Submitted by Steven. on January 20, 2012

To date, there has been little study of the responsiveness of narcotics use1 to changes in the labor market, either in the aggregate or in the motivations of individual users. Blum's (1972) comprehensive inventory of theory and evidence in the drug field does not mention labor market or income factors at all.

Yet a number of studies of the economics of the heroin trade (Preble and Casey 1969; Moore 1970; Hughes et al. 1971; O'Connor et al. 1971; Wald et al. 1972; Wheat 1972; Lasswell and Mc Kenna 1972; Brown and Silverman 1973) lead to the prediction that both the incidence and numerical recruitment to the trade and the copping community will be highly responsive (up as well as down) to changes in such indictors of labor market conditions as wage and unemployment rates. This has been tested for the relationship between juvenile delinquency in the aggregate, unemployment and income, when it was found that in urban areas with a (statistically) high tendency toward crime, a 10% rise in incomes would be likely to result in a 20% decline in delinquency (Fleisher 1966). More recent qualitative studies of narcotic users further confirm the importance of this economic relationship at the level of individual motivation (Cutler 1967; Goldenberg 1972; Schick et al 1972).

It is our hypothesis that narcotics use is one of several interrelated social responses ton labor market failure. What exactly has constituted this 'failure' has varied form episode to episode in the growth of widespread narcotics use in American society, but the major structural features common to all can be demonstrated in the brief analysis to follow.

It is our general argument that the labor market primes the flow of working class adolescents into a hypothetical hustler pool. This is typically the situation when, in conditions of high unemployment and the absolute reductions in or deflation of the value of welfare payments, the only remaining income-earning alternative is in the criminal labor market, otherwise known as the hustle. The process of recruitment to particular forms of crime, including narcotics use and trade, will be governed by two sets of intervening variables; the first is the structure of criminal enterprise operating in a particular areas; for example, the openness and mobility of its upper and lower echelons, its credit mechanisms, the degree of its capitalazation (pornography is high, street prostitution and pimping is low; number high, gang crime low), etc. The second variable is the focus of, and risk associated with the system of law enforcement.

Criminal labor recruitment may occur in the 16-21 year old age group as a result of a process of drift (Matza 1964), differential association and socialization (Sutherland 1947), differential access and skill (Cloward and Ohlin 1960), a deviance labeling cycle (Schur 1961), or behavioral contagion (Wilson et al. 1972). These are, of course, the classic theorists of deviance in this case, and they are all quite compatible with the structural theory to be developed here. Unless joined to such a theory, however, they are under-specific and lack the predictive and quantifiable power that a fully developed structural theory can be expected to have. Such theories tend to be both too general and too as hoc at the same time. They are presented, for example, as accounts of the ways in which youths became involved in gang crime in the late 1950s, or in heroin use in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They do not account for the transition to switch unless, as in one case (Cloward and Ohlin 1960; cf. Chein et al. 1964), there is also a shift of analytical level on to the psychological plane and further ad hoc theorizing for example deviants who use heroin are double or triple failures in relation to both conventional norms of achievement (school) and conventional deviant norms of achievement (the gang). In a separate paper we suggest that there a few general hypotheses along psychological or personality lines which are acceptable (see Helper 1974).

In the meantime, let us see what characteristics or variables are necessary, if not sufficient, to identify those who have used narcotics in America during the past century.

  • 1 Some simplification of terminology: narcotic drugs in this paper will refer to cocaine and the major opiates, their derivatives (codeine for example) and synthetics (methadone, dilaudid). marijuana, which for the greater part of the period covered has been regarded as a narcotic by the State and legislated against in the same way, will be identified separately.