Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dealing Drugs Keeps Criminals Off The Streets

Interesting point at Ace of Spades:

Next, the idea that criminal drug-dealers will suddenly become law-abiding drug dealers is perplexing.

Let me explain. Drug dealers do not deal drugs because it's a family tradition, like alfalfa farmers in Montana. They do not choose to deal drugs because they just love dealing drugs.

They are criminals, by choice. They have chosen to deal drugs, choosing that particular trade, over other criminal activities, not over legal activities.

What they are after is money. The choose to smuggle, manufacture, and sell drugs because it makes them a lot of money. And even though this money comes at a high non-monetary cost -- namely, intrusive investigations by cops, bizarre personal lives, and the prospect of spending many years in jail -- they've chosen this profession. The monetary benefits, they've decided, outweigh the non-monetary costs of obtaining the money.

Now, legalization opponents often suggest that drug dealers who make large profits on their product will simply continue selling drugs in a decriminaliztion regime, despite the fact that profits will drop to normal levels. Like, what a shopkeeper makes, maybe 6-10% profit on any particular item, rather than the 200-1000% profits they currently enjoy in a regime of criminalization.

This is silly. The drug dealers are drawn into the trade by the profits, not the product. They are willing to risk prison in order to get those profits. They became drug dealers in the first place for those profits.

In a decriminalization regime, such profits-at-the-expense-of-lawbreaking types will not, by and large, simply start selling legalized pot at small 6-10% mark-ups. If they were content with such mark-ups, they could have just bought a 7-11 franchise, or opened up a comic-book shop. They didn't. And they didn't, of course, because they want the profits. They don't care about the drugs per se. They have chosen a profession in which they're willing to make huge profits in exchange for risks to their freedom and lives.

The option of selling legal, normal-profits good was open to them, as it has been open to everyone. They chose against it. If they were content with this level of small profit for lots of work, they could have just opened a hardware store after making a certain level of money in the drug trade. By and large, they don't currently do so, so they won't do so if drugs become an good which earns a more typical profit level.

Which means that the criminals now selling high-profit contraband will not now suddenly turn to selling normal-profit legal goods. Again, they always could have done that; they chose against it. Instead they will turn to other huge-profit criminal activities, whether selling other contraband or heisting your TV out of your home.

To some extent, I guess, there will be "layoffs" in the criminal sector, because a nation can only support so large of a criminal industry (and will only permit so large of a criminal industry). So there may be some reduction in criminal behavior -- but many, perhaps most, of our current criminal class which just happens to be in the drug trade will turn to other criminal activities which afford them the profit levels they seek. If pot no longer offers those profits, they'll turn to importing women into forcible prostitution or armed robbery. Or whatever. What they won't do is become respectable businessmen, making normal levels of profits at the costs of lots of work and financial risk.

Because, again, they always had the option to a toy store. They didn't, not because they're so in love with the profession of the drug trade, but because they're in love with earning profits their legitimate skill-set and abilities wouldn't normally entitle them to. The one part of the skill-set they have, the one thing that makes them money, is the willingness to kill and beat people who threaten their trade, and their willingness to be killed or imprisoned in pursuit of that trade. Their skill-set, in short, is mostly the acceptance that life is cheap, and that is ultimately what makes them their nut.

And the legalization of drugs will not change this. They will not become more skilled in legitimate ways than they were before; their stock in trade will continue to be violence and a willingness to break laws and chance jail. And they will simply migrate to other criminal endeavors...

1 comment:

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

What an excellent insight! Thanks for posting this!