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December 16, 2010

The 40-Year War

war-on-drugsGary Becker makes a good point about a frequent topic on this blog - the enormous cost of the government's drug prohibition policy:

[The Miron and Waldock study does] a good job of estimating the amount directly spent by the United States in fighting the war on drugs. They calculate about $41 billion is spent on this fight by state and local governments, and by the federal government, through policing efforts, the cost of court personnel and buildings used to try and convict drug offenders, and the cost of the guards and other resources used to imprison those convicting of drug offenses.  .  .  .  These estimated direct costs of the war are significant, yet they are regrettably only a small fraction of the total social costs due to the war on drugs. [ .  .  .]

Perhaps, however, the worse results of the American war on drugs are found in its effects on other countries, especially Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American countries. Mexico is also engaged in a war on drugs, but it is a war almost entirely fought against drugs shipped from Mexico into the United States. The overwhelming majority of drugs that are either produced in Mexico, or that enter Mexico from other countries, are destined for shipment across the border to the United States. The two main drugs shipped from Mexico are marijuana and cocaine, the same two drugs that Miron and Waldock show constitute the vast majority of drugs used by American consumers.

Mexico is engaged in a real war, with advanced military equipment used by the drug gangs; often the gangs have better weapons than the army does. The casualties have been huge: an estimated 30,000 + persons have been killed in recent years as a result of the drug violence, far greater than the combined deaths of American and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these deaths are of drug cartel members, but a considerable number also are of soldiers and policemen, journalists, and innocent bystanders.

After the drug lords discovered that they are very good at violence and intimidation, they expanded geographically and into other activities. They have spread out from concentration in enclaves near the border or in the West of Mexico into many other areas, including major cities like Monterrey. Some towns have become uninhabitable, as former residents fled from the violence, some entering illegally into the US. Drug lords have taken control in many places of prostitution, gambling, extraction of monies from businesses for "protection" services, and indirectly also various local governments. [.  .  .]

No one has estimated the social cost of American drug policy on Mexico, Colombia, and other countries, but it has to be immense. Perhaps these countries should just allow drugs to be shipped to the US, and put the full burden of stopping these shipments on American enforcement agencies. The American government would protest, but such a result would provide a clearer picture to the American people of the full cost of current policy, including the major costs imposed on other countries. One can hope that then we will get a serious rethinking of the American war on drugs, and some real political movement toward decriminalization and legalization of various drugs.

Posted by Tom at December 16, 2010 12:01 AM |


Unless and until the corporate media educates the public about the horrendous consequences of wars
on (some) drugs, the made-up war on terror (as opposed to the terror war inflicted on us all by government), nothing will change. Ergo, expect another million lives to be ruined (directly) year in and year out.

The damages done, led by Obama, and on down to local levels, suggest to me, a level of greed and cynicism so institutionalized that one must agree
with the observation that the public always prefers nonsense to sense.

law enforcement

Posted by: Bill McWilliams Author Profile Page at December 16, 2010 12:16 PM

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