Friday, March 11, 2011

Colombian drug endowments

I was thinking the other day about the great robber barons in US history. Guys like Rockefeller, Carnegie, et al were basically rent-seekers, not necessarily value-makers. As I understand it, their achievement wasn't in producing good steel or oil or railways, but rather in their backroom dealings to absorb, buy out, or drive out the competition. This didn't create wealth--indeed, probably more value would have been created if there remained a healthy competition in these fields. Either way, the upside of having these big, corrupt corporate monopolies is that many of the US's cultural and social endowments, foundations, and NGOs were created from the fortunes these guys amassed.

I began to apply this to the Colombian case. It's true that guys like Pablo Escobar, and I imagine the Rodriguez Orejuelas, invested in social projects in the poor neighborhoods of Cali or Medellin. But of course since their line of business by nature tore apart the social fabric of these same neighborhoods, the net benefit is questionable. Furthermore, now those names are long gone, and the Colombian drug trade is much more divided between different players. Anyway, it would be interesting if today's drug traffickers in Colombia were to create cultural or development endowments, or even universities like Carnegie-Mellon. It would be a lasting positive legacy from an otherwise dirty business.

Of course, now that the major narco-dollars are being made in Mexico, Colombia is limiting itself to the production and wholesale shipping of drugs, which are the lowest-value rungs in the whole drug trade. So maybe it's the new Mexican cartels that we should try to convince of the importance of doing good with their ill-gotten gains.

No comments:

Post a Comment