Border wall

'The Wall Will Stop the Drugs,' Trump Promises. No, It Won't.

Smugglers will always find ways through, under, over, and around whatever barriers the government erects.



"The wall will stop the drugs," Donald Trump promised in a recent interview with the Associated Press, reaffirming his simpleminded faith in the power of interdiction to prevent Americans from getting the psychoactive substances they want. Although drugs from Latin America are "coming around [border barriers] in certain areas," the president explained, "if you have a wall, they can't do it because it's a real wall." Thanks to the real wall, he said, "we'll stop all of it."

No, they won't. As Theresa Cardinal Brown explains in the May issue of Reason, "drug smugglers have already beaten Trump's wall" through a variety of evasive maneuvers, such as hiding drugs inside shipments going through the wall at legal points of entry, using tunnels to carry drugs under the wall, flying or catapulting drugs over the wall, and transporting drugs around the wall on boats and submarines. Thanks to prohibition, Brown notes, "the profit incentives to find ways over, under, around, or through any border infrastructure are high, and the cartels have more than enough money to spend on R&D."

When Trump allows himself to contemplate the possibility that his wall will be less than 100 percent effective at stopping heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana from entering the country, he still thinks the barrier's boost to interdiction efforts will be wll worth the money spent to build it. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that Trump's wall will cost about $22 billion, and Senate Democrats say the tab will be closer to $70 billion. But "I think I'll do it for $10 billion or less," Trump told A.P. "If we stop 1 percent of the drugs because we have the wall…that's a tremendously good investment."

It's a mystery how Trump made that calculation, but it seems to depend on the assumption that stopping 1 percent of drug shipments means reducing the supply of drugs by 1 percent. That is not how interdiction works, to the extent that it works at all. Cartels replace the drugs lost to interdiction, and they can do so pretty cheaply, since drugs acquire the vast majority of their value after entering the country. Given the economics of prohibition, the most drug warriors can reasonably hope to accomplish by intercepting shipments is forcing drug dealers to charge their customers more by raising production and distribution costs. But because the replacement cost is low, interdiction is unlikely to have a significant and lasting impact on retail prices.

"With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply," a 2013 study published by BMJ Open concluded, "illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing." There is no reason to expect that seizing 1 percent of incoming drugs would have a noticeable effect on consumption, let alone enough to justify the cost of Trump's wall.

Trump either does not understand any of this or assumes that voters don't. "I'm going to create borders," he promised in a campaign video. "No drugs are coming in. We're gonna build a wall. You know what I'm talking about. You have confidence in me. Believe me, I will solve the problem." While Trump's promises may sound especially grandiose and childlike, any politician who pushes supply-side solutions to drug abuse is engaged in the same basic scam.

NEXT: Brickbat: Tough Crowd

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  1. This is your president on Alzheimer’s.

  2. Even President Camacho wouldn’t say this crap.

  3. Somehow this is Obama’s fault. No wait — Elizabeth Warren’s.

    1. Your sarcasm loses its punch when one realizes that both Obama and Warren oppose the legalization of even marijuana.

  4. But this way, fedgov can funnel billions of pork dollars to LE and community organizations AND cry about the children AND look TOUGH ON CRIME. Drug war spending is the perfect slush fund!

    Remember, the standard drug warrior line is that drugs cause poverty and violence. They do not understand causality when it comes to deleterious socioeconomic effects of the drug war. They truly believe, or are cynical enough to lie, that more enforcement and more incarcerationwill prevent drug use.

    This is only true if the penalties are truly horrific and go beyond even mass incarceration. Capital punishment, torture, punishing families. North Korea-level shit. And not even then. The prices go up, the black market gets blacker, criminal incentives go up.

    1. When the penalties get high enough, there’s nothing to lose by shooting it out during a raid or just murdering the cop that pulls a suspect over.

  5. “You know what I’m talking about. You have confidence in me. Believe me, I will solve the problem.”

    Did he really say that? It almost sounds like hypnotic suggestion.

  6. Sessions is either cynical, a liar, or dumber than shit. Awful AG pick. He might be the primary reason Dolan is a one-termer. Besides Uncle Dolan himself.

  7. Okay, that’s 101 dollars for that gram of coke. Sorry about the price increase.

  8. Prison walls don’t stop the drugs, Mr. President.

  9. Since our very own CIA is the biggest importer of drugs into this country I would assume the only way to stop it is get rid of the CIA. What a novel idea

  10. “It’s a mystery how Trump made that calculation”

    No, it’s a mystery that you think Trump makes calculations, Everything Trump says is for effect. The whole reason he’s now talking about drugs rather than “illegals” is that he’s figured out that “everyone” hates drugs, but not everyone hates illegals (because they’re total pussies, I guess). In Trumpland, only losers try to make factual arguments. You think you’re going to move properties by telling a guy the roof leaks? Look, there are only two kinds of people in the world, pricks and pussies. Which are you?

  11. ah, yes, of course. walls stop drugs. obviously. this is why there are no drugs in federal or state prisons.

    oh, wait?


  13. Locked doors don’t stop burglars, either, so take them off.

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