Drug Entrepreneurs


"Much of what we call `crime,' is actually work," observes University of Illinois sociologist John M. Hagedorn in a startling new report, The Business of Drug Dealing in Milwaukee, from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI).

Hagedorn, who has also performed a five-year study of drug dealing for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, applies the insights of management guru Peter Drucker and Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto to inner-city Milwaukee. He concludes that crack dealing "is in many ways an innovative, entrepreneurial, small business venture," part of an informal economy that gives people with little education or money an opportunity to make a living.

Information from Hagedorn's detailed, anonymous surveys of 28 drug dealers in two Milwaukee neighborhoods indicates that "most drug entrepreneurs are hard working, but not super-rich," grossing $1,000 to $5,000 a month. He also finds that "most drug entrepreneurs aren't particularly violent," with two-thirds reporting less than one violent incident a month.

The WPRI is a conservative think tank, while Hagedorn notes his own "long history of left wing activism." In his conclusion, he calls for a dialogue between left and right aimed at reducing the harmful consequences of the war on drugs. "Our drug policy is held captive to politics rather than rationality," he writes, suggesting "more toleration–a `look the other way policy'–for most non-violent, productive, informal economic activity." Hagedorn's report is available at www.wpri.org.