Tom Wainwright is the author of Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel. From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:
ZAKARIA: You have a business solution [to the problem of illegal drug cartels]. You say that economists would be better police officers than people trained in law enforcement. What do you mean?--Marshal Zeringue
WAINWRIGHT: Well, I think there are various elements to this, but one of the main findings of the book, I think, is that we've been, so far, focusing very, very tightly on the supply side of the business. And I think there's a good economic case for looking instead at the demand side.
What we've been doing so far is trying to eradicate coca leaf in South America. We've been battling the Mexican cartels. We've been locking up dealers in the United States and in Europe. And all that this succeeds in doing -- all this succeeds in doing is reducing supply and pushing up price. And if you push up price, normally you'd expect consumption to go down. But because most of these drugs are addictive, you find that consumption actually remains about the same and all we succeed in doing is inflating the size of this illegal market and enriching those cartels.
ZAKARIA: And you would legalize...
WAINWRIGHT: I would, yeah.
ZAKARIA: ... most drugs?
WAINWRIGHT: I think you can do them one by one. The evidence so far from the United States is that legalizing marijuana has greatly reduced the size of the criminal economy in places like Colorado. For Mexican cartels, for some cartels, marijuana makes up about half of all their income. And so taking that away, giving it to the legal sector of the economy, is devastating for them. It's a huge blow against organized crime.
In Switzerland, they've also legalized heroin, which sounds extraordinary, but they've legalized it in a way that gives control of it to doctors. It's a very, very tightly controlled prescription model, in which doctors can prescribe addicts a dose of heroin. And what this means is that those addicts no longer have to steal to fund their habit. And it also means that those addicts, who themselves are very often dealers, have stopped dealing. It seems to be working. And policies in the war on drugs...[read on]