Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why the "War on . . ." is Stupid: Combatting Demand Side Problems with Supply Side Solutions

Warning - this blog post is going to be esoteric, and if you don't understand economics, you might get lost.

For the past thirty years, the U.S. has fought "wars" on drugs, terrorism, and illegal immigration. Each time, some politician gets up on stage, makes some kind of pronouncement and we end up spending billions of dollars without anyone taking the time to think if these strategies work. And, for the most part, they don't.

The problem, as I see it, is that politicians use the wrong strategy for dealing with a societal issue. Let's take the War on Drugs, for example. Drugs like heroin and cocaine are dangerous, addictive drugs that destroy families and threaten the fabric of our society. So, in response to this threat, politicians seek to destroy the supply of drugs by making them illegal to sell, possess and use. Additionally, the military and militaristic police forces arrest drug dealers and destroy whatever drugs they can find.

But after thirty years of fighting this war, drugs are still available, still used, and still destroy families. Worse yet, drug cartels have responded to the use of the military by becoming militarized themselves. Northern Mexico is now basically a war zone. Moreover, where drugs like cocaine and heroin are unavailable, people have switched to meth or prescription drugs. It is as if we are dogs chasing our tails.

The reason for this condundrum is that while we are attacking the supply of drugs, we are not attacking the reason why people use drugs in the first place. People like taking drugs because drugs are effective in providing a short-term escape from life. Because of this fact, drugs have a limitless supply, as people can shift from one type of drug to another.

With terrorism, its the same thing. The initial response to terrorism is to kill all terrorists. Okay, that makes sense, but presupposes there is a finite number of terrorists. The problem is that if the methods of killing terrorists inflame the populace, the number of terrorists and potential terrorists becomes so high that its impossible to kill all terrorists. Look at Israel and Palestine - after 40-50 years of warfare, the Palestinians are so inflamed that terrorist organizations were able to use suicide bombers - throw away terrorists - to carry out attacks. Its entirely possible that Hamas killed more terrorists through suicide bombing than Israel did through conventional methods. The supply side solution is impossible to achieve because the demand is such that supply is infinite.

The same can be said for immigration - making migration from Mexico into the U.S. actually spurred immigration because migrant workers could no longer go back home and immigrated instead.

Now, I'm not saying that there's no supply-side solution. Osama bin Laden should be brought to justice, for instance, and no one cries over the dead body of Pablo Escobar, but a War On. . .is just plain stupid.

By the way, in the case of Escobar, and more importantly, Medillin, the solution to the Colombian drug wars was both supply-side (fight drug cartels) and demand-side (economic development). As a result, Colombia is currently flourishing.

No comments:

Post a Comment