Supply and Demand

We live in a complicated world, but parts of it are simple enough for a first grader to understand.   If your mom bakes the world’s best chocolate chip cookies you’ve got clout in the school lunch table.

It’s called supply and demand, and it’s been driving national economies and school lunch dessert swapping for centuries.  In 1691 philosopher John Locke first brought up the idea, and Adam Smith’s 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations” achieved immortality by taking a deep dive into how it works.

Supply and demand explains why people buy Super Bowl tickets just to scalp them, and why Ford just announced it will stop making Fiestas, Fusions, and Taurus’s.  If demand is high, people pay.  If demand dies, so does the product.

Supply and demand determines the fate of actors and columnists.  There’s a reason why The Rock made $64 million last year, and I swallowed hard before buying a new lawn mower this spring.

Everyone understands this, but occasionally even the best of us can lose sight of such an obvious truth—such as when the talk turns to illegal drugs flowing into the USA.

We have a problem with illegal drugs in this country.  We see it in ruined lives, overdose deaths, in the lost productivity of people doing poor or no work due to drug use, and the taxpayer expense of housing prisoners due to drug-related crimes.   The social and financial costs of illegal drug use in America are enormous.

And so we cry for tougher laws, longer border walls and harsher penalties for dealers.   President Trump has floated the idea of executing drug pushers.   In the battle to out-macho your political opposition, that’ll be a tough stance to top.

America’s drug problem is truly a Trojan horse, killing us from within.  But all the cries to eradicate the dealers are utterly missing the mark.

Don’t take my word for it.  Just ask John Locke and Adam Smith.

The truth is that walls won’t stop illegal drugs.  The bad guys will just go under, over, or around them.  Tougher laws won’t stop illegal drugs.  With so much wealth at stake, there will always be those willing to take the risk.

What gets lost in the debate is the real root of our drug problem—We the Users of the United States of America.

As long as people want to get a marijuana buzz or a cocaine dopamine overload, or an opioid heroin euphoria, someone will turn up to sell them what they’re looking for.   And apparently there are a lot of Americans who are looking.

I doubt Messrs. Locke and Smith would condone illegal behavior, but I suspect they’d consider our current state of affairs as the logical consequence of basic market forces.  Where there is demand, markets develop.   Suppliers emerge.   And if the demand is high enough, the legality of what’s demanded will be worked around.

We talk about a War on Drugs.  Nonsense.   If there’s a war to be fought, it should be a war against the social issues that have produced ever-growing numbers of people who seek chemical alternatives to lives of rootless boredom, emotional despair, lack of opportunity, and perpetual feelings of personal, social and economic failure.

Not to mention support and rehabilitation services for the suffering souls inadvertently addicted to doctor-prescribed opioids.

But instead, we work to up the ante on pusher punishment, which offers only a superficial solution to a much deeper problem.  If all the pushers were gone, would the demand for drugs in America go away?  History buffs need look no farther than Prohibition to answer that one.   When alcohol consumption became illegal, a large chunk of America simply switched to breaking the law.   Al Capone once famously said, “All I did was supply a demand that was pretty popular.”

Personally, I’m fine with locking up drug dealers, but I’m not naïve enough to think that incarceration or executions will stop, or even slow, drug use in America.  John Locke and Adam Smith were right.  Whether it’s Al Capone or Pablo Escobar, whenever enough of us have an itch, someone will show up to scratch it.  For a price, of course.   Supply and demand.


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