your teeth.”
SUGAR JUNKIE: “I eat one doughnut a month…”
BIGOT: “But it hurts your teeth…”
SUGAR JUNKIE takes a bite.
BIGOT punches SUGAR JUNKIE – front teeth lost.
BIGOT: “Told you…”
From cheap, white trash, sugar will become a luxury product. Sugar junkies will have to steal to get their fix. Especially after they lose their jobs for testing positive for sugar.
Just a reminder:
- Sugar didn’t make you lose your job, the laws did.
- Sugar didn’t render you unemployable, the laws did.
- Sugar didn’t make you a less reliable worker – society assumed you were.
- Criminal record, social ostracism, loss of employment, impossibility to find a new job, even the “overdose” is a product of the prohibition, not the sugar.
But politicians who perpetrated this farce will never be blamed for the loss of jobs, livelihoods, and lives. In fact, they will be celebrated. By you. All the damage done by the prohibition will be blamed on the sugar junkies. And you will nod and agree because…
6. Moral compasses are profoundly confused by laws
Legality trumps, even replaces, morality in the minds of ordinary people. Many derive their idea of right and wrong from the law – for lack of a better moral compass. When we don’t dare to make a moral judgement that flies in the face of laws – we convince ourselves that a sugar junkie had it coming by eating sugar.
Oh, really? You can see right through it? Tell me how many films you have seen were the bad guys were pointed out to you by the fact that they took drugs. How many times you have seen the downfall of someone taking drugs. Even if every step of the downfall was caused by laws, judgmental people, or families that turned against their own drug consuming members. Because they brought us up to obey every rule – not to avoid hurting people.
Even friends and parents become cowards and blame users for the social downfall caused by drug laws – and it wouldn’t be any different with sugar. It may take a few years before everyone settles in the new reality, but by then we will be full of arguments as to why sugar consumers had it coming. Our authoritarian little minds will go into full-blown victim blaming mode to feel safe and righteous. We will be pleased that once it is not us getting ruined by the rules because we happen to not like sugar anyway.
Authoritarian minds relish in every opportunity to kick into the weak and the underdog. And who isn’t the underdog when the government is against him? We feel uncomfortable not to take the side of the strong. And the strong one will be the state – and the bloodthirsty, punishment-craving public. So we adjust our little minds to justify the sugar prohibition – the same way we adjust ourselves to believe that traffic fines serve our safety (despite every evidence to the contrary).
A prohibition creates plenty of perpetrators even when there is no victim. And that is exactly the point. Not a side effect. The same way revenues are the point of traffic rules – not their side effect.
7. The myth of a sugar high would grow to ridiculous proportions
You are used to the effects of alcohol. You probably have theories about how much of which kind you can consume – how they make you feel and when to panic. But you are clueless about the effects of certain illegal substances. You would also be clueless about your reaction to (what they sell you as) sugar.
Drunks can be scary, aggressive, they can beat up people, but we are used to that. But the effects of drugs are unreliable gossips spread by not-too-smart people and unconfirmed by science. Same would happen to the effects of sugar – a few years after the prohibition kicked in. Placebo effect to the full – paired with easy panic. So when you will eat sugar, you will trully feel that
“Whoaaa… powerful stuff. It is not the sugar I was used to when I was young.”
In 30 years, governments would helpfully commission studies that claim that this is indeed more potent stuff than the harmless sugar you used to eat at your granny’s place when you were young. (So don’t let your kids try it.) And when you take sugar you would actually end up getting high, drunk, paranoid, or whatever the legend of sugar high will dictate.
And most annoyingly, we will end up with legends that sugar cures cancer but they don’t want you to know.
8. Lack of science on sugar
We already have some data on sugar – which is a lot more than we had about drugs when they were outlawed. But the darkness surrounding the effects of sugar would grow like mushrooms. Researchers wouldn’t get permission to study the white stuff – and when they did, they would need security personnel normally reserved for the logistics of enriched plutonium.
If we knew so little about sugar as we know about drugs one instant of sugar consumption would take the lives of, say, diabetes sufferers. And we had no idea what hit us. We would call it an overdose…
Would you prefer to know that sugar may be lethal for people with your condition? How about warning about marijuana warning for epilepsy sufferers? Schizophrenia? Not if the substance in question is illegal. Then you can die and it will be your fault.
9. Designer sugars
We already have suspicious sugar substitutes in our kitchens and food. Those would come from pharmacies after the ban. You would feed your kid the legal stuff, too – and believe that the side effects are still less dangerous than evil sugar. If there’s a ban, there must be a reason, right?
But if the black market sugar is 110 euros per kilo, these substitutes would also get really expensive – because they can. So the poor would have to cook up the sweetener-equivalent of crystal meth and WD40 sprayed on cotton pads – to get some sort of sweetener similar to sugar.
We would call them designer sugars and pronounce these words with horror. They would be actually dangerous. Teens would pop them in unchecked night clubs and they would swear that sugar is absorbed better when snorted.
+1: Random farcical episodes
Arbitrary rules bend reality in the most grotesque of ways. Some random things you can expect under sugar prohibition.
- There would be churches in the US specialised in sugar-ceremonies
- Fruit trees would be outlawed for sugar content and scorched by authorities from planes.
- Bio fuel crops with sweetening potential would be controlled and possibly poisoned – to protect us from eating them.
- Some people would have to carry medical certificates proving that their metabolism processed produced high blood sugar naturally.
- Testing you would be big business too. Someone could sell a billion sugar breathalyzers to traffic cops worldwide
- Forget rum.
- Buzzfeed would run headlines such as
7 Non-Sugar Foods That Make You Test Positive For Sugar
- You would learn how rotten a movie character is by seeing him taking out a little sachet with white powder and pouring some on his doughnuts.
- You will look at “Candy Crush” the way you look at this:
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*You may think that criminalisation would never happen, but…
- It was equally harsh to criminalise marijuana in the 70s. It went in the face of everything they knew about the thing, including the recommendations of Nixon’s very own committee to find something against marijuana already. When they didn’t find anything, Nixon burnt the report and went ahead with the drug war anyway.
- Someone has already suggested a sugar prohibition. And not just any mortal, but three scientists in white lab coats (mesmerized by the power of the state to enforce dietary wisdom).
- And prohibition makes no sense unless it is supported by legal consequences. I.e. criminalisation.