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Becker suggests:
"Elsewhere I have discuss why the US should decriminalize and legalize drugs (see, for example, my post on 3/20/2005 called “The Failure of the War on Drugs”). If the US were to do that, the prison population would eventually fall by over 30%."

Decriminalization in the case of MJ is likely the right approach, we did it in Alaska with seemingly few bad side effects. But! for harder drugs it's not politically or ethically right and with lesser or no penalties it would seem predictable that we'd have more addicts and a higher volume, though lower margin, drug business.

How about something in between?

Neither of our profs touched on what seems evident to any economist, that of ever dollar and "success" of the DEA and other enforcement efforts simply increasing the price spread between grower and "street price". It's just a perfect example of pure supply and demand as a prospective "mule" with a starving family to feed who turns down $10,000 for the risk/reward being unattractive need only wait a short time for P to increase and generate a $20,000 commish on the delivery. When the consumer price soars, all they are accomplishing is to force the addict to engage in more vices including that of becoming a small time dealer themselves.

Ha! the US KNOWS how to wreck a business and from time to time does so like a destroyer running down a small sailboat and never even noticing.

Here's the formula I presented a quarter century ago using well established economic principles:

1. Continue to interdict and make it a costly enterprise to transport and sell drugs.

2. Using intercepted drugs (tested of course) or other, to cheaply supply existing addicts who'll come in to a street front clinic (where they won't be treated as criminals) while gently encouraging them to enter drug treatment on demand programs.

Even in the unlikely case that this program doesn't lower the number of addicts we'll have stolen the consumer from the marketer and ruined his necessarily high margins and enjoy a much lower crime rate as the desperate addict "comes in" rather than going out stealing, selling drugs or engaging in prostitution, or god-forbid becoming a WS thief.

Next? In both urban and rural ghettos of high unemployment and dismal wages there has to be a public/private (or ANY) means of providing job training and jobs. The branch of econ that deals with real people and their motivations, or lack of such, would easily understand that corralling millions in urban or rural areas of 20% unemployment would easily predict that they aren't going to starve with a high percentage turning to crime.


Would most children of drug users agree that drug possession is a "victimless" crime?


Oh come on! And the best way to protect those children is to incarcerate their parents? Besides, it's not the drug possession which harms them! Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or even drinking coffee during pregnancy may irreversibly harm the fetus, but does this ipso facto mean we should put all coffee drinkers to prison?


There are arguments for not incarcerating drug user parents, but it distorts reality and the English language to suggest that children of drug users are not "victims." And it is a rhetorical evasion to say that drug possession by parents does not harm children; by the same logic, parents should be allowed to keep dynamite in the house unless there is a mishap and it blows up the kids.


It's hard to endure this pure utilitarian analysis of the Amerikan incarceration problem.

It is a question of liberty, not of cost-benefit.

I have to say that here, in Amerika, I feel like a concentration-camp intern, and I suspect that, after the coming revolution or liberation, I would work to free all drug users and see to it that our Himmlers, Eichmanns, Bormans, and Mengeles (most of whom are cops, prosecutors, judges and politicians) be dealt with harshly, with many no doubt suffering the extreme penalty.

I have the aptitude and training to serve as any of those oppressors, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, because I simply can't understand how any person could serve such a corrupt and racist system that so ruins the lives of so many over totally victimless crimes.

Am I the only Amerikan who feels this way?

I suggest that the extreme system of crime prosecution and incarceration we endure in Amerika has costs that neither Becker nor Posner has yet discussed, namely: it interferes with a person's choice of career and it will result in high costs to many in high positions after the revolution.

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A society can be thought of as a collection of private and public systems. At present a number of these systems in American society are under stress: the medical system, the educational system (other than elite private schooling and elite university education), the political system (especially at the legislative level), the finance industry, the fiscal system (including taxation, borrowing, and spending at all levels of government), transportation infrastructure, the regulation and assimilation of immigrants, and perhaps others. In contrast, foreign affairs, the military (and national security generally), and industries such as retailing, the production of intellectual property, computer technology, and the production of pharmaceuticals and medical technology are areas of great national strength.


Tans..... agreed. And it is for "the kids" and other reasons like stoned folks on the job and highways that I stop short of decriminalizing, except for MJ, in my plan above your comment.

Here's the basis of the Ravin decision in Alaska where our Constitution has an even higher protection of privacy than that of the US:

As seems obvious in a world of alcohol, cigs, prescription and OTC drugs the "harm" of MJ was not found significant enough to overcome the privacy of one's castle or log cabin. In the case of heroin and other harder and clearly addictive drugs the "state's interest:" then overwhelms that of individual privacy.

