Our Costly War on Drugs

The paradox of the war on drugs is that the harder governments push the fight, the higher drug prices become to compensate for the greater risks. That leads to larger profits for traffickers who avoid being punished. This is why larger drug gangs often benefit from a tougher war on drugs, especially if the war mainly targets small-fry dealers and not the major drug gangs. Moreover, to the extent that a more aggressive war on drugs leads dealers to respond with higher levels of violence and corruption, an increase in enforcement can exacerbate the costs imposed on society…

Mexico offers a well-documented example of some of the costs involved in drug wars. Probably more than 50,000 people have died since Mexico’s antidrug campaign started in 2006. For perspective, about 150,000 deaths would result if the same fraction of Americans were killed. This number of deaths is many magnitudes greater than American losses in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined and is about three times the number of American deaths in the Vietnam War.

Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy in the Wall Street Journal.

Comments (8)

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  1. Dr. James Franco says:

    I could comment at great length as to the cost of this incredible failed ‘war’, but I have a project that requires my attention so I will simply direct to the following infographic provided by UPI.


  2. August says:

    “Of the 1.53 million drug arrests last year, 87.5% (1.34 million) were for possession and only 12.5% (191,000) were for the sale or manufacturing of drugs.”

    Lots of information from Mark Perry here: http://www.aei-ideas.org/2012/10/new-fbi-data-reveal-that-the-war-on-weeds-has-failed/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+aei-ideas%2Fcarpe-diem+%28AEIdeas+%C2%BB+Carpe+Diem%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

  3. Buster says:

    If there is a prohibition on drugs, there will be economic opportunities for criminal gangs. If there is a War on Drugs the enemy combatants will be armed and respond with force. A byproduct of the war on drugs is the existence of narco terrorist states, run by wealthy oligarchs possessing private armies and willing to kill with little regard for human life.

    Nowadays The problem of prescription drug abusing is far worse than illegal drugs now.

  4. bart says:

    Keeping manufacture and sale legal while punishing purchase and consumption might work, but we tend to do the reverse.

    Unlike prostitution, where some agencies have learned that it’s more effective to go after the Johns.

  5. Neil Caffrey says:

    I think the War on Drugs needs to be re-evaluated and an audit done based on the determinations reached by said re-evaluation.

  6. Kyle says:

    They experienced this in Afghanistan with the burn programs for poppy fields. Destroying supplies and agriculture just drives up the prices of opium; increasing incentives for farmers.

  7. Gabriel Odom says:

    Legalise it. Tax it. Regulate it.

  8. nevadasmith says:

    Our America is so intellectually bankrupt on ideas to put people to work through infrastructure and capital improvements that the morally bankrupt methodology of “Wars On People” are embraced. Whether domestic “War On Drugs” or arbitrary and capricious international “Wars On Terror” are really in essence wars on the poor.