When I read at the “Why Nations Fail Blog” that “the very high incarceration rates for African-Americans is a uniquely American failure” I sent them an email citing Julius Uzoaba’s comparison of Canada, Australia the U.S and U.K. Acemoglu responded shortly afterward, saying they would follow up next week, and now they have. I would quibble with some of their points. They emphasize that the U.S is a democracy and say Prohibition was ended once people started believing it caused more crime than it prevented and mobilized against it. According to Daniel Okrent, a major motivation was tax revenue, which it provided a lot of in the days of low/no income taxes and was sorely needed during the Great Depression. There’s just not going to be as much money in legalizing drugs, and the government doesn’t need it as much. Additionally, U.S complacency over the War on Drugs is contrasted with calls from legalization in Latin America, but I would emphasize that the most notable statesmen calling for legalization/decriminalization (which wouldn’t do much, the folks in prison are generally dealers rather than petty users) are EX-officials rather than the folks currently in office.
The title of his post was “Who supports the US penal system”, but the major policy discussed is the war on drugs. I examined support for legalizing marijuana here, surprisingly enough blacks were slightly less in favor of ending a policy which disproportionately incarcerates their cohort. It was a pretty small difference, but I would have expected a larger gap in the opposite direction.
*I guess some James Robinson character is his co-author, but I’d never heard of him before, plus his name comes last alphabetically.