Summary of Narconomics

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British journalist Tom Wainwright regards the war on drugs as a failed, expensive experiment. In this intriguing business study, Wainwright acknowledges the drug-related violence in Mexico, corruption in the Caribbean and the overdoses in the United States. But he argues that society must find a better way to control narcotrafficking. Wainwright describes his travels to the cartel killing fields in Mexico, the coca farms of Bolivia and the legal grow houses of Denver. He sees Colorado’s legal cannabis industry as an alternative to misguided efforts to control drugs. Wainwright weighs all sides of the drug debate and concludes that the law-and-order approach isn’t working. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends his interesting overview to managers and policy makers seeking insight into the drug trade and the way innovation and profit thrive in the informal economy.

About the Author

Tom Wainwright, formerly The Economist’s reporter in Mexico City, is the magazine’s Britain editor. He is a contributor to The Times, The Guardian and The Literary Review.



Brutal but Mundane

Illicit drugs are “the most exotic and brutal industry on earth.” But dig below the surface of this $300-billion-a-year industry and you’ll find that it’s remarkably like any sector of the formal economy. Entrepreneurs must manufacture, market and distribute their goods. They must hire and manage workers, navigate competitive pressures and deal with government regulations. Talk to a drug kingpin about his business, and he will sound like any corporate executive, only he’s a murderous criminal. Mexico, epicenter of the illegal drug trade, has had a particularly bloody history. In 2010, it recorded 20,000 murders, five times the level in all of Western Europe.

Cops and prosecutors routinely misunderstand the everyday realities of the drug business. That’s why outlandish estimates of a narcotic’s value accompany seizures of drug shipments. In one instance, Mexican soldiers nabbed 134 metric tons of cannabis. The Mexican army said the haul was worth $340 million. American newspapers inflated the value to $500 million. The arithmetic sprang from the notion that a gram of marijuana retails in Mexico for $3 and in the US for...

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