For about ten years, bodies have been piling up in northern Mexico as the country's drug gangs vie to control trafficking into the United States. The Mexican government has been forced to intervene with tens of thousands of soldiers, but this was much more a response to the violence than to the drug trade itself.

The trade brings tens of billions of dollars into the country - something like four times the amount brought in by legitimate investment - most of which is laundered and enters the legitimate economy. This money certainly has the ability to corrupt politics and undermine the government, as it did in Colombia, but it also means that vast sections of Mexican society have a stake in the continuation of the trade.

The violence, however, is much more problematic. It stems mainly from power imbalances between the cartels, which have presented opportunities for the gangs to try and take control of profitable trafficking routes from one another by force. The most the Mexican government can hope to do in this situation is restore some sort of equilibrium between the gangs, rather than somehow eliminating them all; needless to say, this would not stop the trade itself. The sort of decisive force that would be needed to accomplish the latter goal is made even less likely by the geographic remoteness of most of the violence from Mexico's elites; Ciudad Juarez is a long way from Mexico City.

Ultimately, the only "solution" to the vast flow of illicit cash into Mexico and the violence it fuels would be the legalization of drugs in the United States. The high price of drugs reflects their illegality, not their market value. If we oppose legalization, we must be honest about the inevitability of the costs that this decision imposes.


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