Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Losing the War on Drugs"

George Schultz describes why we lost the so-called "War on Drugs."
These efforts wind up creating a market where the price vastly exceeds the cost. With these incentives, demand creates its own supply and a criminal network along with it. It seems to me we’re not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business and the incentives for criminality out of it. Frankly, the only way I can think of to accomplish this is to make it possible for addicts to buy drugs at some regulated place at a price that approximates their cost. When you do that you wipe out the criminal incentives, including, I might say, the incentive that the drug pushers have to go around and get kids addicted, so that they create a market for themselves. They won’t have that incentive because they won’t have that market. . . .
Schultz goes on to describe the monetary cost of fighting the drug war:
 How costly is this war on drugs? A good friend of mine, Nobel Laureate in Economics Gary Becker, and his colleagues estimated in 2005 that the direct costs are over $100 billion annually in police services, court time, effort spent on offenders, and imprisonment—a minimum of about $40,000 per year per prisoner. Becker notes that this estimate does not include “intangible costs, such as the destructive effects on many inner city neighborhoods, the use of the American military to fight drug lords and farmers in Colombia and other nations, or the corrupting influence of drugs on many governments.”
What is lacking from Schultz's essay--and perhaps he discusses it elsewhere--is that the money spent by the public also serves as an incentive in itself to perpetuate the drug war and its poor policies. Law enforcement agencies, other agencies and governments, and the private contractors that service them, benefit more from a strategy based around drug interdiction and the arrest and incarceration users, than those designed to reduce drug use and its social harms. As far the current public agencies are concerned, the more societal harm, the better, because it insures a continued flow of funding and accumulation of power.

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