A Note on Methland
Methland: The Death and Life of An American Small Town by Nick Redding
An excellent piece of book-length reporting--it combines small personal stories with a large historical narrative and big theories to explain it all. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the surprise villains here (because of their long and somewhat successful attempt to keep the U.S from regulating ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, two of the basic chemicals from which methamphetamine is manufactured), as are NARCS (the National Association of Retail Chain Stores), but the biggest villains are the big agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Tyson, etc. Redding blames them for consolidating the ag industries and turning what had once been $18/hour meat processing jobs (for example) into minimum wage jobs held by illegal aliens (who were recruited by the ag giants). This devastated small town America and inadvertantly provided a distribution system (dealers were workers at the local meat processing plant). He doesn't blame illegal aliens in general for being here, as he writes at one point, "if you encourage people to come to your country, you cannot then hold it against them for showing up."
There are also stories--sometimes heartbreaking and often astonishing--of the tweakers, smurfs, beavis and butthead lab operators, etc. The notion that at one time, small-scale meth manufacturers were riding around cooking meth in 20 oz soda bottles strapped to the backs of their mountain bikes is amazing. But in one small Iowa town, this practice was so pervasive, they actually considered outlawing bikes! I am generally a libertarian about drugs, feeling that legalizing would end many of the most pernicious effects of the illicit drug trade. But this is the glib assessment of someone who is comfortably isolated from the worst effects. After reading a book like this, the thought of legalizing meth is utterly terrifying. But weirdly enough, meth isn't the problem--it just happens to be the horrific (yet perversely All-American) drug that rushed in to fill the void left when a way of life died. If it hadn't been meth, it would have been something else.