Would harsh punishment help?

trump and reedSome countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty — and by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do.–President Donald Trump

This bill amends the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to impose a criminal penalty of life imprisonment or death on a person who commits a drug offense involving a specified quantity of heroin that contains a detectable amount of fentanyl or fentanyl that is represented to be or sold as heroin, if death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance.--CRS Summary for Tom Reed’s Help Ensure Lives are Protected Act of 2016 or the HELP Act of 2016. This bill died in committee.

Criminologists have studied the relation between crime and punishment for centuries. In some cases–mostly white collar crimes–the threat of punishment deters crime, but less so for violent crimes such as armed robbery, assault, murder. Would the threat of harsh punishment deter drug dealers? Probably it wouldn’t. Drug dealers must envision a short violent life with or without the threat of punishment. They might expect to live longer in prison than on the street.

The black market for illegal drugs is subject to market forces–supply and demand. The demand curve is inelastic–addicts need for drugs is independent of price. Thus cutting the supply by arresting dealers can be expected to drive up the price of illegal drugs and make dealing more profitable. New dealers will fill vacancies in the distribution chain. Thus President Trump’s proposal is unlikely to have much effect on the drug market other than to possibly drive up prices.

I am not a criminologist nor an economist. Perhaps my ideas are wrong. President Trump is neither a criminologist nor an economist either, and is notoriously uninterested in scientific fact. The same goes for Tom Reed. I am not as sure that my ideas are right as I am certain that Reed’s and Trump’s are uninformed and likely wrong.





Click to access deterrence_economics_and_the_context_of_drug_markets.pdf



About whungerford

* Contributor at NewNY23rd.com where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
This entry was posted in Drugs, Economics, Political, Reed's Views, Trump and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Would harsh punishment help?

  1. Anne says:

    My late husband’s legal practice was mostly in the area of criminal defense, and he was of course keenly interested in, and knowledgeable about, the issues around the death penalty. There is of course no evidence to support that it’s a deterrent; Dave’s belief was that it isn’t so much the harshness of the punishment that stops any given criminal act as it is the certainty of getting caught. (This could explain why, for instance, you might have a mob family, let’s just say, in a visible position of political power, operating with impunity and apparent disregard for the rule of law: first there is the hubris involved in thinking you’ll never get caught, and then the insulating factor of being able to afford good legal representation and to pay such fines as you may incur.) Even setting aside how much it costs to send someone to death row (verifiable fact), and setting aside the argument that the State has no business taking the lives of its citizens (my own belief), this was a colossally stupid idea out of the gate. It’s telling that Reed is spending his time on nonsense like this instead of directing his energies toward real solutions for, well, anything. But one of Reed’s biggest handicaps has always been his utter lack of imagination, and ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve Beikirch says:

    Since I am opposed to capital punishment, the answer to your question is beyond me.


  3. Carol says:

    Perhaps Trump wouldn’t be such a fan of the death penalty if he knew it could be the punishment for treason.


  4. whungerford says:

    From President Trump’s daily e-mail:

    Today, President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump travel to Manchester, New Hampshire. The President will address America’s opioid epidemic at Manchester Community College and discuss his Administration’s initiative to stop opioid abuse and reduce drug supply and demand, which has four components:

    1. Address the driving forces of the opioid crisis, including over-prescription, illicit drug supplies, and insufficient access to evidence-based treatment.
    2. Reduce demand and over-prescription in part by educating Americans about the dangers of opioid and other drug use.
    3. Cut off the supply of illicit drugs by cracking down on international and domestic supply chains that devastate American communities.
    4. Help those struggling with addiction through evidence-based treatment and recovery support services.


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