American Legal History
I'm interested in exploring the parallels between tobacco cultivation in colonial Virginia and late 20th century crack dealing gangs. As a point of departure, I'll be referencing Jonathan Leavitt's seminal paper : "An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang's Finances." Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2000, 115(3), pp. 755-89. (with Venkatesh, Sudhir A.). Link Venkatesh, an anthropologist, obtained four years of accurate ledgers detailing the economic aspects of a gang's activity, from kingpins to footsoldiers, with information about mortality, imprisonment, quantity and quality of drugs provided, and revenues/profits.

The parallels that jumped out at me were: *A habit-forming commodity *A destructive outlet for society's dangerous young men (particularly in Virginia's early years, when disease and starvation made the use of slaves for tobacco cultivation uneconomic). *Slavery and mass incarceration *Aggressive expansion in the fashion of a tragedy of the commons (the French and Indian wars as a precursor to turf wars; an individual producer obtains a marginal acre/block, but the whole town/gang can risk war). *Wealth creation, particularly its impact on transactional systems and the effort to convert it into legitimate currency. I.e. tobacco warehouse receipts into gold specie, laundering drug money. *Consequences for health policy *The role of bourgeois moral norms

These elements have an impact upon the legal order. They implicate the law of commerce and transactions, the law of citizenship, immigration, and slavery, and the criminal law, as well as a number of public policy issues. There are also non-legal dispute resolution mechanics that were invoked in both time periods, and they probably bear some examination.

A few questions, big and small, to guide my research: How does one vice come to be accepted, and why? What is the role of capital in the production of these commodities? What ought it be? What is the true cost to society of these vices, and how is it distributed? Why did poor white people initially choose to cultivate tobacco, if it was so dangerous? What kind of people were these, and what made them more difficult to oppress than african slaves?

Per Prof. Moglen's recommendation, my reading list will start with E. Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom.

-- HarryLayman - 03 Nov 2009

This is very interesting! If you've never read Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, you might want to check out the third chapter; it's all about the economics of drug dealing (and of crack, in particular). It's a lot less academic than the Johnathan Leavitt paper you've referenced, so the actual content may not be too useful, but the Freakonomics series is actually similar to your project in some respects, so its methodology might be of interest.

-- JuliaS - 04 Nov 2009



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r3 - 07 Sep 2011 - 00:11:27 - IanSullivan
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