68 thoughts on “Chart of the day: America’s longest, most expensive war

    • If you are in law enforcement or the DEA, you’re winning. The cops laying in wait to confiscate cash from the cars you stop in the name of the drug war, you’re winning. If you’re a politician consolidating power and usurping property rights, you’re winning. If you’re a vicious drug lord, you’re winning.

      The victory in the drug war belongs to thugs, helped along by their army of useful idiots.

      • That was edited badly. sorry. The whole thing just pisses me off. The state needs an enemy to convince people to willingly hand over every liberty, every right to property, every hope for their future. The Soviets needed to demonize capitalism and the American police state needs to exaggerate the risk of terrorism (still a 1/25,000,000 chance of dying in an airline terrorist attack) and drugs. Except alcohol, of course. Alcohol is actually quite a bad drug and we pretend it’s fine because we all drink it. The cognitive dissonance is shocking.

    • So, what about this chart shows victory?

      Oh! Just imagine how bad it would be if we hadn’t spent all that money and killed all those people! It’s too horrible to imagine. /sarc

    • US crime rate at lowest point in decades.
      January 9, 2012

      The last time the crime rate for serious crime – murder, rape, robbery, assault – fell to these levels, gasoline cost 29 cents a gallon and the average income for a working American was $5,807. That was 1963.

      In the past 20 years, for instance, the murder rate in the United States has dropped by almost half…Meanwhile, robberies were down 10 percent in 2010 from the year before and 8 percent in 2009.

      The declines are not just a blip, say criminologists. Rather, they are the result of a host of changes that have fundamentally reversed the high-crime trends of the 1980s.

      James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “We are indeed a safer nation than 20 years ago.”

      He and others give four main reasons for the decline:

      *Increased incarceration, including longer sentences, that keeps more criminals off the streets.

      *Improved law enforcement strategies, including advances in computer analysis and innovative technology.

      *The waning of the crack cocaine epidemic that soared from 1984 to 1990, which made cocaine cheaply available in cities across the US.

      *The graying of America characterized by the fastest-growing segment of the US population – baby boomers – passing the age of 50.

      • police solved 91% of the murder cases. Now it solves only 61%…

        Sounds like catching druggies is easier than solving murders – low hanging fruit?

      • Peak,

        “We are indeed a safer nation than 20 years ago.”

        So? Crime and violence has been a centuries long decline. In other words, 1963 was safer than 1923, just as 2003 was safer than 1963.

        the crack cocaine epidemic

        Since total addiction rates have fluctuated between 1% and 1.5%, with a slope of the least regression line on addiction rates over the last looks to be about 0, just what “epidemic” are you referring to?

  1. Despite enormous propaganda by the pro-legalization crowd, the U.S. has been winning the War on Drugs by preventing millions of drug users, reducing drug use rates, and saving trillions of dollars in social costs:

    U.S. Illegal Drug Use Down Substantially from 1970s
    17 April 2012

    “Drug use in the United States “has dropped substantially over the past thirty years,” thanks to local, state and federal government efforts, as well as international cooperation.

    “The rate of Americans using illicit drugs today is roughly one-third the rate it was in the late ’70s.

    More recently, there has been a 40 percent drop in current cocaine use and meth use has dropped by half.””


    We’ve seen how decriminalization of marijuana led to a sharp increase in marijuana use, although many remain in denial:

    Examining the Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Marijuana Consumption
    Insights from the Economics Literature

    “From this review it is clear that total consumption will rise in response to legalization due to increases in the number of new users, increases in the number of regular and heavy users, and probable increases in the duration in which marijuana is consumed for average users.”


    Gateway Drug

    “The Journal of the American Medical Association reported, based on a study of 300 sets of twins, that marijuana-using twins were four times more likely than their siblings to use cocaine and crack cocaine, and five times more likely to use hallucinogens such as LSD.”


    Spending $20 billion a year, for example, to prevent and reduce $300 billion a year in social costs, which include lost productivity, traffic & work injuries & fatalities, health problems & drug treatment, mental illness, unemployment, crime, domestic violence, child abuse, and other social services, means we’re not spending enough on the War on Drugs, e.g. rehabilitation.

    • Same old thing, Peak.

      You cite as evidence the very violence created by prohibition, not non-alcohol drugs. Can you cite some stats on how much violence occurs consuming the drug called “alcohol”? Anyone murdering each other over it? No? Why is that?

