Methamphetamine wreckage in Montana

What’s the lesson of a case in which a long series of “victimless” crimes somehow resulted in a lot of victims?

Hal Herring at New West has a hair-raising six-part series on what methamphetamine has brought to the Lake Flathead area of Western Montana.

The story isn’t just about meth: it’s also abut what happens when dirty but well-paid jobs in extraction and manufacturing leave a rural area and a replaced by bad service-industry jobs. And it’s told through the lens of a truly bizarre case about a wealthy and respected businessman who developed an entirely new approach to credit counseling.

The series is a superb piece of reporting, describing a situation bizarre enough for a John MacDonald novel, and Herring is, in an understated way, a great stylist.

Herring is also reflective. He asks, “What’s the lesson of a case in which a long series of “victimless” crimes somehow resulted in a lot of victims?” Better yet, he doesn’t push his own answer to that question, but leaves it, in good textbook style, as an exercise for the reader.

Footnote: Note the prostitute’s paean to individual responsiblity in Part VI of the story, echoing the wider debate about the moral onus on tempters as against temptees. And verily I say unto you again, “The moral responsibilities in a situation do not sum to unity.”

Hat tip: The Uneasy Chair, via Three-Toed Sloth.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com