We watched a Long Now talk last night by Nils Gilman, entitled Deviant Globalization. I first ran across Gilman in a shorter talk from a couple of years ago about the global illicit economy — black markets. He describes deviant globalization somewhat differently. Trade can be perfectly legal, and still deviant. He used the example of US men arranging trysts with 14 year old girls in Canada… which amazingly could still be considered legal until 2008, since 14 was the nationwide age of consent. Sure, it was legal, but who really thought it was okay? So deviant globalization represents a kind of moral arbitrage. Demand exists for goods and services which are proscribed in different ways, to different degrees, in different places. Sometimes they’re socially taboo, and sometimes they’re outlawed, but in all cases there exists a kind of moral disequilibrium gradient that can be exploited.
What united all these extralegal commodity flows […] was the unsanctioned circulation of goods and services that either because of the way they are produced or because of the way they are consumed violate someone’s ethical sensibilities.
One of his main points is that the steepness of that moral or regulatory gradient translates pretty directly into profit margins. Cocaine increases in value by 1400% when you bring it across the US border. This creates incredible incentives to get around the rules, even at great risk. This is why Prohibition rarely works as a policy. Any attempt at eradication financially empowers those who are willing to continue taking the risks you’re able to impose.