Monday, April 12, 2004

Drug War Follies

Eugene points to a news story about a man who complained to the police about a woman who stole his drugs:
[Police officer Philip] Anelli said the man told him that he and a woman were riding around when he decided to pay for two rocks of crack cocaine. The man planned to smoke one of the rocks and give the other to the woman in exchange for sexual favors. The plan was apparently moving along fine, until the woman smoked both rocks and then ran off without giving up any favors.
After being told that he, too, would likely be in legal trouble if his story were confirmed, the man “weighed his options, then told authorities that he felt like he and the woman could work out the problem on their own, without help from police.”

A pretty funny story, but there’s a serious point here. The illegality of drugs and prostitution means the justice system cannot help people enforce their contracts and property rights in those markets. And that’s exactly why black markets are typically characterized by violence. If a drug dealer wants people who transact with him to know he won’t put up with being defrauded, he has to hire thugs to punish those who defraud him. If a prostitute wants to be sure she’ll get paid for her services, she hires a pimp to pressure the recalcitrant johns. People with a comparative advantage in violence naturally get pulled into these professions, with predictably brutal results. In the story above, I have to wonder… what methods might this fellow have had in mind to “work out the problem on their own”?

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