Drug War

Junkies Don't Need Drug Warriors to Save Them From Themselves


Social scientist James Q. Wilson tries to answer—in a way that would warm every wonk's heart—why the tanking job market hasn't produced a spiking crime rate? After all, that is exactly what University of Chicago Nobel laureate Gary Becker would have expected to happen given his theory that crime is a rational way of maximizing utility. That is, people commit crime when the expected utility of devoting time and energy to other activities such as work and leisure diminishes. However, property-related crime rates didn't go up during the Great Depression. But at that time at least American families were intact and kept young people out of trouble, Wilson notes in a City Journal piece. And during the recent recession, crime rates have still fallen significantly despite greater family breakdown.


Wilson offers several possibilities including greater incarceration rates, less exposure to violence-inducing lead paint, and more innovative policing methods such as hot-spot policing. (This involves putting more police officers in known crime hot spots rather than having them patrol around randomly waiting for 911 calls). But the most fascinating explanation is that cocaine use in America has been diminishing steadily for a while for reasons that seem to have little to do with the drug war.

Wilson notes that between 1992 and 2009, the number of people admitting to cocaine or crack use fell by nearly two-thirds. In 1999, 9.8 percent of 12th-grade students said that they had tried cocaine; by 2010, that figure had fallen to 5.5 percent. Also, since casual users who regard coke as a party drug are probably less likely to commit serious crimes than heavier users who may resort to theft and violence to feed their craving, it is useful to nail down whether heavy use has been going up. Wilson reports:

A study by Jonathan Caulkins at Carnegie Mellon University found that the total demand for cocaine dropped between 1988 and 2010, with a sharp decline among both light and heavy users. This fall in demand may help explain why cocaine has become cheaper, despite intense law enforcement efforts aimed at disrupting its distribution. Illegal markets, like legal ones, cut prices when demand falls.

Most fascinating, however, is Wilson's claim that cocaine use among blacks has changed even more dramatically than it has among the population as a whole:

As Latzer points out—and his argument is confirmed by a study by Bruce D. Johnson, Andrew Golub, and Eloise Dunlap—among 13,000 people arrested in Manhattan between 1987 and 1997, a disproportionate number of whom were black, those born between 1948 and 1969 were heavily involved with crack cocaine, but those born after 1969 used little crack and instead smoked marijuana. The reason was simple: the younger African-Americans had known many people who used crack and other hard drugs and wound up in prisons, hospitals, and morgues. The risks of using marijuana were far less serious. This shift in drug use, if the New York City experience is borne out in other locations, can help explain the fall in black inner-city crime rates after the early 1990s.

So what is the moral of the story? Given that blacks started switching from crack to marijuana before a full-blown, Bush-era drug war started terrorizing Americans and killing puppies in search for drug stashes at the wrong addresses, it would suggest that the country won't go to Gomorrah in a hand basket without the benevolent intervention of its drug warriors. Individuals are fallible but they are also rational. They learn from their mistakes. And they are perfectly capable of making distinctions between hard drugs that can really screw them over and soft drugs that can open up infinite vistas in Eric Clapton's guitar riffs.


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  1. Or unemployment benefits have decreased the incentives for committing crime by giving people enough money to support themselves and their families while looking for a new job. Of course, expecting glibertarians to ever give due credit to a government program is like expecting them to understand basic economics.

    1. Unemployment and welfare benefits were far more substantial during the 1970s and 1980s, when most major cities were experiencing large crime waves (especially NYC).

    2. As a ghetto dweller, I can report that crack is very rare these days, but weed is everywhere.

      @ Captain Obvious: You’re too funny!

      Ghetto black, “Well I used to jack Lexises and 62″ flatsqreen TV’s, but I stopped doin’ that when the government started givin’ me $180 a week. Man, that is some weet cash!”


    4. C-. Good effort, but it doesn’t feel right.

      1. It is because he didn’t use the proper amount of lubrication.

    5. Yeah, because unemployment benefits were invented 10 years ago. Ass.

  2. why the tanking job market hasn’t produced a spiking crime rate?

    Fudged numbers. Juked stats. That’s all.

    1. Wherever you go, there you are.

      1. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

        1. the NIH advises to wash the fork before eating

    2. +10 for the reference.

