By Amy Willis
Illegal drugs appear to be a scourge on many a community, and while wanting to solve the drug problem is laudable, this EconTalk guest argues we’re going about it all wrong. In his book, Narconomics, Tom Wainwright of “The Economist,” suggests that rather than targeting supply, governments should attend to the demand side of the market for best effect.
What do you think? If the US government were to change the direction of the War on Drugs would it meet with success? And what exactly constitutes success in this case? Should the state be in the business of trying to dissuade people from doing something they want to do, even if they know it’s bad for them? Are people really making a free and informed choice when they use? These questions and more emerged from host Russ Roberts’s conversation with Wainwright, and we hope their conversation sparked even more questions of your own.
1. If you could sit down with Wainwright after listening to his interview with Roberts, what’s the one question you’d most want him to answer?
2. Wainwright compares Latin American drug cartels to WalMart, arguing they are both examples of monopsony. To what extent does each satisfy that designation? Do the “unseen benefits” Roberts ascribes to WalMart similarly appear with the cartels?
3. Wainwright asserts that the US Border Patrol has provided a tremendous profit opportunity for those cartels interested in diversifying their business model to include “people smuggling.” Why does he think this, and how true do you think this is? To what extent do you share Roberts’s and Wainwright’s pessimism that the US border can ever be secured, and why?
4. How do drug cartels employ “corporate social responsibility?” In this Feature Article, Dwight Lee describes a socially responsible corporation as “one that benefits the wider community beyond its shareholders by donating some if its profits to worthy causes.” Does this fit the Latin American cartels Wainwright describes? To what extent would Lee agree with Wainwright’s characterization of CSR?
5. How did New Zealand become engaged in what Roberts describes as “an arms race in banning and innovating,” and what effect has it had on the market for illegal drugs in New Zealand? How might their approach be more effective? To what extent do you agree with Wainwright that the government has a compelling interest in regulating “highs?”