Econ 101, Hayek, and Why We are Losing the War on Drugs
The Drug Wars Spread After shaking the economic and political structures of Mexico and Columbia, the drug wars are moving to Central America Where to look for clues to why the United States is losing its endless war on drugs Econ 101 and demand elasticity The writings of Friedrich Hayek Photo sources: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/Cocaine3.jpg; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Topographic_map_of_Centr al_America.jpg Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Elasticity of Demand Price elasticity of demand means the percentage change in quantity of a good demanded that is associated with a one percent change in price If the percentage change in quantity is greater than the percentage change in price, demand is elastic If the percentage change in quantity is less than the percentage change in price, demand is inelastic Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Revenue and Price when Demand is Elastic When demand is elastic, a decrease in price will produce an increase in revenue Example: 100 units are sold at a price of $100 for revenue of $10,000 If price is cut to $90, 120 units are sold for revenue of $10,800 Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Revenue and Price when Demand is Inelastic When demand is inelastic, an increase in price will produce an increase in revenue Example: 100 units are sold at a price of $100 for revenue of $10,000 If price is increased to $120, 90 units are sold for revenue of $10,800 Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Elasticity of Demand for Cocaine Data on demand for illegal drugs is limited because of the nature of the market However, some studies have been done. They suggest that demand for cocaine is inelastic One survey of the literature* found estimates of demand elasticity ranging from -.51 to -.73, indicating that a 1% increase in price reduces quantity sold by less than 1% Accordingly, revenue from sale of cocaine would tend to increase when the price increases *Link for elasticity estimates: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9441&page=30 Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Implication of Inelastic Demand for Policy The main strategy in the war on drugs is interdiction of supply, which tends to shift the supply curve upward and to the left With inelastic demand, we expect interdiction to lead to an increase in revenue for drug cartels More revenue may not mean more profit, because costs increase However, more revenue means more money to spend on hiring thugs and corrupting politicians In that sense, interdiction is a self-defeating strategy that increases, rather than decreases, corruption and drug violence Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Cocaine and Heroin Prices Have Fallen Over Time Despite efforts to reduce supply, prices of cocaine and heroin have fallen over time Possible explanation: Drug cartels have invested in capital and technology like drug-smuggling submarines that have reduced costs over time despite interdiction efforts Follow this link to view the original graph from which this one was derived Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
Organizational Effects of Interdiction Policy Drug cartels in some respects act like normal businesses Prices affect demand for the product according to elasticity Yet while there is little that is likely to induce men who are good by our Part of revenue is reinvested in standards to aspire to leading positions in technologies to improve delivery and a [drug cartel], and much to deter them, reduce costs there will be special opportunities for the In other ways they are different ruthless and unscrupulous. There will be jobs to be done about the badness of They recruit people who are not which taken by themselves nobody has inhibited by laws or morals any doubt . . . [as a result] the readiness to do bad things becomes a path to They use far more violence in pursuit promotion and power. of profits Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom The results resemble the structure of Words “drug cartel” have been substituted for totalitarian organizations as described “totalitarian organization” used in original by Friedrich Hayek Hayek Photo courtesy of Mises Institute http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Friedrich_Hayek_portrait.jpg Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
The Bottom Line: Why We are Losing the War on Drugs As long as demand is inelastic, efforts to restrict supply have the unintended consequence of increasing revenue for drug cartels Increased revenues are invested in hiring thugs, corrupting politicians, and new delivery technology Illegal organizations attract violent, immoral people who use violent, immoral business practices In these respects, the war against drugs creates the conditions for its own failure Posted March 30, 2011 on Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog http://dolanecon.blogspot.com
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