  3. more innovative policing methods such as hot-spot policing. (This involves putting more police officers in known crime hot spots rather than having them patrol around randomly waiting for 911 calls).

    That’s pretty innovative there. Just like I innovated to push the razor blade away from my thumb when cutting rubber hoses, rather than towards it. I’m a genius!

    1. but you didn’t give your innovation a clever name

    2. hot spot policing ALSO creates the impression of alleged racial profiling, btw

      1. not only that, it creates the impression of racial profiling. Think about it.

  4. given that blacks started switching from crack to marijuana before a full-blown, Bush-era drug war started terrorizing Americans and killing puppies in search for drug stashes at the wrong addresses

    Does Shika honestly think that the drug war started under Bush? And if so does Reason not bother to employ editors to catch such whoppers? Even when I agree with her, she still manages to say something completely stupid.

    1. “Does Shika honestly think that the drug war started under Bush?”

      Given that what she wrote doesn’t say that, Imma gonna go with no.

      1. What exactly does “before a full-blown, Bush-era drug war started terrorizing Americans and killing puppies in search for drug stashes at the wrong addresses” mean then?

        1. It means that prior to Bush, no-knock SWAT raids were a lot less common. And she is right.

          If you Google SWAT team and wrong house, you’ll find the overwhelming majority of hits are from the latter half of the 00’s.

          1. No, you will find that they started to get reported on more in the 00s. They were happening long before that. They just didn’t make the news as often.

            1. which just goes to reinforce my point about reasonoids only knowing what they are spoonfed

              1. They seem utterly clueless that they are being manipulated with skillfully applied propaganda.

    2. The drug war, and it’s excessive sentencing, pretty much did get started under George HW Bush. And we’ve been through 8 more Team Red and 10+ Team Blue years of that same failed policy in place.

      1. The real drug war was kicked off under Nixon and got quickly brutal under Rockefeller in New York. The federal minimum mandatories were passed under Reagan.

        Not that either Bush’s were not drug warriors, every President since Nixon has been. But, I don’t see anything particularly “Bush era” about the drug war.

        1. But you didn’t see people getting swat teamed hundreds of times daily (on the national scale) until Dubbya.

          That is what she’s referring to. She isn’t trying to let on that the drug war wasn’t begun until 2001.

          1. I think you actually did. You just hear about it more now because of the web. The drug was was nasty in the 1990s. Bill Clinton’s DOJ put more black people in jail than any President in history up to that point. Is it worse now? Probably. But that is the result of it getting progressively worse pretty much every year since about 1970 not anything in particular that happened under Bush.

            1. Yeah, I don’t where this is coming from. Clinton was every bit the drug warrior that Bush was.

            2. Eh, good point. Maybe it was just a poorly worded sentence referencing the Bush-era segment of the drug war?

              Either way, the way he and his DoJ waged their part of it was shameful.

              1. Yes they were. If only it were just the “Bush DOJ” that were the problem.

                1. Anyway, nice touch with the “killing puppies” line. I laughed out loud. She’s not serious. Is she?

                  1. Probably referring to this SWAT home invasion gone wrong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B…..land_mayor‘s_residence_drug_raid

  5. – Roe v. Wade (aborted fetuses not coming of age to commit crime)

    – Adderall is so cheap and easy to obtain…why pay more?

    – Meth has been substituted for crack among the hard core

    – That ad from the 80’s where an egg in a pan is your brain on drugs.

    I’ll add that in my experience, drug use is like love in that the early stages are characterized by how you feel when the drug or loved one is around, and the later stages are characterized by how you feel when the object of affection is gone.

    1. The substitution of Meth is a really good point, although isn’t Meth more of a white man’s drug? If so that couldn’t explain the drop in cocaine use among blacks.

      1. ime (been in dozens of labs and seen it in the field scores of times) meth is (on the mainland) almost exclusively a white person’s drug

        i have never in my travels encountered a black man or woman in possession of it.

        let alone in a lab environment

        1. That has always been my impression as well.

        2. So it should be on the Stuff White People Like list?

          1. yellow banzi-charge guys luved meth too

            1. i like hot yellow banzi-charge up my butt

              1. face it i luv anyting up my butt

            2. stop thinkin about my butt old mex

        3. I’ve had ghetto Black friends who are into it, which changed my impression that it was mainly a rural white thing. I’ll defer to your experience, though I would think it would expand into Black communities at some point.