      You claim some scary “gateway’ drug claptrap based on the fact that a lot of people who use heroin have also used marijuana in the past. They’ve also eaten french fries and ice cream. There’s just as strong a case for french fries and ice cream as gateways to meth and heroin as there is for marijuana.

      and then there are the self-reported drug use statistics. Yeah….everyone is very likely to accurately report drug use knowing that doing so would make them the target of the police state.

      From you it’s the same B.S., different day.

      • peak-

        your incessant attempts to frame this as a cost benefit issue are pure fraud.

        you keep ducking the key issue:

        why should the recreational activities of peaceful people who are not violating the rights of others be any business of the government’s?

        you have no answer. you are just a social reactionary seeking to force his choices onto others.

        there is not even a credible case that the federal government is allowed to wage a drug war. the 10th amendment actually forbids it. this is why we needed a constitutional amendment for prohibition.

        the federal drug was is not just immoral, it’s unconstitutional unless you are one of these subscribers to the notion that the “general welfare” in the preamble is actually mean to superceed the 10th amendment and that the bill of rights was “just kidding”.

        save your tired, slanted propaganda. it’s meaningless.

        • and this:

          ““The Journal of the American Medical Association reported, based on a study of 300 sets of twins, that marijuana-using twins were four times more likely than their siblings to use cocaine and crack cocaine, and five times more likely to use hallucinogens such as LSD.” ”

          is just moronic. it proves nothing about gateway drugs. people who eat chocolate ice cream are far more likely to eat coffee ice cream too. does that make chocolate ice cream a “gateway food” to the hard stuff like rocky road?

          no. it just means that if you like ice cream, you like many kinds. drugs are the same. so is alcohol. so is cheese. big deal.

          that fact that you see this as proof of anyhting simply demonstrates that you have no idea how the difference between coincidence and causality works.

          you make the same mistakes around usage. people do not use more, they just admit it. this is the issue with self reporting surveys. “hi, i’m here from the government to ask you if you do illegal things”. gee, i wonder if tougher laws might induce lying?

        • Agreed. Drug use should be decriminalized but what to do about distribution? Has anyone considered the attendant liabilities that would attach to sale and distribution of substances that can quickly cause illness and death? Marijuana is an obvious exception as are the hallucinogens but heroin and cocaine seem to be in a class by themselves. Government controlled distribution and sale seems to be the only solution to place treatment burdens on the state.

          • Have you considered that nothing need be done about distribution and sale as those channels are already in place?

            As for marijuana, it can be grown in your backyard like tomatoes. Why does government need to be involved at all?

      • Crime associated with alcohol: Drunk driving, domestic violence, bar brawls. It is there, you just don’t see it always. If you don’t think alcohol is a social problem then look at the number of AA meetings every day. I favor decriminalization of all drugs but that doesn’t mean the social problems go away.

    • This is what I am confused about, Peak. All those articles say the use rate is falling.

      But if drug use rates are falling, why is the same percentage of the population addicted to drugs? If usage rates are indeed falling, wouldn’t addiction rates fall, too?

      • Addiction rates are related to price elasticities of demand for addictive substances, like water or heroin. Regardless of price the addict will get her fix. Genetic abnormalities explain the incidence of the addictive personality or for that matter sexual perversions from the norm. Risk aversion and higher rate of education and increasing IQs explain the fall in other non-addictive drug use unrelated to pain abatement.

  2. “America’s longest, most expensive war”

    What about the war on poverty? At least drug addiction rates are staying constant with increased spending!

    • No fan of the war on poverty, but let’s face it; SWAT teams don’t bust down doors, killing family pets as a matter of protocol. They growing police state doesn’t seize innocent people’s assets and it doesn’t imprison an enormous number of peaceful people who committed no crime greater than peacefully supplying a product to a willing buyer in the name of the war on poverty.

      Through drug war, we very much risk our right to any of our property – not just drugs. In the name of the war on poverty, the police seize assets and even when the person is found innocent, the police does not return the property. That they don’t have to is upheld by the SCOTUS. That means that the police can seize any of your property for no reason at all. Who wants to live in such a country?

      • Maybe they should? What if we make poverty a crime? Just throw all the poor people in jail. That will boost crime solving rates and lower poverty rates. Everyone wins!

