The folks at the Guardian Unlimited published this interesting little article on America’s shadow market of drugs, porn and illegal labor: With pot and porn outstripping corn, America’s black economy is flying high.
Despite laws that punish marijuana cultivation more strictly than murder in some states, Americans spend more on illegal drugs than on cigarettes. And despite official disapproval of pornography, the US leads the world in export of explicit sex videos, according to Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser.
Although the official American economy has been suffering a downturn, the shadow economy is enjoying unprecedented levels of success, much in the way that the prohibition period fueled the illegal markets in the 30s. Schlosser found that three specific industries accounted for a major portion of this boom.
Marijuana is cited as being the fastest growing market in farming (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun) for the last three decades. The porn industry counting not just video sales, but also live sex acts, the internet and cable television is estimated to take in around $10 billion a year, roughly on par with Hollywood. Currently the United States leads the world in porn with about 211 new films being produced each week and there are more girls lined up to break into the biz than the industry can currently handle.
Oh, and the illegal immigrant workers? There’s about a million or so working on American farms with another 7 million working in other menial jobs and paid in cash under the table.
Schlosser believes that the shadow economy will continue to thrive as long as marijuana and pornography remain illicit.
“A society that can punish a marijuana offender more severely than a murderer is caught in the grip of a deep psychosis,” he concludes. “Black markets will always be with us. But they will recede in importance when the public morality is consistent with our private one. The underground is a good measure of the progress and the health of nations. When much is wrong, much needs to be hidden.”
I would tend to agree. Forbidden fruit can be hard to resist.
Eric Schlosser is an Atlantic Monthly correspondent.