Morphine Economics

Morphine Economics

I own a large collection of antique engravings and maps dating back more than five hundred years. They tell a fascinating story that divines the future if you are perceptive to their wisdom. Clipper ship entrepreneurialism was the strong, steady wind that propelled forth the Age of Discovery. The embassies, merchants and holy men billeted on these magnificent ships faced incredible hardship as they searched for undiscovered trade routes that could potentially change the balance of power while enriching themselves beyond imagination.

Chinese Qianlong Emperor

Chinese Qianlong Emperor

Included in my collection is a large engraving that mapped a British Embassy sent to Beijing in 1798 at the height of the Chinese empire to meet with Emperor Qianlong. Emperor Qianlong had no use for foreigners. He derisively addressed the British Ambassador: “We possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufacturers”.

The British took meticulous notes. They were eager to know the extent and power of the Chinese empire. The Emperor claimed sovereignty over everything from the Asian continental shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Indus River. He held sway over India and Southeast Asia including Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The great steppes of Central Asia extending across Eastern Russia and the Korean peninsula and everything in between were all his.

Low demand for British goods in China and high demand for Chinese goods such as silk and tea in Britain forced British traders to purchase these products with silver and gold, the only currency accepted by the Chinese. The British quickly began accumulating large trade deficits that it could not sustain. They needed to find an economic substitute for the silver and gold that would come with greatly reduced prices. The solution, although illegal, was to begin smuggling opium into China from the plentiful poppy fields of the Indo-Gangetic plain. Despite Emperor Qing’s prohibiting the import of opium into China, it wasn’t long before the Chinese people, including government officials, became addicted to the opium.

Raw opium contains some twenty different alkaloids of which morphine is one. Morphine affects the central nervous system. It also impairs mental and physical performance, relieves fear and anxiety, and produces euphoria. Morphine’s euphoric effect is highly addictive. Tolerance (the need for higher and higher doses to maintain the same effect) and physical and physiological dependence develop quickly. The malevolent outcome of morphine addiction is that it masks any underlying health problems, so although the user may actually be dying, the euphoria deadens the pain until the person succumbs to the disease.

China’s addiction to opium ultimately led to two Opium Wars with the British Empire from 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860. China was routed and disgraced both times. Britain forced the Treaty of Nanjing and the Treaty of Tianjin on the now feeble China. Together, these are more commonly known to as “The Unequal Treaties”. The British gained extraterritorial rights including its settlement in Shanghai and the cession of Hong Kong Island from which they could freely operate trading activities, including the unrestricted importation of opium.

Several other countries including France, Germany, Russia and Japan demanded and received similar arrangements from China. The humiliation of The Unequal Treaties eventually led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and ultimately the end of dynastic rule. In just forty years China had fallen from one of the greatest empires ever assembled to lying prostrate before hated foreigners. It is one of the most rapid declines of any empire in the history of the world and can be largely attributed to the opium that caused China to sacrifice its dignity and pride.

China’s addiction erased centuries of glory and unleashed a thirty year revolution. It allowed for events such as the Rape of Nanjing, the communist takeover in 1949 and purges of the Cultural Revolution. It created conditions in which China’s citizens lived under foreign sovereignty in their own country.

You could say China’s downfall could be attributed to “Morphine Economics”. If you study China’s sad history throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries you can certainly understand its distrust of the West. China has passed through decades that no great nation should ever have to tolerate.

China’s addiction should have served as a cold, stark warning. Imagine if we ever became addicted to something as devastating as opium. What would America’s fate be if we lay helpless and paralyzed before the world? Would the outcome be any less wicked than The Unequal Treaties?

Neal Asbury

written by Neal Asbury

Although Morphine Economics ended in China, another nation fell under its deadly spell: The United States of America. As its economy eroded, the United States began accumulating mountains of debt. The debt became our morphine. We borrow money to pay debts today, unfazed by the legacy of the debt that we will face down the road. The euphoria of appearing to have the economy under control masks the worthless “vapor paper” currency that is being printed to stave off economic collapse.

There are those among us who believe that out-of-control spending will make us healthy. They will look at any glimmer of improvement and shout out that the trillions we are spending (money we don’t have, by the way) are having a positive impact. Do not be fooled. We are becoming weaker. Any euphoria anyone is feeling is only the work of a sinister drug.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that whereas the United States is being crushed by its runaway debt, this debt is being bought up by China — a nation that innately understands the perils of Morphine Economics.

I think Emperor Qianlong, wherever he rests with his ancestors, gets no satisfaction from seeing a mighty nation make the same mistakes he did. It is up to us to learn the lesson and reverse our dependence on Morphine Economics before it causes irreparable damage to the economic health of our country and that of our future generations.

12 Responses to “Morphine Economics”
  1. John Papathanassiou says:

    Neil, I agree with you 100%. This is a truly fantastic piece. I believe that everybody should read it, including our leadership.

