Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why we need a cost-benefit analysis part II

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has recently released a report 'Towards a better understanding of drug-related public expenditure' which backs up calls for a cost-benefit analysis of the current drugs laws.

Click on image to read the report

The report argues that,

'Quantifying a government’s drug-related expenditure is a first step in formulating an economic evaluation of drug policy interventions. This evaluation will provide information that can be used to determine whether or not intended outcomes have been achieved.'

The report also recognises that any form of CBA must also look at the alternatives to prohibition in order to fully evaluate the most viable options.

'Public expenditure figures are ultimately intended to enhance policymakers’ decision-making on drug policy. But decisionmakers must be very careful and refrain from taking decisions based on raw public expenditure figures without carefully trading-off the alternatives involved or without a sufficient evaluation of the possible consequences of spending choices. The simple identification of an area of low (or high) expenditure cannot in itself suggest inefficiency. An inefficient allocation of resources exists when the resources concerned could generate greater benefits if used elsewhere, but without an understanding of the benefits gained, it is not possible to assess whether expenditure in a particular area is efficient or not.'

This report is welcomed by Transform who have consistently called for a CBA (see my previous blog on why we need a cost-benefit analysis).

The new report, in conjunction with the Eurobarometer poll (blogged here) that asked young people their opinions about support for the control and regulation of drugs, suggests that within the EU and EC there is a willingness to look at alternatives to the status quo.

Unfortunately the UK goverment has repeatedly rebuffed calls for a CBA. In 2003 at a press conference, Danny asked the then drugs spokesperson at the Home Office, Bob Ainsworth MP, whether the government would support a cost benefit analysis of drug law enforcement. Quick as a flash his reply came back: "Why would we want to do that unless we were going to legalise drugs?"

Well it seems that within Europe those important questions are being asked now with a view to creating an evidence-based policy rather than one based on outdated, and irrational solutions.


Anonymous said...

Re: Unfortunately the UK government has repeatedly rebuffed calls for a CBA.

This reminds me of a a quote, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin but probably by Rita Mae Brown:
”Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Then from my copy of the Dictionary of Psychology 2nd ed. by Arthur S. Reber. Page 192.

Delusion A belief that is maintained in spite of argument, data and refutation which should (reasonably) be sufficient to destroy it.

Whilst this definition was formulated with the individual in mind, it has often been noted that many of the same behavioural patterns as exhibited in the unwell patient can also exhibited by organizations. Likewise, their 'corporate culture' also becomes pathogenic when any such incorporated false beliefs start to cause harm – be it physical, financial or environmental. The 'war on drugs' manages all three. (A forth, if one includes the drag on research into new medical treatments that require experimentation with substances on the prohibited list)
Certain well placed individuals with in these organizations may come out with all the Ah BUTs to this that they can think of, but that is never going to change reality one bit.
Paul C
P.S. I wont go into where neuroticism and paranoia comes in as a driving force. Still, I dare say many can see for themselves how these keeps this particular dog chasing its own tail -ever faster.

Anonymous said...

Why does Transform think we need a CBA if Government admits its irrelevant and that it would not convince them to change policy?

Prohibition is nothing to do with a Government CBA determination that its the best option. Prohibition is simply the only option that is politically acceptable. Government's hands are tied by their dependency on the opinion of others, domestic voters and the international community (ie. the UN=US). Until Transform addresses these reasons, nothing will change.

Steve Rolles said...

Indeed, the CBA would probably not tell us much we don't already know, but crucially would definitively expose the policy as a transparently political exercise and destroy the absurd pretense that it is in any way evidence based or rational. It would be an important tool in re-aligning the popular discourse away from prohibitionist posturing.

For Government it would offer them an possible route out from the corner they have painted themselves into. They can acknowledge the failings of policy and call for a debate - an authoritative CBA being a central part of this (essentially what the lib dems have done although they dont want to talk about it). It would give them a basis on which to sell a phased program of reform - or at the very least pilots of certain initiatives, to the public and media.

Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying, Steve, but the Government isn't looking for a way out of any corner - they're quite happy with the status quo. Why should they risk all the political comeback from opposition parties, the media, the UN & US, all accusing "they're going soft on drugs!". What's in it for them?
The 'biggest consultation ever' on UK drugs strategy didn't even consider alternatives to prohibition. Government has clearly stated that legal regulation is not a possibility they will ever consider.

So it seems its drug policy reformers who are in the corner. The only solution seems to be to motivate the public enough so that this becomes an election issue.

Rational arguments clearly have their place, to convince logically, but they won't motivate the way emotions do. Just like people dependent on drugs or food, they need to really WANT to kick their habit, not simply know that a CBA shows they should. Particularly peoples' fear needs to be addressed - fear of the unknown (prohibitionists) and fear of standing up for their rights (drug consumers & traders).

Another way, maybe, is to try to force the issue by showing that Government is using its legal power to protect the public for an unlawful political purpose - compliance with public opinion and with UN Conventions that have not been incorportaed into UK law.

domlingus said...

What we really need is an end to the promoting of drug use, together with enlightened and effective methods of discouraging and minimising it,together with the will to apply it.

We also need first class facilities to provide residential, drug free treatment protocols, together with a more robust enforcement of existing laws to minimise if not prevent the ever increasing volume of drugs being imported with the connivance of both the government and those responsible for policing our porous points of entry.

Other countries, such as Switzerland have achieved it, therefore we know its possible

Steve Rolles said...

dom - your right about better services but the idea of plugging our porous borders is pure fantasy. the market is so profitable because of prohibition that the criminal profiteers will always find a way. even if our borders could be sealed drugs would just be produced domestically. Dogmatic adherence to an enforcement paradigm can never be the solution even if it feels right at a gut level. only a public health based approach with appropriately regulated markets can hope to reduce the problems we face today.