Black markets, crime, and costs

Via Facebook I’ve been informed that our Australian friends have added an interesting interpretation to the costs of crime syndicates.

“Every dollar stolen through organised crime activity is a dollar that cannot be spent on education, health or any number of services,” O’Connor said.

Now on the face of it this statement is patently ridiculous – not every dollar taken by criminal syndicates would have gone to government for the government to spend on services.  However, we already know politicians struggle to think outside their own interests – so lets give them the benefit of the doubt here.

In that case, we may interpret this statement as saying “every dollar taken by a crime syndicate translates into a dollar taken from a ‘victim'”.  Ok, this is alright – its a tautology, but its still alright. Now this DOES NOT imply that the actual economy is any smaller as a result of the existence – simply that resources are being transferred from one set of people to another (sort of like with tax).  I would go as far as saying that we would not like some of the transfers to occur – I’m not a fan of people hacking into bank accounts and stealing funds.  But the claim that resources are being “is ripped from the economy by drug cartels and other crime syndicates” … they are part of the economy.

However, in of itself we still can’t get a feeling for the costs and benefits of what is going on – and the associated policy response – without actually thinking about what the syndicates are doing.  Luckily we are given such a list:

Increasingly sophisticated criminal operations included narcotics, money laundering, fraud, corruption, tax evasion, counterfeiting, identity theft and people smuggling.

Right.  So lets think about this.  We are being told that there is a cost to people smuggling, identity theft, corruption, counterfeiting – well no sh*t.  However, that is the cost to the individuals involved – we are being told here that some individuals lose out, and we may believe that is unfair.  Again, this isn’t a cost to the “economy” overall – this is a direct issue stemming from the crime having a victim, and this being seen as morally unfair.

However, that isn’t the case with all of these “crimes”.  The drug cartels they discuss exist BECAUSE of government policy.  When people voluntarily buy drugs this isn’t ripping money out of the economy – its actually creating value.  The cartels are IMPROVING economic outcomes by providing goods that people value – when government is trying to restrict individual choice.

Counting spending on illegal drugs as a “cost” to the economy is nonsensical – and that is what they have done hear.   If the Australian government is annoyed it isn’t getting the tax revenue from it (which seems to be their focus), the solution is to legalise drugs and tax them …

  • Well, if you assume that taking drugs has zero private benefit for the drug users, then you can count all kinds of private costs as being “social”. And conflating the costs of prohibition with the costs of substance abuse is an old trick.

  • @Eric Crampton

    Oww, indeed it is. A dumb trick, but a popular one 😉

  • You say wright.Coruption is very big problem to tackle.every person at that time corrupted.Many of person lies below poverty line.They haven’t money to take food once time a day.but our politician,check their pockets 100k of rs has been found,check their property 100k found,they always drive mercities not an ordinary car.bt see here every people have tends to die with proverty.education is far away food is not availiable at that time then how education is started without food.