  2. Craig says:

    I think you are looking at the symptom, not the disease. A much closer analogy to the Chinese addiction to opium is our addiction to oil. We are funding two wars (and borrowing to do so) because we need oil. (even if you accept the claim we didn’t go into Iraq for its oil, would Iraq have been a threat but for Hussein’s using its oil to finance his ambitions and would there be an Al Quaeda to hide in Afghanistan but for the US and Europe interfering in the Middle East for its oil.) We are funding the people who fund our enemies. Our wealth as a nation is being drained to oil producing countries.

    We refuse to deal with the addiction. Our solution, like a junkie, is to find more oil. Our Congress argues over whether global warming is real when in actuality even if global warming is a fantasy the steps to cure global warming would also stem our addiction. President Carter was derided for trying to get us to cut down on our use of oil. How much better off would we be now if we had adopted his policies on conservation. Despite a steady increase in gas prices, we drive SUV’s. Public transportation is underfunded because it can’t attract enough passengers to pay its way, but we have no qualms about funding more roads for more cars.

    Our deficit is a problem. I wish more of the people crying about it now would have been demonstrating years ago when deficits didn’t matter. How much better off would we be now if our government hadn’t adopted policies that got rid of the surplus we were running at the end of the Clinton years. But its the symptom-not the cause. Unless we get serious about getting reducing our dependence on oil, we will go the way of the Chinese.

  3. Larry L says:

    What makes anyone believe tthat our leadership can read? If they could they would see what they are doing to this country.

  4. Jim S says:

    You have picked a good topic Neal. Craig has also demonstrated another of many addictions. Where I live, in Alberta, oil is our economic driving force as well as our addiction. I know this is taking things in a different direction, but, what about our addiction/ reliance on satellites? Who can survive without their $600 I-phones, Blackberries, weekly T.V. programs, Sirius radio etc… How many businesses are now dependent on satellite services? Do we even know what the environmental impacts of thousands of pieces of the earth floating in orbit are? Are we going to destroy all of them with missiles when there are too many defunct ones to send new ones into orbit? What will we do if this technology is taken away from us in a strategic military maneuver? After all, we need it, right? I know I am already hooked.

  5. John Savard says:

    The west can end its addiction to oil by aggressively pursuing nuclear energy. It is also addicted to cheap imports from China, another reason why we spend more on imports than we earn from exports. What we need to do to break that addiction would be more contentious – abandoning the restrictions on tariffs brought about by GATT and the WTO.

    Once that is done, each country can stimulate its economy to the level required to maintain full employment on a continuous basis, regardless of world economic conditions.

  6. Johnny Peacock says:

    An Answer to Neal Asbury’s Observational Article: Morphine Economics

    Studying history, so as not to make the same mistakes, is an obvious strategy towards every dilemma we must climb over along life’s path. But simply taking notice of a parallel, and offering no reasonable solutions, is just plain wishy washy. Grow a pair Neil, tell us where you stand! From the flavor of the site, I’m going to suspect Neil is a conservative, and on the bandwagon of Republican, “Do the Same Things That Got Us Here,” and “Give Ridiculous Tax Cuts to Everyone Except the People Who Do Need Them.” And don’t even get me started on the Teabagging Right, who would happily destroy our country with a level of stupidity and arrogant ignorance we have all come to expect from the extreme Christian Right.

    The only way we will ever become economic powerhouses again, is through raising taxation on the fabulously rich, until we can visibly prove the middle class is holding at least half of our accumulated wealth nationwide. And this shouldn’t be an argument between the party lines at all, this is about the middle class standing together as one, and yelling as the majority voice, “The rich will not continue to steal the majority’s American Dream ever again!” We must also pull out of all religious/oil influenced wars, and take a real hard look at every international aid we offer to other countries. This in and of itself, would breathe life back into the backbone of our country, the middle class.

    Unfortunately, groups like the Teabaggers, have no respect for education, which is really the only manner to teach every American how to think with true, critical, and educated reason. In this case what’s good for the gander is in no way good for the goose. And I am still completely in wonder, as to where the Tea Party was when Bush was gutting our economy! I guess it’s ok to flush the greatest nation down the toilet, as long as you are an idiotic, white, religious nut job, that gives out tax breaks when there’s no surplus money to offer. His second term election makes this observation emphatically valid.

    Finally, instead of crying about the stimulus my conservative ninnies, why don’t you look at defense spending instead? And look at your party’s complete lack of initiative, in every area on the economic board, unless we’re only grading on war spending and making the rich richer. Because that is all your party does. Bill Maher coined it brilliantly, when he said that as of now, our wealth serves as corporate welfare for the war machine and private business. And that is the only thing the Republican Party has ever been concerned about, and yes I know there are also many Democrats eating of the same table, hence I’m an Independent. There is one thing I do know for sure today. If America continues to vote for a party of No, a party that has still yet to offer any real strategy or solutions, and the party that continues to undermine them economically every chance we give them, then they better be ready to watch their American Dream not fade, but burn right before their eyes.