    2. Roe v. Wade (aborted fetuses not coming of age to commit crime)

      WTF? It’s a crime rate. They weren’t coming of age to become part of the denominator either.

      Unless of course you think that abortion victims would have higher rates of committing crimes had they been allowed to continue existing, in which case you should:

      1. Read Minority Report, and
      2. Go Fuck Yourself.

      1. “Unless of course you think that abortion victims would have higher rates of committing crimes had they been allowed to continue existing, in which case you should:”

        There is a difference between speaking in the general versus speaking in the specific. Since most abortion victims were the children of poor people, poor people have fewer living children. Having fewer poor children generally lowers the crime rate. That doesn’t mean every abortion victim is a criminal or that abortion should be legal. But it still means we probably have a lower crime rate today because of legal abortion.

        1. correct. fwiw, iirc one of the greatest predictors of future criminality (and social pathology in general) is being the child of a single unwed mother.

          1. “iirc one of the greatest predictors of future criminality (and social pathology in general) is being the child of a single unwed mother.”

            No doubt true, but because this is often used by social conservatives to push policy, I would be more specific and say that one of the greatest predictors of future criminality is being the child of a POOR single unwed mother.

            1. well yes.

              ceteris paribus, i think the studies are clear a kid is better off with a mom and dad (whether divorced or live in) than just one.

              murphy brown type instances (dan quayle was right btw) are rare, though. in the hood, i quite frequently see the low income mom ploppin out kids with various absentee dads, like they are going out of style

              these are people who use the term ‘baby daddy’ w/o irony.

              1. “these are people who use the term ‘baby daddy’ w/o irony”

                i?ro?ny1 ? ?/?a?r?ni, ?a??r-/ Show noun, plural -nies.
                1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning

                Isn’t it ironic that people use words that don’t mean what they think they mean?

                1. it is, alanis

      2. “Unless of course you think that abortion victims would have higher rates of committing crimes had they been allowed to continue existing, in which case you should:”

        This is one of the main points in “Freakonomics”.

  6. Afternoon threadjack. Twenty iconic male roles Helen Mirren would have ruled. I have to admit Shawshank would have been like any movie greatly improved with some good lesbian scenes.


    1. Helen Mirren in a lesbian scene with Morgan Freeman is not appealing to me. Now the scene with Boggs and the sisters would have been spiced up a bit.

      1. It would have been a women’s prison. And her co star in the Tim Robbins role would have been the young Hollywood star of your choice.

        1. Oh, I get it now. I thought she would have looked funny walking into a bank with the warden’s suit on.

          1. By the way, that’s the biggest problem I have with Shawshank. There’s no way in the world a really tall guy like Tim Robbins could Fit in a suit or the shoes worn by a guy like Bob Gunton. He’s like 8 inches taller.

            I’m glad I got that off my chest. It’s always bugged me.

            1. Well there is that and the fact that it is unclear just how the prison never moved Robbins to a different cell for decades and how he managed to break open a metal pipe with a piece of rock.

              1. Old prison, old ceramic sewer pipe.

              2. If the pipe was cast iron, it wouldn’t be that hard to break. It’s very brittle.

                1. Thanks Zeb. My faith in Hollywood has been restored.

                2. Thanks Zeb. My faith in Hollywood has been restored.

                  1. it wasn’t hollywood anyways. it was the stephen king novella. hollywood just made it into a movie

                3. As old as the prison was, it was probably a clay pipe. I broke the shit out of one with a backhoe once. That’s kind of like a rock, right?

                  1. A great point. Wish I’d thought of that.

              3. Maybe it was a CRACK PIPE!

                1. Robbins is white afterall.

      2. And some of them make a lot of sense. Her playing the Nicholson role in a Few Good Men might have made the movie half interesting. She could have put on the airs of a tough mother doing what is necessary to protect those she considered to be her children. It would have been much more interesting than the cliche macho male marine that Nicholson played.

