Sunday, April 18, 2010

Drug Legalization and the Urban Poor

Gary Becker calls for better schools and better teachers, writing
The best longer-term solution to the [income] inequality problem is to reduce the fraction of Americans who dropout of high school...This drop out fraction has been stagnant for the past several decades at about 30% for males, and a somewhat lower but still high percent for females. This is almost surely the highest fraction of high school dropouts among rich countries, and is heavily concentrated among children from African-Americans and Hispanic families. In large cities, often less than half of all the children enrolled in public schools end up graduating.
No doubt better teachers (and better incentives for teachers) would reduce drop-out rates. But let's not ignore a much simpler and (economically) cheaper way to reduce the number of drop-outs: legalize narcotics. This isn't merely about the money saved from enforcement, imprisonment, and judiciary costs. It's primarily about the choices kids face.

Kids drop out for lots of different reasons. But since the problem is so common in poor neighborhoods, where jobs and education are scarce, of course the few financially successful people in those neighborhoods are going to have a big impact. And those individuals are drug lords, people who have made a handsome profit off the black market. It's easy to look up to them and admire them. And it's easy to learn the trade since all drug lords need a large company--er, gang--to support the enterprise so they have a financial incentive to teach them well (or by fear or force). And I guarantee you, they don't require a high school education. One should not be surprised that, in a world where the choice is between learning from a poorly trained teacher with no obvious financial rewards and learning from a gangster who's involved in your daily life and will pay you for "on-the-job" training, more than a few students take the latter. Yeah, there's danger of getting arrested (though from what I gather that's more of a badge of honor) and being killed, but the payoffs are some of the best the kids can choose from and that means a lot when money is so scarce.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually "companies" are a good way to describe games. Many of them do pattern themselves after corporations. The ones who don't often use military structures. I think the biggest gang is more like a collection of terrorist cells with little or no central leadership.

I don't know if you can sell legalizing all drugs. It's the "we can't stop the crimes so we'll just make it legal" logic. Should we do away with speed limits or DWIs regardless of what it means for public safety?

The better way would be to get people to stop taking the drugs in the first place. Reduce the demand and you take away the motivation for much of the drug running. It's a harder road but I think it has more long term success.