  7. David Clark says:

    Wonderful use of histrical context analogy. Comparisons to oil, debt or morphine are helpful in drawing similarities between the geopolitical manipulations of human tendencies past, present and future. The article is of informative nature, while some comments appear more provactive. These provocations are ironic as broadening our public awareness of worldly views, more often instigates secular arguments. Few would disagree that we currently possess the greatest degree of informational exchange in human history; yet we more often suppress broader contexts in the selfish interest of small groups of people. It seems selfless acts are either blasphemed or pandered as eminant domain more prescriptive to personal profits.

    There is no middle ground on these issues — pick your pony! How unfortunate that our society caters to antisocial rhetorics of political parties and interest groups. The truth on matters may be off-putting, but ignorance is no resolution. Political representation is of little novelty if majority interests are dictated by anecdotal evidence pervasive of truth. As we continue without regard to evident truth; it becomes clear that we have grown faster than the capabilities of humankind. Market demand models estimate that current consumption trends are sustainable with 75% less people on Earth. When our the worldwide debt and energy house of cards falls, which it will, fervant followers of rhetoric will be the first to perish. I am reminded of a quote by the late great Hunter S. Thompson; “Call on God, but row away from the rocks.”

  8. Dan d says:

    One of the problems I have with the TEA Party is the misunderstanding of history. Happily, the history in this article seems pretty close to the mark.

    But the analogy is too simplistic to hold. Perhaps if you were writing about ordinary Americans. Who much debt do you you have? A capitalist consumer economy needs spending growth to prosper. Who’s spending now?

    Reagan and Bush Sr ran up huge deficits. Clinton was nearly able to eliminate them in eight years – because our economy is so big. Bush Jr once again ran up huge deficits before the world economy began imitating the Great Depression. We needed to stop the hemorrhaging. Bush started spending, and Obama continued it. Now we have a weak recovery. Is the government addicted to debt? Maybe. But not in the way I think most people say it.

    The economy is big enough for our government to grow out of debt. Individuals? Individuals may outgrown the addiction because they have no choice. But if “we the people” outgrow deficit spending, the stock market tanks…

    Thank goodness the current administration had the intestinal fortitude to run a deficit when that was to price of staying out of another Great Depression.

  9. dcitizen says:

    Mr. Asbury, nice pen. History has lessons that are seldom learned. The Constitutional structure of the U.S., as a Republic, virtually insures that the citizenry has no direct say in its future, i.e., the U.S. is not and was never intended to be a democracy. Once elected, representatives become “free agents” whose personal interests supersede the best interests of the citizenry. The passage of the Federal Reserve act, 1913, and the 16th Amendment (Income Tax, ratified 1913 ) provided the basis for decline, as those with influence began a feeding frenzy at the public trough and the” no tomorrow “aphrodisiac permeated both Federal and State governments. Mandated balance budgets are not popular in government circles and the time has long passed for reconsideration. In he modern world, maintaining a military presence in over 113 foreign nations hastens
    the demise of the U.S., and is the fertile field for those who wish to govern their own fate, to push back, against the invader. U.S. presence is costly in many ways; all on borrowed money. California and other State are broke; the U.S. is broke, and broken. History is forgotten, no lessons learned, the U.S. and States will hobble along
    so long as someone will extend credit and the printing presses have ink, and those few 1/2 of 1% of the population who have more then enough, have it all.

  10. aj says:

    the ascendant economic ideology that has both bankrupted and now holds the world in thrall, seems to be the only one known by the writer and responders, though others have been known and applied in history……. remember the joke from Shakespeare, that first we must kill all the lawyers? In our age, it is first we must kill all the international bankers.

  11. Vicco says:

    With some intellectual pleasure and non-trivial language learning benefits I have read the article and comments. I have to admit I liked the comments more for its internal charge and fluidity.
    Thank you all.
    I have to ask Neal a question related to the formal narration, not even the content per se.
    I quote (last paragraph)
    “… from seeing a mighty nation make the same mistakes he did”.
    Now the question. What ,mistake did Emperor Qianlong make? That he did not have much use for goods bought by the British? Or that he laughed off the offer? What possibly, and rationally, could he have done differently? And should he have done anything differently? Yes, the empire could have fought with more success but the loss in battle hardly can be considered as a “mistake”.
    Another glitch, a strange one. In the list of powers jointly and separately participating in the rape of China back then, why is the US omitted? We know it was an active part of the action. If it is just a slip of the pen, then, hell. things do happen.We are all human (yet?)

  12. Ed Pello says:

    Asbury concludes with a warning not to make the same mistakes Emperor Qianlong did. Yet previously in Neal’s narrative, the Emperor is credited as having prohibited opium import. So exactly which imperial mistakes are we to avoid? The subsequent Chinese “mistake” in attempting to forcefully eradicate the illegal opium trade, which led to the first Opium War? And where, other than oblique reference to America’s famed clipper ships, is mention of the substantial US involvement in the oriental opium trade and consequent ‘century of Chinese humiliation’?

    Those truly perceptive to the wisdom of antique engravings and maps would surely know that the “Age of Discovery” is considered to have expired in the 17th century, and that the McCartney embassy took place in 1793, not 1798.

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