Professor Ken Sharpe Lecture

Professor Ken Sharpe
Department of Political Science
Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania

will be addressing the Vancouver Institute on February 4, 2012 at 8:15 p.m., Lecture Hall No. 2 in the Woodward Instructional Resources Centre, University of British Columbia.


Practical Wisdom:
The Right Way To Do the Right Thing


An expert on foreign policy, Latin American politics, and U.S. drug enforcement policies, Professor Sharpe is co-author of Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial which examines the ineffectiveness of America's punitive narcotics policy and calls instead for a public-health approach that aims to reduce demand for drugs. He has written several books analyzing, among other issues, the political economy of the Mexican auto industry, the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and constitutional democracy, and the imperial presidency. His most recent work, Practical Wisdom, co-authored with Professor Barry Schwartz, proposes a better way to make personal and social decisions. He received his M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and Ph.D. from Yale University.

Background Information

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Description of Drug War Politics

Why have our drug wars failed and how might we turn things around? Ask the authors of this hardhitting exposè of U.S. efforts to fight drug trafficking and abuse. In a bold analysis of a century's worth of policy failure, Drug War Politics turns on its head many familiar bromides about drug politics. It demonstrates how, instead of learning from our failures, we duplicate and reinforce them in the same flawed policies. The authors examine the "politics of denial" that has led to this catastrophic predicament and propose a basis for a realistic and desperately needed solution.

Domestic and foreign drug wars have consistently fallen short because they are based on a flawed model of force and punishment, the authors show. The failure of these misguided solutions has led to harsher get-tough policies, debilitating cycles of more force and punishment, and a drug problem that continues to escalate. On the foreign policy front, billions of dollars have been wasted, corruption has mushroomed, and human rights undermined in Latin America and across the globe. Yet cheap drugs still flow abundantly across our borders. At home, more money than ever is spent on law enforcement, and an unprecedented number of people—disproportionately minorities—are incarcerated. But drug abuse and addiction persist.

The authors outline the political struggles that help create and sustain the current punitive approach. They probe the workings of Washington politics, demonstrating how presidential and congressional "out-toughing" tactics create a logic of escalation while the criticisms and alternatives of reformers are sidelined or silenced.

Student ratings
"The best professor I've ever had, heard of, or anticipate encountering again. A teacher in every sense of the word. He has pretty much defined my time at Swarthmore."