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Violence and the U.S. Prohibition of Drugs and Alcohol


  • Jeffrey A. Miron


Among the many unresolved questions regarding the determinants of violence is the role of prohibitions against drugs and alcohol. Conventional wisdom holds that consumption of these goods encourages violence and that prohibitions discourage such consumption; thus, prohibitions reduce violence. An alternative view, however, is that prohibitions create black markets, and in black markets participants use violence to resolve commercial disputes. Thus, prohibitions potentially increase violence. This paper examines the relation between prohibitions and violence using the historical behavior of the homicide rate in the United States. The results document that increases in enforcement of drug and alcohol prohibition have been associated with increases in the homicide rate, and auxiliary evidence suggests this positive correlation reflects a causal effect of prohibition enforcement on homicide. Controlling for other potential determinants of the homicide rate -- the age composition of the population, the incarceration rate, economic conditions, gun availability, and the death penalty -- does not alter the conclusion that drug and alcohol prohibition have substantially raised the homicide rate in the United States over much of the past 100 years.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey A. Miron, 1999. "Violence and the U.S. Prohibition of Drugs and Alcohol," NBER Working Papers 6950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6950
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Becker, Gary S & Grossman, Michael & Murphy, Kevin M, 1994. "An Empirical Analysis of Cigarette Addiction," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 396-418, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Feigenbaum, James J. & Muller, Christopher, 2016. "Lead exposure and violent crime in the early twentieth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 51-86.
    2. Angela K. Dills, 2004. "Alcohol Prohibition and Cirrhosis," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(2), pages 285-318.
    3. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(1), pages 267-288.
    4. Bruce L. Benson & Paul R. Zimmerman, 2010. "Conclusion," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 20 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    5. Edward M. Shepard & Paul R. Blackely, 2010. "Economics of Crime and Drugs: Prohibition and Public Policies for Illicit Drug Control," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 10 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    6. Mudambi, Ram & Paul, Chris, 2003. "Domestic drug prohibition as a source of foreign institutional instability: an analysis of the multinational extralegal enterprise," Journal of International Management, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 335-349.
    7. Benjamin Powell & G.P. Manish & Malavika Nair, 2010. "Corruption, Crime and Economic Growth," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 13 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. Livingston, Brendan, 2016. "Murder and the black market: Prohibition's impact on homicide rates in American cities," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 33-44.
    9. Caulkins, Jonathan P. & Reuter, Peter, 2006. "Illicit drug markets and economic irregularities," Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 1-14, March.
    10. Adam Jacobsson & Alberto Naranjo, 2009. "Counter-intuitive effects of domestic law enforcement policies in the United States," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 10(4), pages 323-343, November.
    11. Carlos Dobkin & Nancy Nicosia, 2009. "The War on Drugs: Methamphetamine, Public Health, and Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 324-349, March.
    12. Bruce L. Benson, 2010. "The Allocation of Police," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 8 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    13. World Bank, 2010. "Crime and Violence in Central America : A Development Challenge - Executive Summary," World Bank Other Operational Studies 2979, The World Bank.
    14. Kuziemko, Ilyana & Levitt, Steven D., 2004. "An empirical analysis of imprisoning drug offenders," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2043-2066, August.
    15. Bryan, Mark L. & Del Bono, Emilia & Pudney, Stephen, 2013. "Drug-related crime," ISER Working Paper Series 2013-08, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    16. repec:eee:pubeco:v:154:y:2017:i:c:p:67-94 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Swensen, Isaac D., 2015. "Substance-abuse treatment and mortality," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 13-30.
    18. Howard Bodenhorn, 2016. "Blind Tigers and Red-Tape Cocktails: Liquor Control and Homicide in Late-Nineteenth-Century South Carolina," NBER Working Papers 22980, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Geloso, Vincent & Kufenko, Vadim, 2017. "Inequality and guard labor, or prohibition and guard labor?," Hohenheim Discussion Papers in Business, Economics and Social Sciences 06-2017, University of Hohenheim, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences.
    20. Robert T. Burrus, Jr., 2006. "The Impact of Weight-Based Penalties on Drug Purity and Consumption: A Theoretical Analysis," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 629-646, Fall.
    21. O’Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2015. "Urban Crime," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    22. Hefei Wen & Jason M. Hockenberry & Janet R. Cummings, 2014. "The Effect of Substance Use Disorder Treatment Use on Crime: Evidence from Public Insurance Expansions and Health Insurance Parity Mandates," NBER Working Papers 20537, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    23. repec:bla:ecaffa:v:37:y:2017:i:3:p:373-381 is not listed on IDEAS

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    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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