…as presented by Keith Humphreys at The Reality-Based Community (where “reality” is apparently protean) in The Mexican Crime Cartels
Keith is concerned by the violence in Mexico, but completely fails to understand it.
1. The violence has become to some extent self-sustaining because several of the cartels are fighting each other. Whether the government ramps up or rolls back its heroic efforts, there will be violence as the cartels battle for territory as well as perpetuate the we-commit-atrocities-as-vengeance-for-past-atrocities cycle.
“Heroic”? You’ve got to be kidding. Of course, much of the fighting will be as a result of cartels fighting each other, but that fighting intensifies exponentially when the government steps in and adds violence to the equation, as well as when the government (through “success”) causes instability in the cartels’ power structure. Note the intellectually dishonest argument structure: “Whether the government ramps up or rolls back its heroic efforts, there will be violence.” The implication is that there is no difference in violence regardless of military action, but that is blatantly false. Yes there will be violence in either situation, but with the government using military action, the violence is much greater.
2. Had Proposition 19 passed, the cartels would still be there and Mexico would still be enduring horrific violence. I personally expected a modest drop in violence if the initiative passed, although people who study the cartels tell me I am wrong about that. They forecast that the effect of a small loss of business would be akin to taking away a few street corners from a drug market, which tends to increase violence as the remaining players fight it out over the reduced territory.
Straw man. No serious reformer believed that Prop 19 would completely eliminate the cartels, nor did they claim it. And as to how much the marijuana business overall fuels cartels’ income and how much comes from California’s business in particular, that’s clearly an open question. The RAND “study” did not disprove the government’s original notion that a significant portion of their income is from marijuana. And post-Prop 19, the government at times has seemed to want to return (when it’s politically useful) to extremely large percentage claims (not to mention the embarrassment of those huge border seizures of marijuana after the vote).
Regardless, Prop 19 was the first step in a larger effort which clearly would dramatically reduce cartel income.
No matter who is correct about that issue, Californiaâ€™s marijuana business is just one of many lines of activity for the cartels. To wound them seriously the U.S. as a whole would have to legalize marijuana, heroin and cocaine (which isnâ€™t going to happen and shouldnâ€™t), and even then the cartels would have income from human trafficking, black market movies and cigarettes, kidnapping for hire, drug trafficking within Central and South America etc.
First, I believe that we could wound them seriously by merely legalizing marijuana. But he’s right that we could do it even better by legalizing all of them (except that it should happen).
But then he goes into one of the stupidest arguments that keeps showing up in this bizarro land of prohibition accommodation. Apparently we might as well let them keep their huge black market drug income because otherwise they’ll do other crime(!) Or maybe the point is that we should make sure that they have illicit drug profits to prevent them from going into other crime. I don’t know â€” it’s a bafflingly stupid argument.
If we cut off their drug profits, yes, the cartels will go into other crime. The real bad apples aren’t going to go to work at McDonald’s (although many of their employees way down the line will).
But really? Black market movies and cigarettes? Ah, yes, Los Zetas are going to keep the empire going by selling bootleg copies of Yogi Bear on the street corners.
Sure, they’ll do more kidnappings in a vain attempt to replace their accustomed riches, and an enraged populace will get behind law enforcement to take them out of business, and without the obscenely massive income from drug trafficking, they won’t be able to buy the police and the army any more.
The illicit drug trafficking operations take in as much as the national income of the country of Mexico. Nothing else will give them that much power, because there isn’t that much money anywhere else to get.
3. But even presuming national legalization in the U.S. of all drugs, the idea that the removal of the drug business would wipe out the cartels is an example of the â€œreversability fallacyâ€ (which probably has a proper name in logic but I donâ€™t know what it is). Reversability was also invoked during alcohol Prohibition in the U.S. Repeal advocates promised that re-legalizing alcohol production would eliminate the Mafia. But once a process has been put in place, removing an original cause does not logically imply that the process will stop. The Mafia was enriched by Prohibition, but by the time of repeal it had a life of its own and survived for decades afterwards as a force in American society. (Note, same fallacy applies to human activity and climate changeâ€¦whether we caused it is irrelevant, all that matters is whether changes in our behavior now will make a differenceâ€¦itâ€™s entirely possible that we caused it to start but no longer have the power to stop it).
The fallacy here is not “reversibility.” It’s straw man. Whether it was with alcohol in the earlier prohibition or other drugs in this prohibition, the real reform argument has been that legalization would seriously weaken the criminal traffickers and take away a major source of their income. But Humphreys uses the straw man, claiming that our argument is that legalization will eliminate the criminals, and since he can show that they won’t be entirely eliminated, therefore our argument is wrong.
That’s complete nonsense.
What sane public policy would say that something is not worth doing unless the problem it is targeting would be completely eliminated? If that was the case, then every public policy that we have should be abolished.
The truth is that legalization will be a major blow to the large traffickers that will weaken them significantly, and dramatically reduce their ability to control governments, communities, and armies. And that’s just one of the reasons for legalization.
4. The basic problem in Mexico is not drugs but endemic corruption and weak governance in the states.
And until we take away the bulk of that black market payroll, it’ll be impossible to realistically address corruption and weak governance.