Would harsh punishment help? | New NY 23rd

Some 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

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.