  7. now i smoke weed and own a gun if i am forced to listen to clapton i will do the first and turn the second on myself that is all

    1. If I have to sit around and smoke weed and listen to Clapton, then I’m gonna do my impression of Clapton’s kid.

      1. Some Clapton is okay. His cover of Tulsa Time is pretty good. Cream is good. The stuff he did with John Mayhall is good. He is just wildly overrated and needs to be in a band.

        1. He may be overrated, but he’s also damned good.

          1. He is. But I wonder sometimes about the definition of “good”? How is it that someone like Kieth Richards who wrote a dozens of truly iconic rock riffs and was half of the song writing team of the most successful band in history gets so much less respect as a guitarist than Clapton who in terms of sales and creating iconic songs did half as much?

            1. I think Keith Richards gets plenty of respect/credit generally, but Clapton is a guitar soloist, so he gets more recognition purely as a guitar player. Neither is at the top of my list for guitar players anyway.

              1. Richards is far more impressive for his ability to consume an insane amount of chemicals yet not only not die but grow ever-stronger.

                1. If you read his book Pro, you find out he is probably the greatest drug user of all time for about 10 years or so in the 70s. He was smart enough to understand after you go cold turkey and get through withdrawal and go back to using the shit, you only use a little bit. He says that is how every musician junkie from Gram Parsons to Janice Joplin killed themselves. They got off the shit and then went back to using but used the same amount they were using before. And that kills you.

                  He developed this method of taking heroin and cocaine that allowed him to stay up and work for upwards of a week at a time with no sleep.

                  1. I think he’s found the key to immortality. He’s like a living mummy.

              2. The older I get the more I appreciate Richards. He was a true genius to figure out how to use the open tuned five string guitar. Also, listen to Get Your YaYas out sometime. Him and Mick Taylor trade leads and both play some brilliant stuff. I never appreciated Richards, although I like the Stones, until I really listened to that record closely. There is just some fantastic guitar work on it and not just rhythm work either. And Richards also could play a mean blues guitar when he wants to and is still to this day a great band leader.

                For me the forgotten underrated guitar great is Peter Green. His work on the early Fleetwood Mac records eats any of the blues work Clapton ever did for lunch and then some.

            2. Satisfaction is 3 notes. Listen to SWLABR and get back to me.

              1. I’m hearing “Sunshine of Your Love” right now. Maybe I’m going insane.

              2. So what if it is three notes? Just because any monkey can play it doesn’t mean any monkey can write it. Further, try to reproduce the sound Richards gets out of his amplifier on that song and get back to me. Anyone can play the notes. It is another thing to make the sound.

                1. People would readily argue that Clapton’s tone is harder to produce than Richards’. I’m not going to get into a circle jerk about this; Clapton has been more of the soloist than Richards, and that probably accounts for a lot.

                  I love Cream, and I love the Stones, and arguing over who is the best guitarist is an exercise in wankery. The best two guitarists I’ve ever seen live are John McLaughlin and John Scofield, anyway.

                  1. I’m fond of both groups’ music.

                  2. I like Jazz but I am not a big Jazz guitarist fan. So I see your McLaughlin and Scofield and raise you a Leo Kottke. In terms of pure mind blowing skill, I will take him over pretty much anyone. But there is more to music than pure skill.

                  3. And one last thing, two massively underrated guitarists are Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. The reason why Clapton gets too much credit and guys like Simon and Nelson and Richards get too little credit, is that we concentrate too much on my guitar can kill yours and not enough on who can actually play within the context of the song and add something to it.

                2. yea. doing less with more is more impressive than playing a whole bunch of notes.

                  e.g. yngwie malmsteen

                  satisfaction also works. that riff is iconic. i remember buying the single and playing it like 20 times in a row. THAT’s why richards is a great guitarist.

                  again, and i say this AS a guitarist. it’s not about technical skill. it’s about the music you make.

            3. “Kieth Richards who wrote a dozens of truly iconic rock riffs”

              He would tell you himself that he lifted them from others.

              1. Great artists steal Pip. They guys he lifted them from, lifted what they played from others. It is called song writing.

                1. jeez – watch some vintage videos of Leo Kottke and then talk about guitar playing.

                  1. When I was in college my roommate was way into Kottke. The first thing I thought when I heard him was “who is he playing with”. How all that sound is him is still beyond me.

