Mexico is disintegrating. Bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and shootings are now common. Recently, the mayor of Tancitaro Mexico was stoned to death. Mexican corruption is so rampant that United States law enforcement officials are reluctant to work with their Mexican counterparts out, fearing perverse results.
The crimes are perpetuated by ruthless criminals whose depravity cannot be overstated. These are after all, people for whom torture, rape, and beheadings are normal parts of their business, and they show little reluctance to commit these atrocities against children. This link needs a strong-stomach warning.
Most of Mexico’s violence and corruption has as much to do with our war on drugs than anything indigenous. It is thus preventable with a change of U.S. policy. This is not only in Mexico’s interest but ours as well: the drug-related violence has already begun to spill over into the United States.
This cannot be avoided. The United States provides the customer base and the distribution network for Mexican drugs necessarily permeates the country. Increasingly, the product is produced in the United States. Travel in less-frequented California and Arizona wildernesses and parks is already dangerous. The problem is so pervasive that a fishing magazine, California Flyfisher, had an article in its October 2010 issue on how to avoid violent encounters with marijuana growers while fishing. The article documents how widespread and serious the problem is in California.
The most immediate impact of Mexico’s violence’s will be felt along our common border. It’s already a violent place. It will become even more violent. However, the impacts will eventually be felt throughout the United States, challenging prison officials and law enforcement everywhere. Eventually, the corruption will infect our government and police, and the violence will impact everyone. For those who doubt that it can happen here, I recommend reviewing the history of prohibition in the United States.
There will be other less direct implications of continued drug violence in Mexico. Immigration from Mexico will increase, but the composition of the immigrants will likely change. To date, our Mexican immigrants have mostly been relatively young, low-human-capital workers. As Mexican property rights—and what property rights can exist if your life is not reasonably secure?—decline, the middle and upper-middle class will be looking for alternatives. Many of them will see the United States as an attractive option.
This can only be good for America. We should welcome these people, the wealth, the human capital, and the physical capital they will bring. They will provide a vigorous stimulus to our economy and our communities. These benefits, however, will not outweigh the costs of the crime and corruption.
If we want to avoid the crime and corruption, we really need to abandon prohibition. We have a precedent.
America’s 13-year nightmare of alcohol prohibition was initially popular. The eighteenth constitutional amendment creating prohibition passed both houses of congress with votes of 65 to 20 in the Senate and 282 to 128 in the House. It was ratified by 36 of the then 48 states in only 13 months. Eventually, 46 states ratified the amendment with only Connecticut and Rhode Island rejecting it.
Ironically, the 21st amendment repealing prohibition was at least as popular as the 18th amendment that created prohibition. It passed the Senate with a vote 63 to 21 and the House by a vote of 289 to 121. Ratification by the necessary 36 states was achieved in only ten months, through State Ratifying Conventions. To date, the repeal of prohibition is the only constitutional amendment ratified by state conventions rather than by state legislatures.
In only 13 years, prohibition went from being popular to being so unpopular that the amendment repealing it was ratified in 10 months. Something had changed. Prohibition had sparked an upsurge in crime and expanded the Mafia into a national powerhouse. Enforcement costs had soared. Government revenues had declined, and many officials corrupted. John D. Rockefeller summarized America’s change of heart:
When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.
Today, alcohol still imposes huge personal and social costs, but we know that those costs are less than what we paid for prohibition. Drugs also impose huge personal and social costs, and the costs could increase in the event of legalization. The impacts of alcohol and drugs abuse on the abuser and those around him are terrible. The impacts of prohibition are worse.
Continuation of drug prohibition will result in increased crime, increased corruption, and ever more of our public lands being diverted to illegal production. Thousands of people will continue die in the United States, Mexico, and other countries. The numbers of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and shooting will continue to increase. Thousand more will survive with diminished lives, a result of wounds, the loss of property, the loss of loved ones, or a life dominated by fear.
Californians, by voting for Proposition 19, have to opportunity to take the first step in reducing the costs of prohibition. Despite the heartache and loss that drug abuse brings, voting for Proposition 19 is the humane thing to do, and it is one way that California can restore its now beleaguered reputation as a national thought leader.
Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at clucerf.org.