Max Nova's Reviews > Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel

Narconomics by Tom Wainwright
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2018-focus, crime, economics, government

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"Narconomics" has been on my list for a while. Amazon recommended it to me after I bought "Dreamland" which is itself an excellent work of investigative journalism about the opioid epidemic. When I first decided to make my 2018 reading theme "Crime and Punishment", I knew that Wainwright's investigation of illegal drug economics was going to be a cornerstone book. And the former Economist correspondent delivers! Treating the global narcotics industry "as if it were a business like any other," Wainwright delves into how drug dealers have to deal with supply chains, HR issues, and digital disruption just like everyone else.

By dissecting the economics of the narcotics supply chain, Wainwright launches a devastating critique of the raw ingredients eradication policy that has been the cornerstone of much anti-drug warfare. Noting that the value of the raw materials is a thousandth of the ultimate retail value in the US, he concludes:
by trebling the price of cocaine’s raw ingredient in South America —something no policy has yet gotten close to achieving — the best-case scenario is that cocaine’s retail price in the United States would rise by 0.6 percent. This does not seem like a good return on the billions of dollars invested in disrupting the supply of leaves in the Andes.
His section on prisons being schools for gang members was also eye-opening. The level of "regulatory capture" by these gangs is despicable - Wainwright notes that Mexico's national "drug czar" had been bought and paid for by the Juárez cartel.

As I get deeper into my year of "Crime and Punishment," I'm beginning to believe that big pools of dark money are at the heart of many large-scale national and global problems. This idea began with the amazing "Power Broker" which describes how construction kinpin Robert Moses ran the patronage system in NYC for decades. "Treasure Islands" about offshore tax evasion and "The Looting Machine" about African natural resource economics further supported the idea that dark money rapidly corrodes good governance. Wainwright's book only further supports this idea with his analysis of how government prohibition funnels tens of billions of narco-dollars to violent cartels.

Wainwright convincingly argues that drug legalization would eliminate the pools of dark money that power cartel violence. He points to some steps towards legalization in the US and abroad, although "Chasing the Scream" does a much better job exploring the possibilities and consequences of legalization. For a heavily-researched fictionalized account of Mexican cartel dynamics, check out Don Winslow's excellent "The Power of the Dog".

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Reading Progress

October 8, 2016 – Shelved
October 8, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
April 19, 2018 – Started Reading
April 22, 2018 – Finished Reading
April 29, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018-focus
April 29, 2018 – Shelved as: crime
April 29, 2018 – Shelved as: economics
April 29, 2018 – Shelved as: government

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