The drug war takes another hit

Lots of media coverage about the new report out from the London School of Economics. Check out Time to rethink the war on drugs by Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch at CNN, for example.

How bad is it? The London School of Economics this week publishes a report that attempts to quantify some of these consequences of the war on drugs.

The report has been endorsed by five Nobel Prize-winning economists who write, “It is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis. The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.”

This report is an opening salvo for a battle that will take place in the U.N.

There’s a reason why these calls are being directed at the United Nations. In 2016, at the request of several Latin American presidents, the U.N. General Assembly will hold a special session to review the functioning of the drug control system. The London School of Economics report is being delivered to a representative of the Guatemalan government – Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina inspired the 2016 session and has said he will use it in negotiations with other governments.

The coverage is good new, and the overall thrust of the report is good news. However, the report itself is a mixed bag.

Probably the worst is the incoherent and bizarre chapter by Jonathan Caulkins, where he admits that the drug war is bad and should be eliminated, but still claims that by pulling completely invented future statistics out of his ass, he can prove economically that there are benefits to keeping prohibition.

But… why should I critique it when Jacob Sullum has already done a thorough job? Can We End the War on Drugs Without Repealing Prohibition?

The main impression left by Caulkins’ discussion is that you can make calculations like this demonstrate anything you want about prohibition, depending on which costs and benefits you decide to include, the way you measure them, and the weights you assign to them.

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12 Responses to The drug war takes another hit

  1. primus says:

    One point they appear to have missed is the overall impact on the economy of the drug war. Taxes are a brake on the economy. Past studies have suggested that when overall tax rates pass a threshold it tends to slow the economy over time. As the economy slows, the taxes needed to fund these programs becomes a larger percentage of the overall economy, and therefore a greater drag. It could be interpreted that the ‘war on alcohol’ caused the great depression and the ‘war on drugs’ caused the great recession and is inhibiting our ability to recover from it. The drag of too much taxation is fed by such ill-conceived programs as the drug war and therefore our present situation was at least partially caused by them. If we as a society would demand less, not more from our government, if we would tell them to take a hike when they tell us that we can’t make choices for ourselves, if we demanded that they leave us alone, then this taxation would not be happening, and the brakes wouldn’t be slowing the economy.

  2. Jean Valjean says:

    Jonathan Caulkins, purveyor of drug war lite, playing Robin to Mark Kleiman’s Batman, with sabet as the Joker.

  3. Servetus says:

    Mark A. R. Kleiman adds his usual obstructionist drivel to the record. For Kleiman, it’s always the same pattern.

    First, he refuses to question his first premise, that marijuana is evil. Then, since he’s a policy wonk and a control freak, he refuses to acknowledge that his privacy-invading, interventionist policies are little more than a moralizing overreach.

    Kleiman believes his ignorance of drugs and their effects is superior to everyone else’s personal and scientific knowledge on the topic. He can’t wrap his head around the Amsterdam model of coffeehouses as peaceful tourist retreats. Nor will he acknowledge the successful, anti-prohibitionist and anti-authoritarian drug policies of countries such as Portugal.

    Kleiman’s career strategy appears dominated by efforts to create a paperwork empire of ignorance protecting the sordid theology of drug prohibition. When facts contradict Mark’s predictions of doom and gloom, he ignores the facts and doubles down on his original assumptions, such as the naïve belief that all governments and bureaucrats have good intentions when enforcing the drug laws. Given his transparent agenda, and his lack of objective, academic professionalism, Mark doesn’t belong at UCLA. He should be working the religion circuit as a pundit on Fox News.

  4. Howard says:

    Jonathan P Caulkins’ section of the report is indeed bizarre. To wit;


    “The goal of prohibition should not be to eradicate mature drug markets completely; that is not realistic. The goal should be to drive the activity underground while controlling collateral damage created by the markets.”


    Uh, Jonathan, eradicating mature [illicit] drug markets is not just unrealistic, it’s flat out impossible. And the activity is underground. Attempts to control the “collateral damage created by the [illicit] markets” is what is CAUSING ALL THE #$%& PROBLEMS!!!(ahem, excuse me for raising my voice). But ending prohibition would land a serious blow to those [illicit] markets while simultaneously reducing/eliminating the need to control the collateral damage caused by them. Seriously dude, all that analysis and you’re still just a big dummy?


    “Prohibition is extraordinarily expensive on multiple dimensions, including budgetary costs, enrichment of criminal gangs and deprivation of liberty. So that prohibition reduces use and abuse does not imply it is good or that it could not benefit from fundamental reform. However, an honest discussion must look fairly at prohibition’s benefits as well as its costs.”


    Well, Jonathan, you could have stopped right at “deprivation of liberty” and be done with it. No need to continue on as to looking “fairly at prohibition’s benefits and costs”. Deprivation of liberty is certainly no benefit. But it is an enormous, unjustified cost. I suppose as an analyst you had a word count quota and just had to ramble on, bizarrely at that.

  5. allan says:

    I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft
    We have constructed pyramids in honor of our escaping
    This is the land where the Pharaoh died

    The Negroes in the forest brightly feathered
    They are saying, “Forget the night.
    Live with us in forests of azure.
    Out here on the perimeter there are no stars
    Out here we is stoned – immaculate.”

    ~ Jim Morrison

  6. Equality Canada says:

    Harry Kopyto speaks on the grave conditions being faced by children, particularly boys, in a society that is criminalizing them.
    March 1, 2014 in Newmarket, Ontario.
    Event hosted by the Canadian Maltese Charitable Service Trust

  7. Howard says:

    OT, file under ‘comeuppance’;

    Springfield City Council Tried to Stop Marijuana Reform Vote, Now Has to Pay Up $225,000

    • Tony Aroma says:

      Doesn’t seem right the city and insurance company pay the settlement. The council members should have been held personally responsible and paid out of their own pockets. I can’t imagine they have any guilt or regret over losing the taxpayer’s money.

      • kaptinemo says:

        True enough, but consider: the Springfield taxpayers now know who wasted their money. I imagine that they’ll be reminded who the spendthrifts were just before Election Day.

  8. claygooding says:

    Mixed Signals: The Administration’s Policy on Marijuana, Part Three
    May 08, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building

    The hearings have all been livestreamed so far if interested you can go to the link tomorrow am and watch the dog and pony show.

  9. Dave says:

    We have many advocates wishing for the end to the war on drugs, but when Nobel Prize winners jump on our side, victory is right around the corner.

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