Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dubious Drug Numbers

A Colombian police officer looks over seized cocaine bricks.
El Tiempo crowed the other day Colombian anti-drug forces' record cocaine haul this year: 306 metric tons - which is already 50 tons more than all of last year, with almost two months left to run.

To antidrug warriors, that means they're doing great! More pressure, more cooperation, running down
Colombia shifts strategy from fumigation to drug seizure.
(Chart; Wall Street Journal)
more of those bad guys.

But there's another possible explanation: Maybe now there's just lots more cocaine out there to be captured.

Colombian coca leaf production trends thru 2014.
The rise has continued. (Graph: Washington Post.)
In fact, Colombia's coca leaf acreage has more than doubled over the last couple of years, for reasons nobody's sure about. And all the cocaine not consumed inside Colombia gets exported.

So, anti-drug police may be doing better precisely because they're losing the drug war.

At least, however, Colombia has switched to a more effective strategy than focusing on machetiing coca leaf plantations. Besides impoverishing campesinos and pushing them into the arms of guerrillas and drug cartels, coca erradication also has the fatal result of raising drug prices. The less coca leaf supply, the higher the price, and therefore the bigger the profit and incentive for planting the stuff. By attacking the drug industry further down the supply chain, that effect is reduced.

Drug warriors are inflating their accomplishments a second way. El Tiempo also reports that the seized cocaine would be worth 6 billion dollars on the streets of New York or Los Angeles.

However, that cocaine was seized not in New York, but in Colombia, where it's worth much less. The new book Narconomics points out that this would be similar to valuating a stolen cow in Argentina according to how much it would cost in the form of t-bone steak served up in a Boston restaurant.

Colombian farmers and traffickers keep producing cocaine for a simple reason: They expect to sell enough of it to make a profit. And, as long as there's money in drug trafficking, you can be certain that someone will continue producing them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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