Vice Squad!

Interesting story on the radio this morning – it seems that theft of car stereos, which was rampant in the 1980s and 1990s, pretty much doesn’t happen anymore.  Why?  Because most cars now come with excellent built-in sound systems.  These cars don’t need an upgrade, and the stereos in them, if stolen, won’t fit anywhere other than in the cars they were stolen from in the first place.  And for the few people who still want an aftermarket car stereo, very good ones are now available for about $100.

The combined result of these factors?  Virtual elimination of demand for stolen car stereos.

This reinforces something I’ve believed for a long time.  As far as I know, there is no example of any form of what I’ll call ‘vice’ (i.e., widespread social misbehavior) being eliminated at its source.  Why?  Because it’s always both easier and cheaper for purveyors of vice to find ways around new obstacles than it is for authorities to erect them.  The only way to make a vice go away is to eliminate demand for it. This means attacking the problem at the point of consumption, not the point of origin.

Take illegal drug trafficking, which was in the news today, too, this time with a focus on Mexico.   Years of efforts to disrupt supply lines have not made the problem go away.   Adoption of the Saudi justice system would, but we’re not going to do that.  So how might we make a meaningful dent in demand for illicit drugs?

I don’t have the answer to that (I wish I did).  But here are a couple of ‘vices’ I have thought about, and possible demand-oriented solutions to them:

  • Political Influence of Campaign Contributions:   Eliminate most of the need for money by banning political advertising on television.  (I think this would be constitutional because while we can’t limit what people say, there is precedent for limiting where they’re allowed to say it.  I should point out, however, that everyone I’ve mentioned this to, especially lawyers, disagrees with me.)
  • SPAM:  This one is easy and not my idea, although I am a big advocate for it.  Make unrecognized senders verify their identity; give recipients the ability to see the verification and accept or reject the sender.  (I will have more to say about this in a subsequent post.)

Now it’s your turn.  What demand-eliminating solutions can you suggest to some of our better vices?  Please leave a comment and let me know!

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2 Responses to “Vice Squad!”


  1. 1 Len Bland March 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Another example of how this vice problem was solved. We had prohibition over alcohol. Over that time we saw skyrocketing prison populations. We solved the problem by legalizing alcohol. We are once again seeing overcrowding in our prisons.

    A common reasons for incarceration is substance abuse. Statistics show that inmates who receive treatment for a sufficient long period (up to 6 months) have a much lower recidivism rate. I am a founder in Sober Lifestyles.

    More on the SPAM elimination. Why don’t ISP’s provide a (daily, weekly, etc.) list of all the e-mails sent from an address or domain to the owner. This would be a huge wake up call for bot infected PC’s (mine?).

    For that matter, I know that someone was using a fake e-mail address with my ending domain name. Why can’t I get the ISP to stop it?

  2. 2 dwallace12 March 26, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Len.

    Prohibition certainly is a (maybe the) classic example of a failed attempt to stop a vice at its source. Of course, what we did when that effort failed was simply to redefine alcohol use as ‘not a vice’. The behavior persists – we just stopped throwing people in jail for it (unless they couple it with driving). I doubt that we’ll ever be willing to look at spam and just say, “Aw, it’s ok.”

    I also doubt that we’ll ever be as lenient regarding cocaine, methamphetamine, et. al. But your point about intensive treatment is interesting. Maybe we don’t have to eliminate demand – just knock it down far enough to make the market for a particular vice unattractive.

    I can understand the appeal of your suggestion about spam. However, it strikes me as another effort to go after the source – figure out who the bad guys are and try to stop them. I’m suggesting that we make the entire concept of spam irrelevant by making all email essentially opt-in. If you want ads for smaller mortgage payments and larger body parts, otherwise, say no. Again, I’ll write a separate post about this and then really would enjoy your thoughts.

    DW


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