The Drug War's Impact on America's Economy
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The Drug War’s Impact on the American Economy

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The Drug War's Impact on the American Economy

The Drug War’s Impact on the American Economy

America’s and the world’s appetite for drugs is insatiable. Billions upon billions of dollars have been spent on both the consumption of illicit drugs and fighting the war on drugs.

At first glance as an investor, you probably don’t think this affects you (that is, if you don’t use or sell drugs). But a closer look will reveal the enormous economic impact that the war on drugs has on America. Prepare yourself for some very alarming numbers.

Since 1971, the United States has spent $1,000,000,000,000 on the war on drugs. If you have a hard time reading that enormous number, it’s 1 TRILLION dollars! There are an estimated 500,000 inmates incarcerated for drug related charges. At an annual cost of $25,000 per inmate, that equates to $12.6 billion a year. America spends 58% less money to educate a child than it does to keep an inmate behind bars. The next generation (who will be future consumers) is suffering and is being heavily disadvantaged.

On the consumption side, the numbers are just as incredible. The estimated annual value of the cocaine market is $88 billion. For Heroin, it is $55 billion. The average cocaine addict will spend $25,000 per year to fuel their habit and the average heroin addict will spend $18,000.

These massive sums of money could be spent on much more productive things. The USA has been struggling financially for years now, to the point where a major city like Detroit had to declare bankruptcy. The enormous amount of money that is spent untaxed on drugs is mind boggling, and the large majority of it goes out of the country. Can you imagine if these wasted dollars could be used to fuel its growth or pay back its astronomical debt?

The first step of rehab is to admit there is a problem. Spending over a trillion dollars and incarcerating hundreds of thousands is definitely that. The next step is finding a way to solve it – we’re open to ideas.

Source: Rehabs.com

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Mapped: Geopolitical Risk by Economy

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia had one of the highest levels of geopolitical risk. How does geopolitical uncertainty vary around the world?

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World map with countries coloured according to their level of geopolitical risk. Pakistan has the most geopolitical risk while New Zealand has the least.
The following content is sponsored by The Hinrich Foundation

Geopolitical Risk by Economy

The Russia-Ukraine war highlighted how geopolitical risk can up-end supply chains and weaponize trade. More precisely, the war led to trade sanctions, a food crisis, and energy shortages.

This graphic from The Hinrich Foundation, the third in a five-part series on the sustainability of trade, explores how geopolitical risk differs by economy. It pulls data from the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index, which The Hinrich Foundation produced in collaboration with the IMD World Competitiveness Center.

Breaking Down Geopolitical Risk

Geopolitical risk has a strong correlation with GDP per capita, meaning that developing economies typically have less stability.

The following table shows how geopolitical risk breaks down for select economies that are covered in the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index. A lower number indicates less stability, while a higher number indicates more stability.

EconomyGeopolitical Stability
Pakistan5.2
Myanmar9.9
Bangladesh16.0
India17.0
Mexico17.9
Philippines18.9
Papua New Guinea20.3
Russia20.8
Thailand24.5
Indonesia28.3
Ecuador34.4
China37.7
Peru38.7
Cambodia41.0
Vietnam44.8
Sri Lanka45.3
U.S.46.2
Chile49.1
Hong Kong50.0
Malaysia50.9
UK61.3
South Korea62.7
Laos69.3
Taiwan72.2
Australia73.1
Japan87.3
Canada90.1
Brunei90.6
Singapore97.2
New Zealand97.6

Source: World Bank, based on the latest available data from 2020. Values measure perceptions of political instability and violence, which are a proxy and precursor to geopolitical risk.

New Zealand has the highest level of stability, likely supported by the fact that it is a small nation with no direct neighbors. The country has taken steps to repair relationships with Indigenous peoples, through land and monetary settlements, though challenges remain. 

The U.S. has moderate stability. It has been impacted by increasing political polarization that has led to people having lower trust in institutions and more negative views of people from the opposing party. As the world’s largest economy, the U.S. also faces geopolitical risk such as escalating tariffs in the U.S.-China trade war. 

Want more insights into trade sustainability?

Sustainable Trade Index 2022 Report Cover

Download the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index for free.

Russia has one of the lowest levels of stability. The country’s invasion of Ukraine has led to war along with economic roadblocks that restrict normal trade activity. For instance, sanctions against Russia and blocked Ukrainian ports led to a food shortage. The two countries supply a third of the world’s wheat and 75% of the sunflower oil supply. 

The Impact of Geopolitical Uncertainty on Trade

Geopolitical risk can lead to civil unrest and war. It also has economic consequences including trade disruptions. As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, the World Bank estimates that “world trade will drop by 1%, lowering global GDP by 0.7% and GDP of low-income economies by 1%.” A separate study found that Pakistan’s history of political instability has negatively affected trade in the country.

Of course, geopolitical risk is just one component of an economy’s trade sustainability. The Sustainable Trade Index uses a number of other metrics to measure economies’ ability to trade in a way that balances economic growth, societal development, and environmental protection. To learn more, visit the STI landing page where you can download the report for free.

The fourth piece in this series will explore air pollution by economy, and how it is influenced by economic activity such as trade.

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