Teaching Points– Regulation of Vice

Editor’s Note: This week’s Teaching Points entry takes a turn for the dismal, as we showcase the work of economist Jim Leitzel, Senior Lecturer in Social Science and Director of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.  Don’t let the wonkishness fool you though: Leitzel is also the founder of TWO blogs, Vice Squad and Self-Exclusion, and quite possibly the first Points contributor to have given a TEDx Talk (on “Re-Legalizing Drugs”).  Here he moves beyond drugs qua drugs and discusses the larger question of the “Regulation of Vice.”

I taught versions of this undergraduate Regulation of Vice course nine times at the University of Chicago between 1999 and 2008. Since then, I have offered an independent study version, and might reprise the regular course someday. I got the idea for a vice policy class from Phil Cook, who taught a similar course beginning in the mid-1990s when I was his colleague at Duke University. In the early years I surely borrowed quite a bit from Phil’s syllabus, too.  In general, I take a “less is more” approach to assigned readings, in an effort to simplify the triage problem facing students. Economics is a popular major at Chicago, and as Regulation of Vice is an Economics elective, the typical student is a third- or fourth-year Economics major.

Brief Description: This course concerns government policy with respect to the traditional vices of drinking, smoking, gambling, illicit sex, and the recreational use of drugs. Among the policies that will be considered are prohibition, decriminalization, taxation, licensing, and marketing controls. The intellectual framework employed for the evaluation of various policies is primarily economic and legal, though other disciplines also will be drawn upon.

J.S. Mill

Text: There is no required core text for the class. Books that might be helpful include Robert J. MacCoun and Peter Reuter, Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times, & Places, Cambridge University Press, 2001; Jim Leitzel, Regulating Vice: Misguided Prohibitions and Realistic Controls, Cambridge University Press, 2008; and Mark A. R. Kleiman, Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results, Basic Books, 1992. John Stuart Mill’s essay, On Liberty, opens the course. 

Course Outline and Readings:

Class One: Introduction

Class Two: The Harm Principle

  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapters 1 and 2

Class Three: Liberty and Vice

  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapters 3 through 5
  • MacCoun and Reuter, Chapter 4, pp. 55-71.

Class Four: Rational Addiction

Class Five: Less: Than-Rational Addiction

Class Six: Dynamic Inconsistency

  • Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin, “Studying Optimal Paternalism, Illustrated by a Model of Sin Taxes.” American Economic Review 93(2): 186-191, May 2003.
  • Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin, “Incentives and Self Control.”

Class Seven: Lecture on Zero Tolerance and Harm Reduction

Class Eight: Two Minds

Class Nine: Addiction and Public Policy

  • Robert MacCoun, “Is the Addiction Concept Useful for Drug Policy?” Chapter 13, pp. 383-408, in R. Vuchinich and N. Heather, eds., Choice, Behavioral Economics and Addiction, Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science, 2003.
  • Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein, “Libertarian Paternalism.” American Economic Review 93(2): 175-179, May 2003.

Class Ten: Alcohol Prohibition

Class Eleven: Prohibition, From Alcohol to Drugs

Class Twelve: Drug Prohibition

  • MacCoun and Reuter, Chapter 6, pp. 101-127.
  • John Kaplan, “Heroin Prohibition.” Chapter 2, pp. 59-100, in The Hardest Drug, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Class Thirteen: Taxation and Other Approaches

  • Gary S. Becker, Michael Grossman, and Kevin M. Murphy, “The Economic Theory of Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs.” NBER Working Paper #10976, December 2004.
  • Mark A. R. Kleiman, “Dopey, Boozy, Smoky – And Stupid.” The American Interest, 2(3), January-February 2007.

Class Fourteen: Broad Sets of Regulations: Alcohol and Tobacco

  • Philip J. Cook and Michael J. Moore, “The Economics of Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol-Control Policies.” Health Affairs 21(2): 120-133, 2002.
  • Jonathan Gruber, “The Economics of Tobacco Regulation.” Health Affairs 21(2): 146-162, 2002.

Class Fifteen: Overeating

  • David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser and Jesse M. Shapiro, “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(3): 93-118, Summer 2003.
  • Fred Kuchler et al., “Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences.” Amber Waves 3(3): 26-33, June 2005.

Class Sixteen: Lecture on the Internet and Regulating Vice

Class Seventeen: Prostitution

  • Ronald Weitzer, “Prostitution Control in America: Rethinking Public Policy.” Crime, Law and Social Change 32(1): 83-102, 1999.
  • Alexandra K. Murphy and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, “Vice Careers: The Changing Contours of Sex Work in New York City.” Qualitative Sociology 29: 129-154, June 2006.
  • MacCoun and Reuter, selection from Chapter 7, pp. 143-155

Class Eighteen: Gambling

  • Melissa S. Kearney, “The Economic Winners and Losers of Legalized Gambling.” National Tax Journal 58(2): 281-302, June 2005.
  • MacCoun and Reuter, selection from Chapter 7, pp. 128-143.

Class Nineteen: Conclusions

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