If you thrill to the sight of boats chasing boats, this video of the Coast Guard's "Top 10 Drug Busts" is for you. In a recent press release, the Coast Guard brags that it's been "a record year for cocaine seizures with 355,755 pounds seized, worth more than $4.7 billion." It claims smugglers are "desperate" and cites unusually large seizures as evidence.
Is a rising seizure total a sign of success or a sign that the volume crossing the border has increased? Is an increase in large-volume seizures a sign of smugglers' desperation or a sign that smugglers are not terribly worried about interdiction, treating the risk as a cost of doing business? The press release acknowledges that "smugglers adapt their tactics in response to effective counternarcotic measures." So even "effective" interdiction efforts cannot have a substantial, lasting impact on drug consumption, as Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, conceded in a speech at the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform earlier this month.
However much the Coast Guard seizes, enough drugs always get through to meet the demand. The most drug warriors can expect is to temporarily increase prices by raising traffickers' cost of doing business. Since the cost of replacing seized drugs is very small compared to their retail value, with most of the markup occurring after they arrive in the U.S., interdiction is a highly inefficient way of discouraging drug use. But don't tell John Walters. The drug czar thinks "every load of drugs seized represents that much less that can be used to poison our young people and harm our nation."
[Thanks to Veronique de Rugy for the tip.]