Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Logistics Of The Impossible

Bob Ramsey who has some interesting links on this page suggested I have a look at a book excerpt which explains why supply interdiction in the Drug War is an impossible task. Not just difficult. Not just expensive. Impossible. It is an excerpt from a book published in 1991:

Undoing Drugs: Beyond Legalization

So let me fill you in on some interesting facts from the text. Keep in mind that the dollars mentioned are 1991 dollars.

Much of the earth's surface is suitable for growing and processing psychoactive plants, the raw materials for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Only a trivial fraction of this area is needed to produce the flood of drugs now coming into America. Even if we could wipe out all of today's sources of supply, a virtually inexhaustible set of alternative suppliers would remain. Many of the people who inhabit the primary producing areas, including South America and Asia, face starvation if they spurn the drug trade, and death at the hands of traffickers if they try to stop the trade. No credible threat or inducement will convince foreign growers and processors to give up their livelihood. Once produced, the drugs can enter America by any number of methods, across any of thousands of miles of open borders, and our efforts to stop smugglers serve chiefly to drive up the profits of those who succeed. Short of employing our entire armed services as a domestic drug militia, there is no feasible way to prevent drugs from entering the country. Even here in America, in locations ranging from national forests to bedroom "grow closets" and basement laboratories, psychoactives can be grown or concocted in quantities sufficient to satisfy the most demanding drug appetites. Thus, even if we somehow stopped the flood of foreign drugs, domestic producers stand ready, willing, and able to jump into the breach.

The bottom line is short and simple. In attempting to eliminate the world supply of drugs, the federal government has been building sand castles against the incoming tide. Despite occasional fleeting satisfactions, in the long run there is no realistic chance of success. If we are to undo drugs, we shall have to look elsewhere.
Expensive sand castles. And they get taxpayers to pay for the privilege. Doesn't it just give you the warm fuzzies to know you get to pay through the nose (heh) for someone else's hobby?

Well you don't really know anything if you haven't got the numbahs. So how about some facts and figures about agriculture.
The marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa) is one of nature's ultimate survivors. Quite literally, it grows like a weed, flourishing in the wild on every continent except Antarctica. Left untended, the plant reaches a height of up to fifteen feet within a few months, at which point its crop of leaves and buds is worth $500. Pruned, watered, and fertilized regularly, a single pampered plant can fetch $2,500, Marijuana will grow high on mountainsides, on open plains, and in dense forests. It thrives in pots hung from and hidden among the branches of trees, or can be trained to grow close to the ground in the midst of other, legal crops. Moreover, with less than $100 worth of equipment, an individual can produce a thriving crop year after year in his or her own closet or basement.

Roughly 75 percent of the marijuana consumed by Americans is imported, chiefly from Central and South America, although domestic production is expanding rapidly [3] The leading producer states are California, Oregon, Kentucky, and Hawaii, but the legal authorities have confiscated plants from Alaska to Florida, and from Maine to Arizona. Cannabis is a plant for all seasons and every locale.

Despite the diversity of conditions under which the principal psychoactive crops will grow, remarkably little arable land is presently devoted to their cultivation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that more than 2.5 million square miles in South America alone are suitable for growing coca, yet less than 1,000 square miles (less than 0.04 percent) is currently used for that purpose. [4] Elsewhere in the world, the combined land area suitable for coca exceeds the amount available in South America, and yet almost none of it is now under commercial coca cultivation. If coca eradication attempts had any appreciable success in causing supply disruptions, vast tracts of land could rapidly be cultivated as a source of supply.

Most of the 4,000 metric tons of marijuana produced in the United States each year is grown in only a dozen or so counties scattered across the principal producing states, and total U.S. production represents a trivial fraction of worldwide marijuana output.[5] And since marijuana cultivation is eminently suitable for commercial cultivation indoors as well as outdoors, one must realistically view the entire surface of the earth as a potential source of supply.
The link above has facts and figures on other drugs. I thought excerpting the relevant info on pot (California's largest agricultural crop in terms of dollars) would interest more people since the number of pot consumers in America runs between 5% (15 million people) and 15% (45 million people) of the US population. The numbers are fuzzy because taking good surveys about illegal behavior is a difficult proposition.

So how about drug smuggling? Stopping growing is impossible. Maybe we can keep the stuff (the fraction that is not home grown) from crossing the border. Well how about a little musical interlude?

Well don't that get your adrenaline pumping? And how about an adrenaline pumping story?
Who is more motivated - a drug trafficker, or the enforcement agent trying to stop him? A drug smuggler, describing the duels between drug runners and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in fast boats along the Florida coast, gave this answer:

There are places [along the coast] where the water is two feet deep and less, and the channels that you have to use are unmarked. Now, a good doper knows those channels because he studies them. He's also making ten, twelve, fifteen thousand dollars - it depends on the load - for four hours' work, and for that kind of money he is expected to take the risk of getting it wrong. The guy chasing him is making maybe a hundred bucks for a shift, on which he is going to pay tax, and if he hits that sandbank at sixty miles an hour he isn't going to collect his pension because he's going to be dead. Now, you're in the Customs boat heading for the sandbank: Which way do you want to push the throttle?[30]

This simple story helps illustrate why both innovation and adaptation in the drug wars so often favor the bad guys. For drug dealers, the rewards of developing new ways of bringing drugs to market (or of adapting to the latest methods of the drug warriors) are enormous, compelling enough for them to risk prison terms or death, or to murder anyone who stands in their way.

Compare this with the incentives facing law-enforcement officials, who are paid whether they catch the dealers or not. Quite simply, the drug warriors have little economic stake in the success or failure of their efforts, and equally little incentive to risk life and limb. Certainly, some may get publicity, and others may even get salary increases; but these are small compensations for risking their lives. Because their expected rewards - huge profits - are so much greater, drug dealers are willing to face a far greater risk of violent death than are drug-enforcement agents, and they are more willing and able to innovate and adapt as well. The common notion that drug warriors are a group of dedicated individuals constantly thinking up ways to outsmart the bad guys surely has an element of truth to it, but by and large, it is the bad guys who spend their time trying to figure out ways to outsmart the good guys. It is the drug dealers who are constantly seeking new products and delivery systems to give them a competitive edge, and it is the dealers who adapt the most quickly to changing conditions, because the bad guys - the dealers - have greater incentives to do so. The rate of innovation and adaptation in the drug-enforcement agencies is much slower than it is within the drug trafficking business, simply because the rewards are structured to make it so.
Of course we can change the reward structure easily enough. We can do it the same way we solved the crime problem associated with alcohol. End prohibition.

There is WAY MORE at the link. Read the whole thing. And weep.

The Drug War in popular culture:

Miami Vice: The Complete Series

The French Connection

Smuggler's Blues (as made famous by Glenn Frey)

Smuggler's Blues: The Saga of a Marijuana Importer

And NO! I'm not going to include any Rap Music. I hate that crap.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

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