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Innocent Bystanders: Developing Countries and the War on Drugs

Edited by Philip Keefer, Norman Loayza
Price: $52.50   *Geographic discounts available!

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English; Paperback; 388 pages; 6x9
Published March 24, 2010 by World Bank; Palgrave Macmillan UK
ISBN: 978-0-8213-8034-5; SKU: 18034


The drug policies of wealthy consuming countries emphasize criminalization, interdiction, and eradication. Such extreme responses to social challenges risk unintended, costly consequences. The evidence presented in this volume is that these consequences are high in the case of current drug policies, particularly for poor transit and producer countries. These costs include the deaths of thousands in the conflict between drug cartels and security forces, political instability, and the infiltration of criminal elements into governments, on the one hand; and increased narcotics use in countries that would not otherwise have been targeted by drug suppliers.

Despite such costs, extreme policies could be worthwhile if their benefits were significantly higher than those of more moderate, less costly policies. The authors review the evidence on the benefits of current policies and find that they are clouded in uncertainty: eradication appears to have no permanent effect on supply; the evidence on criminalization does not exclude either the possibility that its effects on drug consumption are low, or that they are high. Uncertainty over benefits and the high costs of current policies relative to alternatives justifies greater emphasis on lower cost policies and more conscientious and better-funded efforts to assess the benefits of all policies.

"Some years ago, I wrote an op-ed where I concluded "our drug policy is a mess, seriously in need of a basic reorientation." The policy has not improved, but at least Philip Keefer and Norman Loayza have now written an excellent book on the international consequences of alternative drug policies. The worst policy--pursued by the United States and many other rich countries--is lenient on users and tough on suppliers. Since demand typically has low price sensitivity, the main effect of harsh supply-side interventions is to drive up prices and amounts spent and thereby impose costs such as high criminal activity in developing countries. Better outcomes may emerge from harsh punishments on users (as in Singapore and Saudi Arabia). However, these policies are politically infeasible in rich countries (because the demanders are basically nice people). Thus, the plausible alternative to existing policy is complete or partial drug legalization, focused on suppliers, who could be converted into legal, tax-paying enterprises. Fortunately, this book provides a sound conceptual framework and empirical evidence to evaluate these and other policies."

- Robert Barr Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, author of Nothing Is Sacred: Economic Ideas for the New Millennium

Source and transit countries, most of them poor, bear much of the cost of the drug-hunger of distant populations, and of the worldwide effort to fight the drug traffic. Innocent Bystanders documents the damage. It's not a pretty picture. The analysis is solid, the tone is sober, and the case for doing something to protect Mexicans, Colombians, Afghans, and others is overwhelming.

- Mark Kleim an Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results

For too long the debate about drug trafficking has been dominated by lawyers, generals, diplomats, law enforcement agents, and ideologues. Innocent Bystanders: Developing Countries and the War on Drugs adds a rigorous and long missing perspective to the debate: that of development economists. Philip Keefer and Norman Loayza have made an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the economics of the drug trade and its consequences for poor countries. Hopefully, this book will also help move the politics and the policy making process away from the intellectual stagnation that has plagued them for decades.

- Moises Naim, Editor in Chief, Foreign Policy magazine, author of Illicit: How Smugglers Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy


  • Shipping Weight: 1.36 lbs (0.62 kgs)



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