                    1. some of the best guitarists are guys most people have never heard of. they are primarily studio artists, that people in the know hire to make THEIR music sound better.

                      earl slick is one such example


                      of course that raises the question – is a guitarist “better” if he has such an identifiable sound/style that you can always recognize him OR is he better if he can play/sound anything, such that he can work with various artists and always sound good,but not overshadow them

                      it’s all a bunch of wankage, frankly. arguing about art.

                      i continually reference, the edge. it was his lackof technical prowess that helped him create his unique sound, approach, etc. and god knows if U2 had some “guitar god” who sounded like clapton, etc. they probably never would have gotten far from their irish garage.

                      playing guitar is ultimately about making music that people want to hear. and of course how a guitarist interacts and creates a greater sum of parts with a BAND is key – unless he is a solo artist.

                      another great guitarist is slash. he pretty much makes any band sound better, whether velvet revolver, or guns and roses, etc.

                      sweet child o mine is right up there (imo)with satisfaction in terms of iconic riffs

    2. Different people have different tastes in music. Imagine that.

      1. Yeah. but if they couldn’t argue and look down upon each other over it, what fun would it be?

      2. No they don’t, you damned Scotch drinker.

        1. Corn swilling Philistine.
          (Actually, I have no problem with Bourbon, I apreciate all of the world’s whisk(e)ys (well, maybe not Canadian)).

          1. I’ve just never liked Scotch. The American variations work for me–Tennessee or Kentucky. Canadian, yeah, well, no.

      3. Yes, but only one of them is right.

      4. Doc fucking Watson. That is all.

        1. And you can’t say Doc Watson without saying Chet fucking Atkins.

        2. “Doc fucking Watson. That is all.”

          And Mississippi John Hurt.

    3. Did you HAVE to start a long, boring conversation about musicians and music?

      1. They feel a certain liberty to do so here.

        1. Fuck a bunch o liberty.

  8. “They learn from their mistakes. “

    I work with the local family courts and see kids coming from deplorable situations weekly. I’d go a step farther and bet a study could prove that people aren’t learning from their mistakes, but from the mistakes of others either close to them or others they have a significant exposure to. I talk to a lot of kids that say they don’t want to end up like soandso crackhead because they’ve seen what it does.

    1. anybody who spends any time dealing with professional fuckups (no, not my coworkers… our clients) know that this is true

      these are the kind of people that will challenge the guy next to them at an intersection to a RACE and then do 80 in a 35 mph zone, just begging to be caught and arrested WHILE carrying a stolen gun and tons of blow.

      that’s the kind of fuck-ups we deal with

      1. Prisons are sometimes a good thing.

  9. Lead paint – that’s gotta be it!

    1. Not sure how sarcastic you are being, but it looks like there might be something to this. Lead exposure at a young age really messes with intelligence and self control.

      But nothing in the real world has a single cause, and I am sure that lead is just one of many factors in why the US is less violent than it used to be.

  10. “less exposure to violence-inducing lead paint”

    I did not know this.

  11. OT:I am amazed the dog made it out alive

    Also, we need an “Afternoon Links” thread for those of us out here in the hills.

    1. I love all of the passive voice

      An encounter between the man and officers ensued and shots were fired, North Miami Beach police spokesman Sgt. Warren Hardison said. The man was flown to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

      No you brain dead flat foot. The police confronted a man with a toy gun and shot and killed him. And the media just repeats this shit. These things just kind of happen I guess. No one seems to know how.

      1. Shots were fired. Mistakes were made.

        Culpability was obfuscated.

        1. Medals were awarded.

          1. And vacations were taken.

      2. I knew you would pick up on that…pissed me off too.

        1. It is one of my pet peeves. I never noticed it until Reason pointed it out to me. Now I can never ignore it. And it drives me crazy.

      3. But I bet procedures were followed. That’s the important thing.

      4. cops frequently write (i teach my recruits generally not to) in the passive voice. media, especially when quoting cops, will repeat the pattern

        i don’t see a problem with this shooting btw. many toy guns look very very real

        we had a guy call in a “gun in a ditch” by the side of the road.

        turned out to be a toy

        1. I see a big problem with it. Did the cops tell him to drop the gun? Did he ever point it at them? So what he had what they thought was a gun. That doesn’t give them the right to shoot him unless they reasonably believed they were in danger, which takes more than just someone having what appears to be a gun.

