The Catholic University of America

July 2, 2012

Demand Creates the Economy of Sin

WASHINGTON (CNS) – I have been following the Mexican presidential elections with some interest. They fall in the same year as ours once every 12 years. In the Mexican campaign, the big issue is drugs.

Outgoing President Felipe Calderon has been waging a war against the violent cartels that are responsible for a large percentage of the drugs that enter the United States. One account estimates that 90 percent of the cocaine arriving into the United States comes via Latin America.

Calderon's campaign of arrests and seizures was intended to address violence between the cartels, but the violence has escalated. The cartels have retaliated by assassinating cabinet ministers, slaughtering police, killing journalists and even invading drug rehabilitation clinics to murder patients.

The five-year conflict has resulted in some 50,000 deaths. All three of the major party presidential candidates -- including the woman running as the candidate of Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN) -- seem to be putting a reduction in violence ahead of the war against the cartels.

Mexicans may be concluding that their fight against the drug suppliers will be futile and bloody as long as Americans are willing to shell out $38 billion each year (according to the last United Nations estimate) for cocaine alone.

In the economy of sin, evil begins on the demand side.

When I was a boy, we lived next door to the Forkers, whose parents were a lot more fun than ours. We learned early on that Mrs. Forker and her housekeeper kept their cigarettes in a drawer in the kitchen. We would sneak in the back door, right off the kitchen, and steal them when the coast was clear. If it looked risky, we would deputize the younger children to do the actual stealing while we staged diversionary actions out front.

I was never sure how much our parents knew of this, but everybody else knew that the Garvey children smoked more than was good for them. (And wasn't it strange? Where ever did they get the cigarettes?)

Our early delinquency provides a reminder that where demand exists, even strict security and harsh prohibition (we would have been in for it, had we been caught) can be thwarted.

I do not know which policy is the right one for Mexico to follow. The awful rate of killings of the past few years is entirely the moral responsibility of the gangs, but presidents must consider the costs and benefits of any policy that brings with it such heavy loss of life (whoever might be at fault).

On the other hand, drug legalization, which some wise heads are now suggesting, would do little to heal the societal maladies that addiction causes.

A 2010 federal National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that more than 22 million Americans age 12 and older -- or nearly 9 percent of the U.S. population -- use illegal drugs.

Supply increases to meet demand, and Americans are to drugs what the Garvey children once were to cigarettes. In our backyard economy of nicotine, the younger children served as mules for the psychological reward of approval from the older kids.

Americans today are willing to pay huge sums of money to satisfy their drug cravings. Given that the love of money is, as St. Paul wrote, the root of all evil, it is little wonder that the suppliers are not schoolboys.

More Columns by John Garvey