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Open Thread

Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days.

I’ve been a judge at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Palatine, Illinois. It wraps up today, and this afternoon I’ll be presenting the awards along with the other two judges.

It’s been an excellent Festival with a great selection of independent films this year.

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If you want people to think you’re infallible, it’s probably best not to say stupid things.

The Pope has made it clear that he’s completely clueless about drug policy, adding just one more data point to the list of the Catholic Church’s embarrassing blunders throughout history (hello, Galileo).

RIO DE JANEIRO – The legalization of drugs will not reduce the problems of addiction, Pope Francis said Wednesday at a hospital in Brazil dedicated to the rehabilitation of drug users.

“A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” the Pope said.

“The scourge of drug-trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage.”

Yes. And that act of courage just happens to be legalization. What did you think it was?

What the Pope does here is simply mouth some non-sequitors and meaningless platitudes, along with using strawman arguments.

He should be embarrassed, but quite frankly, I doubt he’s aware enough.

And so, if his words are followed, the drug trafficking organizations will continue to use violence to get rich and the governments will use violence to go after them and the people stuck in the middle will die.

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When the good cops get fired, what do you have left?

This would be a good time to remind people to read Radley Balko’s excellent book: “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces

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A false reading of legalization’s effects

Over at the “Reality-Based Community,” Keith Humphreys has a post: How Legalization Can Expand a Black Market

In it, he claims: “new research from the London School of Economics shows that legalizing prostitution increases, rather than decreases, human trafficking.”

This, he feels, gives him the authority to proclaim:

But in the meantime, wise heads in the policy world will not take it as a given that legalizing something will necessarily shrink the black market.

Wrong.

First of all, the commenters over there have already destroyed the argument by noting at least two major flaws: the lack of accepted global standards regarding the definition of human trafficking; and the fact that the study doesn’t explore methods of regulation.

But let’s go to the study itself.

If Keith had bothered to read the entire article, he would have found the authors note that the study methodology:

…cannot provide a conclusion as to whether legalizing prostitution would result in increased trafficking after legalization.

In order to come up with the conclusions that Keith loved, they had to turn to anecdotal information.

There may be some useful information in the data gathered by this study — but there certainly isn’t any in the way of supported evidence regarding regulated legalization of prostitution and the effect on human trafficking.

Keith makes another bone-headed statement in his post:

…demand for prostitution, gambling, drugs and the like is highly elastic. When the demand-suppressing effect of illegality is removed, demand can increase, sometimes dramatically.

Yes, it’s true that when illegality is removed, demand can increase, sometimes dramatically. However, that doesn’t have anything to do with elasticity.

Elasticity is an economic term that measures how much one economic variable affects others (not the effects of something like legalization). People like Humphreys often claim that demand for drugs is highly elastic because it supports their view that if we raise prices we can control use. And they use as evidence articles that show an increase in prices reducing overall use (which is not evidence of whether a commodity is relatively inelastic or relatively elastic, but simply a matter of whether it is elastic at all — which pretty much everything is).

Here’s a brief description of elasticity:

Assume the following:

  • If I sell a prime rib dinner at $15, 100 people will buy it.
  • If I raise the price to $20, only 60 people will buy it.

This is clearly a situation of relative elasticity. When I raise the price, not only did the numbers buying go down, but they went down so significantly that I go from bringing in $1,500 to only bringing in $1,200.
Instead assume:

  • If I sell a lobster dinner at $15, 100 people will buy it.
  • If I raise the price to $20, only 90 people will buy it.

This is a situation of relative inelasticity. Sure, the total number of people buying it went down, but now instead of bringing in $1,500, I am actually bringing in $1,800! Most people were willing to pay the increased price, and so I can benefit from raising the price. (That’ll change, of course, if a restaurant down the street offers lobster at $18).

With illegal drugs (and gambling and prostitution), as long as competition isn’t there to drive the price down, or you haven’t maxed out the PED (price elasticity of demand), suppliers can raise the price and people will pay it. Sure, a few will drop out, but enough will pay it to make the suppliers realize an overall increase in revenue, making them stinking rich. They will continue to raise that price until it reaches that maximum.

That is price elasticity of demand in its basic form. (Note, there is also price elasticity of supply as well as other economic functions.)

The junk economics used by Humphreys doesn’t help add any reality to the community.

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Cracked

The media and politicians who were proclaiming that an entire generation of “crack babies” would be nothing but ruined lives must have been… smoking crack.

Of course, we all know that the “crack baby” scare was a complete myth, but it was an extremly powerful one at the time. And the basic idea behind it continues to resurface from time to time, as someone proclaims that another drug is going to cause a generation of zombie babies.

I had not realized that the study of “crack babies” had actually still been continuing until reading this article: ‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result

The study actually followed a group of over 200 low-income families, half of whom had babies while the mother was on crack, and half without drugs being involved. Followed for 23 years.

The researchers consistently found no significant differences between the cocaine-exposed children and the controls.

[thanks, darkcycle]

Someone should make a sci-fi movie, set in the present day, showing the world as it would be if all the scare stories prohibitionists promoted were actually true.

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