New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Laura E. Grube and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 19: The cultural and political economy of drug prohibition
For political economy—a discipline that has long reveled in illuminating the unintended consequences of government interventionism—drug prohibition has been one of the most fruitful subjects of analysis. Indeed, through their work on the economics of prohibition, economists have made many significant contributions to scientific knowledge, as well as public policy discourse. This includes analyses of the effects of prohibition on illicit drug prices (DiNardo 1993; Freeborn 2009), potency (Thornton 1991: pp. 89–110), and consumption (Saffer and Chaloupka 1999; DeSimone and Farrelly 2003; Burrus 2006); the structure and organization of black markets (Coomber 2003; Poret and Téjédo 2006); and the welfare implications of drug policy (Erickson 1969; Miron and Zwiebel 1995; Poret 2002; Miron 2004: pp. 43–74; Conlin et al. 2005; Becker et al. 2006). While this research has greatly expanded our understanding of the economics of prohibition, there are a number of important social, cultural, and institutional aspects of this subject that remain relatively unexplored. As D’Amico (2012: p. 70) explains, ‘while many have noticed prohibition’s effect on physical capital, less attend to its influence upon knowledge, social-learning processes, institutional development, and the accumulation of social capital.’ Indeed, the relationship between prohibition and non-market phenomena—especially the norms, social rules, informal institutions, and culture surrounding drug use—remains an underdeveloped area of study. However, the interaction between culture and government intervention would appear to raise numerous problems and questions of potential interest to political economists (for example, see Carilli et al. 2008).
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