Ha! Where we are now, is that a decade or so ago some idiot running for the Legislature and needing some "law 'n order" votes to pull it off campaigned on passing a law to recrim.... MJ.... which took place. But the law tends not to be enforced in the "personal use" quantities set out by the Ravin decision as such prosecution is likely to revisit Ravin and knock out the existing law. Thus...... we're not filling our prisons with those having an ounce of MJ at home.

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Having higher numbers of occupants per existing structure doesn't bode well for selling off the homes having fallen or about to fall into the laps of bankers.All of the sci-fi stories pointed to a shorter work week, more leisure time and industries developing around increased leisure time coupled with the income to enjoy it. We have nothing like that in place or even in mind. Instead those desperate for any kind of job are to work longer hours for less pay and be appreciative for their opportunity.

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We have nothing like that in place or even in mind. Instead those desperate for any kind of job are to work longer hours for less pay and be appreciative for their opportunity.

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As compared to the post-World War II era, Americans with high school diplomas today are much less likely to find manufacturing jobs, because there are 2-3 billion people in emerging economies with similar skills who are willing to work more cheaply in order to have a shot at attaining a middle class standard of living.

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Global demographics instruct that manufacturing job growth in nations with emerging economies will continue to outpace manufacturing job growth in America.


Thank you kindly, Jack. By the way, I find your idea for rationalizing drug crime policy persuasive, with one caveat. We would need to come up with some enforceable time limit on how long existing addicts could avail themselves of government-sponsored treatment programs.


Taans -- Yep. Like all programs dealing with human kind and particularly the problem cases, nothing approaching perfection is going to be the case.

There's two (or more) goals here: At some level of drug use people can still function in society and we'd rather not have them put their often manic energies into vice and "scoring". ie...... maintaining at low cost to society.

The other is that of rehabbing the individual, of great value to the individual and society. The prison/criminal program seems about the worst thing imaginable for either of these goals.

W/o careful controls and tight over sight there'd be risk of the well-meaning program becoming corrupted and sort of a semi-sanctioned drug industry of its own......... as is the case to some extent with prescription drugs.

Here in Anchorage with some number of homeless dying in the fierce cold each year, we're doing more to provide basic housing... amid flack of "coddling drunks" but at reasonable cost an old motel has been rehabbed with very small rooms and with certain rules.

(We've long had some other shelter and food programs)

I'm not sure how it turns out, but those who've fallen out of the "system" and through the fairly wide meshes of our tattered safety net, often have a tougher time finding a job, for not having a place to clean up, a simple phone contact, etc.

Ha! unless we've simply gotten a huge batch of "bad blood" we should be able to figure out A. how we once imprisoned a far lower percentage but had similar crime rates B. How nearly every other "advanced" nation manages to have a fifth of our percentage of lock-ups but enjoy similar rates of crime.


The US imprisons its poor and social deviants to limit their role in our society. This is a purposeful policy, though detrimental. There is a very large parasite economy built around the imprisonment and enslavement of our poverty class. It costs tax payers substantially, but it feeds the cancer bureacracy started by FDR.


One phenomena that all of this does not take into account is that of the fundamental philosophy of punishment. The use of incarceration is a fairly new approach to punishment. In the past, punishment was more "retributive". Such that public humilation, the use of the stocks, flogging, ostracizing, banishment (anyone remember "aqua et igni interdicto") and at the exterme level execution. This style of sentencing and its guidelines mitigated the numbers who were incarcerated and the subsequent cost for continued incarceration.

Perhaps from a purely "Cost" standpoint, we need to move from our "Reformist" (and use of incarceration) theory of Punishment and return to the use of a more "Retributivist" theory. This would clearly clean out the prisons and reduce budgetary expenditures.


Apart from ostracization or exile (more or less the same thing), all forms of punishment amount to incarceration in the sense the criminal's volition is restricted.


Perhaps stocks, flogging, ostracizing, and banishment would be good in the case of WS thieves and corrupt politicians ... mebbe tattoo a scarlet letter on 'em too? Not execution, though, at least not before getting a decade or so of productive work out of 'em!

With much of our "prison problem" relating to various drug related crimes I doubt that given the anonymity possible in our cities and states that it would have the effect it might have had in colonial Salem. Nor does it seem that further degradation would be helpful for those pushed into various vices by their addictions. I'd worry too, with the way junk journalism works that we'd likely be enhancing starlet's film career or boost sales for a rapper. But then from a cost standpoint if we could tap the income stream putting badboy or girl "stars" in stocks? Well, we've commercialized about everything else, eh?

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Jack -- consider the fact that Jeff Skilling, formerly of Enron, and Bernie Ebbers, formerly of Worldcom, both members of the supposed "one percent" in their heyday, are in prison. Just two examples of high level corporate crooks that were prosecuted, tried, and imprisoned by the Bush Adminstration, which you and others so despise.

So tell us -- who are the big corporate names that your buddy Obama has put in jail?

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