Economists on Illegal Drugs

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Economists are among the noteworthy proponents of the "legalization" of narcotic drugs, cocaine and marijuana. However, public proclamations have been few in number, short on details, and muted by recommendations such as Gary Becker from the University of Chicago who advocates legalization combined with a heavy "sin" tax to discourage use.

To further investigate the views of economists I have conducted two surveys. The first one involved a random selection of economists while the second examined what economists have written on the subject of drug policy. The first survey found that economists supported legalization, liberalization, and decriminalization much more than the general population, but not much more than their demographic cohort of highly educated individuals.

In the second survey, academic journals, books, and other sources were combed for explicit policy recommendations regarding the market for illegal drugs. Here the overwhelming majority of economists concluded that drug policy should be liberalized to some extent. The results represent the broad spectrum of economists, but are heavily weighted to the Austrian, Chicago, and Public Choice schools of economic thought. In looking for those who recommended radical legalization, the number of supporters shrank significantly and was largely confined to the members of the Austrian school.

You can read the full report and all the quotes on drug policy online. This article appears in the inaugural issue of Econ Journal Watch, which was established and edited by Daniel Klein. I would describe the journal as Austrian-leaning and of interest to anyone who follows developments in academic economics and economic policy.

Mark Thornton [send him mail] is an economist who lives in Auburn, Alabama. He is author of The Economics of Prohibition, is a senior fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and is the Book Review Editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is co-author of Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War.

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