        By the way, my above suggestion is sarcastic.

        • Yeah, your sarcasm is obvious. But, it actually reflects reality.

          The government is waging a war against the poor. First, it handicaps them with ghetto schools they can’t escape and which are just holding pens for the under-aged poor and where they learn absolutely nothing. Then the government passes minimum wage and affirmative action laws so that they can’t get jobs. If the buggers dare try to start their own business, the government forces them to obtain expensive and completely unaffordable occupational licenses first. The only thing left is selling drugs and then the government tosses them in prison to completely destroy any hope of a normal life.

          I’d say the government has very successfully, if indirectly, criminalized poverty. You know, the revolution in Tunisia started over similar government activity.

        • At the very least the poor should be taxed at a higher rate than those who are more productive to partially offset the lower contribution poor people are making to the general standard of living . :)

  3. Since the addiction rate is population adjusted on an annual basis shouldn’t spending be annualized in real terms rather than nominal/accumulative?

    • Seriously? Did you not see the y-axis on the left hand side of the graph? It’s a percentage, i.e., noramlized.

      But just to break it down for you:

      1970 – $300 000 000 (cost of drug war)
      203 392 031 (population)
      $1.47 (per capita spending)

      2010 – $20 000 000 000
      308 745 538
      $64.77 (per capita spending)

      Drug war spending in 2010 is 44 times the per capita spending in 1970.

      Your welcome.

      • That’s still not in real terms. In 2012 dollars the 1986 spending is about $5.1 billion. For 1992 spending it is about $17 billion in 2012 dollars. Now go do your per capita calcs. And you have to account for the huge spike in drug violence in the 1980s that led to higher spending. NYC was intolerable in the mid to late 1980s. It wasn’t until Guilliani that things got better.

        In real terms the rise in spending has been much less dramatic than the nominal numbers would tell you. The rise in real spending since 1992 has been modest.

  4. In 1986, the US Defense Department funded a two-year study by the RAND Corporation, which found that the use of the armed forces to interdict drugs coming into the United States would have little or no effect on cocaine traffic and might, in fact, raise the profits of cocaine cartels and manufacturers. The 175-page study, “Sealing the Borders: The Effects of Increased Military Participation in Drug Interdiction,” was prepared by seven researchers, mathematicians and economists at the National Defense Research Institute, a branch of the RAND, and was released in 1988. The study noted that seven prior studies in the past nine years, including one by the Center for Naval Research and the Office of Technology Assessment, had come to similar conclusions. Interdiction efforts, using current armed forces resources, would have almost no effect on cocaine importation into the United States, the report concluded.[113]

    During the early-to-mid-1990s, the Clinton administration ordered and funded a major cocaine policy study, again by RAND. The Rand Drug Policy Research Center study concluded that $3 billion should be switched from federal and local law enforcement to treatment. The report said that treatment is the cheapest way to cut drug use, stating that drug treatment is twenty-three times more effective than the supply-side “war on drugs”.[114]

    The National Research Council Committee on Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs published its findings on the efficacy of the drug war. The NRC Committee found that existing studies on efforts to address drug usage and smuggling, from U.S. military operations to eradicate coca fields in Colombia, to domestic drug treatment centers, have all been inconclusive, if the programs have been evaluated at all: “The existing drug-use monitoring systems are strikingly inadequate to support the full range of policy decisions that the nation must make…. It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether and to what extent it is having the desired effect.”[115] The study, though not ignored by the press, was ignored by top-level policymakers, leading Committee Chair Charles Manski to conclude, as one observer notes, that “the drug war has no interest in its own results.”[116]

    During alcohol prohibition, the period from 1920 to 1933, alcohol use initially fell but began to increase as early as 1922. It has been extrapolated that even if prohibition had not been repealed in 1933, alcohol consumption would have quickly surpassed pre-prohibition levels .[117] One argument against the War on Drugs is that it uses similar measures as Prohibition and is no more effective.

    Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru from 1990–2000, described U.S. foreign drug policy as “failed” on grounds that “for 10 years, there has been a considerable sum invested by the Peruvian government and another sum on the part of the American government, and this has not led to a reduction in the supply of coca leaf offered for sale. Rather, in the 10 years from 1980 to 1990, it grew 10-fold.”[122]

    At least 500 economists, including Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman,[123] George Akerlof and Vernon L. Smith, have noted that reducing the supply of marijuana without reducing the demand causes the price, and hence the profits of marijuana sellers, to go up, according to the laws of supply and demand.[124] The increased profits encourage the producers to produce more drugs despite the risks, providing a theoretical explanation for why attacks on drug supply have failed to have any lasting effect. The aforementioned economists published an open letter to President George W. Bush stating “We urge…the country to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition… At a minimum, this debate will force advocates of current policy to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition.”

  5. I suspect, without the War on Drugs, addiction rates for drugs would be similar to alcohol by now (i.e. roughly interchanging the lines on the graph):

    22 million Americans are addicts
    September 6, 2003

    “Around 22 million Americans were addicted to alcohol or drugs last year.

    The most common addiction — with 14.9 million people — was alcohol. Another 3.9 million people were addicted to illegal drugs and the remainder were addicted to both drugs and alcohol, SAMHSA said in its new National Survey on Drug Use and Health.”

  6. Buying illegal drugs when you know you’re making criminals rich and killing innocent people is worse than being addicted.

    I guess, that’s what drugs do to people.

    • They’re only criminals because government decided to criminalize perfectly normal intoxicants. You make alcohol drug dealers rich with your purchases of booze. How do you sleep at night?

  7. The steepest increase in drug war spending was in the crack cocaine epidemic, that soared from 1984-90, which suggests government will spend as much as necessary to contain drug use.

  8. Here’s the thing:

    This chart shows no correlation whatsoever between spending and addiction rates. Because of this, we can reasonably claim that the drug war has been a failure.

    “But wait! if it weren’t for this spending, even more people would be addicted!”

    Ok, let’s take that argument at face value and assume it is true. Given the fact that the addiction rate was more or less the same now as it was back in 1970 when we were spending less than $1 billion, then (adjusting for inflation), why does our spending exceed $5.7 billion? Assuming the spending keeps the rate in check, than that means we are wasting some $1.49 trillion dollars (someone check my math: 1.5 trillion – 5.7 billion). That money could go towards infrastructure, paying down the debt, lowering taxes, education, defense, etc. Why spend more than we have to?

    • When the Fed tightens and eases the money supply to smooth-out business cycles, you don’t see a correlation either. So, you believe monetary policy has been a failure?

      Obviously, your arguments are political, not economic, like some others, who make the same biased statements regardless of how much proof you show them and answer their same questions in many ways many times.

      Why defend illegal drug users, who invent propaganda, blame others for their irresponsibilities, and cost society lots of money?

      Why reward people who break the law with legalization?

      • When the Fed tightens and eases the money supply to smooth-out business cycles, you don’t see a correlation either. So, you believe monetary policy has been a failure?


          • I must have missed that conversation. Please show me the evidence, or at least, direct me to where I may find it.

            See, when I see three of the worst financial crises occur on the Fed’s watch (Great Depression, 1980′s S&L Crises, 2008), I see a failed policy.

            If we are getting the same results no matter what we do, I say that is an abject failure.

        • I agree, government can be more efficient in the War on Drugs. However, it’s important to take into account all the major results, not some.

          • What results? Addiction rates the the same! Thousands of people are dead! Thousands more in prison for victimless and non-violent crimes! $1.5 trillion spent and we are treading water! This is what you call victory? This is what you call progress? This isn’t war. This is a crime against humanity!

            Look, all I am saying is maybe it is time to revisit this issue. Our current methods clearly are not working. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is clearly insanity.

            When I look around and see all the dead in Mexico and the US (and God knows how many in other places), thousands in jail for victimless and non-violent crimes, and trillions of dollars being wasted, I see a failed policy. The only answer anyone can seem to give me is “this would be worse if we didn’t do this.” Well, I am calling fucking bullshit on this. Nothing is worth this kind of social costs. Peak, you always harp on social costs when we talk about this. Well, look at the social costs of this war. Look at all the dead. Look at all the dying. Look at the failing schools and crumbing infrastructure that could benefit from the $1.5 trillion we are spending. Look at all that and tell me it is worth it.

            If all you can give me are hypothetical “it would be worse” situations, then I suggest you desperately need to reexamine your thoughts on this matter.

            No social engineering program is worth this.