          1. Good points. I think there is too little detail on this story to know whether the shooting was reasonable or not.

            1. right. which is why i say “i see no problem”

              if it was or wasn’t justified, i have no fucking idea.

              i do know however that whether a gun is a toy or not, unless OBVIOUSLY a toy, has next to no relevance in whether a shooting is justified.

              because the vast majority of the time, it’s not distinguishable

              once a guy pulled a gun ( i was about 5 ft from him) and held it to his head.

              i was actually thinking it very well may have been fake. it looked kind of fake.

              once he pulled the trigger and splattered his brains, i realized it definitely was not fake.

            2. exactly. i said i saw no problem.

              i didn’t say it was justified. too little facts to tell

            3. ditto.

              i was clear i i “don’t see a problem”

              it doesn’t therefore follow it was in fact a good shoot. may have been. who fucking knows?

            4. absolutely.

              that’s why i said i saw no problem. not the same thing.

            5. of course. fwiw, i said i saw no problem, not that i concluded the shooting was reasonable.

            6. absolutely.

              fwiw,i said i saw no problem with it, not that it was reasonable. too little case facts to make the latter determination

        2. I find a gun in a ditch, I’m thinking “hey, free gun!” not “OMG I should call the cops!”

          1. lol. saves us the paperwork

            btw, iirc the only two kinds of found property you cannot claim (iow keep after a waiting period) in WA state are firearms and vehicles.

            and of course contraband – iow items otherwise unlawful to possess.

  12. I loved this headline:
    “Trucks Dump Marijuana Load; Bystanders Flee with Pot”


    1. I aint no xpert but dat der photo looks like arugula.

      1. Hah, seriously, shit looks like dandelion.

  13. I thought Coke use was down because Charlie Sheen was using it all up.

    1. “…like Kieth Richards telling kids not to do drugs. WE CANT KIETH, YOU DID THEM ALL! We have to wait until you die and smoke your ashes!”

      1. Yours was better.

        1. Dennis Leary, No Cure for Cancer…one of the best routines ever.

          1. Yeah. You should watch the Bill Hicks routines Leary stole the funny stuff from.

            1. Yeah, I used to think that Leary was awesome until I was turned on to Bill Hicks. I still like the “I’m an asshole” song quite a bit, though.

              1. No doubt Leary has some talent. Rescue Me is actually pretty good. He did steal a good bit of that first show from Hicks.

  14. Maybe it’s video games. You’re young, you’re bored, you need an adrenaline rush, you’d like a little cash or a new toy, a little B&E starts to sound like fun.

    OR, you can stay home and blow the shit out of some people in Halo, teabag their faces, and tell them what pussies they are. You don’t really need that money, you just want it. Halo sounds better than jail – or an unexpected homeowner with a gun.

    The problem with many economic models of crime is that they assume that all benefits of crime are in the form of material gain. I doubt that’s true.

    1. That is a very good point. I always thought Becker was the classic example of an economist knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Becker’s thesis really is pretty stupid when you think about it. It totally devalues the social stigma of being a criminal, the risk averse nature of people, the huge fear most people have of jail, and the non economic reasons, like revenge or thrill seeking, that people commit crimes.

  15. But… but… the children! Won’t anybody think of the children?!

  16. Radley Balko is still kicking nuts over at HUFFPO


    1. It’s a damn shame reason doesn’t link to all Balko posts over at huffpo, though my balls, no doubt, appreciate it.

      Also, did you click on the link of the cop having sex on his car?

      1. That one is funny and disturbing.

  17. I blame violent video games, home-delivered movies, and the internet. Why go out and commit crimes when there’s so much cheap entertainment readily available?

    1. My thoughts exactly, CE.

  18. If my understanding is correct, a significant percentage of convicts are in prison for drug charges. Perhaps crime hasn’t spiked because people are already getting all the drugs they want. After all, people don’t eat more when their is a down economy why would they take more drugs.

    They should break it out into property crimes (theft, shoplifting, etc.) and see if those spiked. They would seem to be more in line with Becker’s theory.

    Perhaps the study did this but I am too lazy to check.

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