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The International Consequences of Prohibition


The people of the United States like cocaine and heroin. Consequently, entrepreneurs in Latin America produce cocaine and heroin. However, the government of the United States has determined that the people of the United States should be prohibited from using cocaine and heroin. In spite of this prohibition, Latin American entrepreneurs continue to deliver product to customers in the United States. Because the United States is larger and more powerful than its Latin American neighbors, it can force the latter to adopt policies of prohibition and interdiction. These policies result in extraordinarily high levels of violence, social disintegration, economic turmoil, and a loss of state capacity:

Worst of all, the sheer size of the black economy–$40 billion as estimated by Stratfor’s George Friedman–strangles legitimate enterprise and concentrates power in the hands of a few narco-warlords. These criminal enterprises amass power and legitimacy as the Mexican state loses the trust of its citizens. As a result, Mexico’s periphery has become a lawless wasteland controlled largely by the drug cartels, but the disorder is rapidly spreading into the interior. In a cruel parody of the “ink-blot” strategy employed by counterinsurgents in Iraq, ungoverned spaces controlled by insurgents multiply as the territorial fabric of the Mexican state continues to dissolve.

President Felipe Calderon has tried to stem the bleeding by unleashing the military and federal police on the narco-gangs. But the cartels responded in kind by massively targeting police officers and innocent civilians. They are waging a war of attrition to force the Mexican state to cease re-asserting its power. Sadly, the cartels are winning. Criminal violence continues in the borderlands, and high-ranking federal officials have been killed without meaningful government response. As the head of Mexican intelligence service CISEN admitted to reporters, the cartels pose a threat to Mexican national security.

If this all seems silly and ridiculous, it’s because it is silly and ridiculous. Lots of Mexicans get to die for the purpose of a marginal increase in the street price of cocaine and heroin. The problem is clear, and the solution painfully obvious.

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