          • Jon, wishing away costs of crime, terrorism, recession, etc. is not a realistic method.

            Exactly what we’ve been trying to tell you, Peak.

      • WTF does that have to do with anything in Sprewell’s link? You really consider peacefully sleeping in your own bed at night analogous to driving at silly speeds?

      • Sprewell, if you drive your car 100 MPH and kill someone, you can blame someone or something else.

        But no one will blame your car or the dealer who sold it to you, nor will they declare a “war on cars” to prevent people from harming others because of them. Get a grip, Peak.

          • Ron, if you break the law and kill someone who’s fault is that? The police?

            Are you being intentionally obtuse?

            If you kill someone through your own intent or negligence, including driving at an unsafe speed, you have broken the law and can be prosecuted. It doesn’t matter what your condition is, whether sober, alert, drunk, stoned, or otherwise impaired, you are responsible for a death.

            As I pointed out, in your example, no one will blame your car or the person who sold it to you, and they won’t call for outlawing cars because they are dangerous.

    • Here’s another result to take into account:

      “Pablo Acosta, born in abject poverty in Mexico, became drug czar of Ojinaga across the border from the Big Bend country of Texas.

      He launched his career by smuggling marijuana and heroin into the U.S., later adding cocaine, and forging an alliance with Colombian drug traders. At the peak, he may have controlled 60% of the coke trafficked into the U.S., according to Poppa.

      The author shows that Acosta consolidated his power by murdering rivals, corrupting local police and soldiers, distributing money to the poor and contributing generously to civic projects.

      Eventually, however, he became a coke addict; his iron entrepreneurial grip slipped; and he was tracked down and killed in 1987 by an international narcotic strike force.”

  9. Jon believes monetary policy has been a failure.

    U.S. per capita real GDP grew at a faster rate after the Fed, in 1913, than before (although large economies tend to grow more slowly than small economies), in large part, because the Fed became increasingly better at smoothing-out both short-term and long-wave business cycles.

    Boom-Bust cycles are inefficient both in the boom and bust phases, because resources aren’t employed efficiently.

    Also, you can’t blame the Fed for the financial crisis, because Congress created the moral hazard of directing and recycling money into the housing market.

    You can blame the Fed for easing the money supply a few months too late in 2007, given the Fed works in the future economy. However, the Bush tax cuts in early 2008 gave the Fed time to catch-up easing the money supply.

    • The Long Depression

      The National Bureau of Economic Research dates the contraction following the panic as lasting from October 1873 to March 1879.

      At 65 months, it is the longest-lasting contraction identified by the NBER, eclipsing the Great Depression’s 43 months of contraction.

      In the US, from 1873–1879, 18,000 businesses went bankrupt, including hundreds of banks, and ten states went bankrupt, while unemployment peaked at 14% in 1876, long after the panic ended.


      The Depression of 1893

      The Depression of 1893 was one of the worst in American history with the unemployment rate exceeding ten percent for half a decade.

      During this period population grew at about 2% per year, so real GNP per person didn’t surpass its 1892 level until 1899.

      The depression, which was signaled by a financial panic in 1893, has been blamed on the deflation dating back to the Civil War, the gold standard and monetary policy, underconsumption, a general economic unsoundness, and government extravagance.

      • The Long Depression is a myth. Yes, there were numerous business failures, but there were even more business starts. Thats what you expect in a free market with “creative destruction”. Consumption of goods increased, and real wages grew. These were actually pretty good times. Not perfect, but good enough that they don’t deserve to be labelled a depression.

    • List of recessions in the United States – Wikipedia

      Recessions in the Industrial Revolution – 1871-1914

      Period – Percent Decline of Business Activity

      1873-79 – 33.6%
      1882-85 – 32.8%
      1887-88 – 14.6%
      1890-91 – 22.1%
      1893-94 – 37.3%
      1895-97 – 25.2%
      1899-00 – 15.5%
      1902-04 – 16.2%
      1907-08 – 29.2%
      1910-12 – 14.7%
      1913-14 – 25.9%

      Recessions in the Information Revolution – 1982-2007

      Period – Percent of Contraction

      1990-91 – 1.4%
      2001 – 0.3%

      • This is merely a list of dates and contractions (it also excludes 1915-1989). It doesn’t prove monetary policy smoothed anything out.

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