In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf does a wonderful job of dismantling David P. Goldman’s column in the Asia Times.
Goldman’s notions are truly pathetic, involving solving Mexico’s problems by waging war against the poor and locking them all up, and Conor handily smacks him down.
But there’s one area in particular I wanted to highlight, because we hear this argument from prohibitionists so often.
Here’s a rebuttal [to legalization] that the author apparently finds persuasive. “Libertarians used to argue that arresting criminals was futile as long as crime paid, because there always would be someone willing to take the job; the only remedy, they added, was to legalize drugs, bring down the price and eliminate the economic incentive,” he writes. “The trouble is that the Mexican gangs do not restrict their predations to drugs, as the frightful incidence of kidnapping makes clear.” He is apparently blind to the fact that those gangs would be far less powerful, far less formidable to stop from kidnapping people, if they weren’t enriched with obscene amounts of wealth the likes of which they could only plausibly obtain from one source that can in fact be eliminated: drug profits. Prohibition era gangs committed crimes besides producing and selling alcohol. Do you know what made them less powerful? Or why they’ve long since ceased to terrorize law-abiding Americans?
But this is the illogic of a drug warrior. His solution requires locking up vast swaths of a country’s population in cages while the folks that remain free are caught in a hopeless attempt to eliminate a black market. He nevertheless points at the libertarian solution and says, as if its a commensurate complaint, “Even if you legalize drugs there will still be other crime in Mexico.”
Yet his side is still driving policy in the United States.
It drives me crazy when I hear that argument.
Now I bring in about $100 a month from advertising and donations to this blog, enough to cover hosting costs. And I have a full-time job that pays my rent, food, and everything else. Imagine someone saying “It wouldn’t matter if Pete lost his job. He’s got a blog.”
If you eliminate the black market drug profits for the traffickers, then they don’t have the money to hire as many soldiers, which are used to intimidate people when they commit other crimes. They also don’t have the money to bribe police, judges, and government officials to look the other way when these crimes are committed.
Sure, when drugs are legalized these really bad people will try to operate in other areas, but they’ll have lost the bulk of their funding and be easier to stop. And this time when we catch or kill one, there will no longer be the same incentive for someone else to take their place.
Update: It still amazes me how this argument refuses to die. I think part of it is that some people look at the problem and correctly recognize that if we legalized all drugs today, the bad people in Mexico who are decapitating rivals wouldn’t suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke like some suddenly irrelevant cartoon creature. Of course not – we never said that they would.
They’ll try to do other things that they already do (kidnapping, etc.), but they’ll no longer be drug trafficking organizations. They’ll merely be murderous criminals. And when they are caught or killed, there will be nobody to take their place, because there will no longer be billions of dollars — close to the entire national budget — coming in to their organizations from drug trafficking.
There isn’t enough money in Mexico to replace the money they get from drugs.
Is getting rid of the cartels the ONLY reason to legalize? Of course not. It’s just one of many very good reasons.