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Summary

What drug lords learned from big business.

How does a budding cartel boss succeed (and survive) in the $300 billion illegal drug business? By learning from the best, of course. From creating brand value to fine-tuning customer service, the folks running cartels have been attentive students of the strategy and tactics used by corporations such as Walmart, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola.

And what can government learn to combat this scourge? By analyzing the cartels as companies, law enforcers might better understand how they work - and stop throwing away $100 billion a year in a futile effort to win the "war" against this global, highly organized business.

Your intrepid guide to the most exotic and brutal industry on earth is Tom Wainwright. Picking his way through Andean cocaine fields, Central American prisons, Colorado pot shops, and the online drug dens of the Dark Web, Wainwright provides a fresh, innovative look into the drug trade and its 250 million customers.

The cast of characters includes "Bin Laden", the Bolivian coca guide; "Old Lin", the Salvadoran gang leader; "Starboy", the millionaire New Zealand pill maker; and a cozy Mexican grandmother who cooks blueberry pancakes while plotting murder. Along with presidents, cops, and teenage hit men, they explain such matters as the business purpose for head-to-toe tattoos, how gangs decide whether to compete or collude, and why cartels care a surprising amount about corporate social responsibility.

More than just an investigation of how drug cartels do business, Narconomics is also a blueprint for how to defeat them.

©2016 Tom Wainwright (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

What members say

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A well rounded analysis on the war on drugs

Where does Narconomics rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Towards the top end. It isn't a life changing non-fiction like some I have read but I found it very useful to flesh out my knowledge of the drugs trade.

What other book might you compare Narconomics to, and why?

The two other major non-fiction books I've read on drugs have been Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari and Drugs Without the Hot Air by Professor David Nutt. This book has bits of both from these books (ethical and scientific approaches) as well as the economic slant running through. I would recommend all three of these books.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Though not set out in scenes I did enjoy the chapter on people trafficking and migration and the links between the actions of the drugs trades and those trades.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were many examples of injustice littered throughout and it is a great shame that as societies we have maintained these practices despite the evidence suggesting we are approaching it incorrectly.

Any additional comments?

A book that did cover the ethical side of things (I had worried it would be simply economics when I purchased it and I'm happy I was wrong) unfortunately didn't cover the inherent racism and class war involved in these practices in enough detail for my liking but generally was a strong piece of work throughout.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr
  • 19-06-17

Origional, thought-provoking, challenging.

Any additional comments?

A very interesting new take on narcotics, looking at the business from an economic angle and drawing parallels between conventional business practices. Turns out there's not as much difference as you might think once you get passed the murders. I was particularly interested in the phenomenon of "franchising" criminal gangs much as fast-food outlets do.

The book ends with an argument for legalization, which I was expecting. This is a policy I don't personally agree with, however one of this books strengths is that no-matter where you are in the drugs debate, there's something here that will make you uncomfortable. And if the war on drugs is to continue, which for at least the most dangerous substances seems unavoidable: this book makes a powerful argument for a radical change in tactics.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A must listen book

this was one of the best audio books I have ever heard. Utilising both statistics and stories to tell a rich and compelling narrative regarding the war on drugs. It went so far to change my opinions on specific core issues, such as core legalisation and the treatment of prisoners. This is the kind of audio book you want every single citizen to hear.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant - politicians the world over should read this book.

Excellent and challenging work. This illustrates in a very engaging way, where policy makers may have taken a wrong turn in battle against narcotics and organised crime.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Entertaining and eye-opening

Any additional comments?

Enjoyable, illuminating and level-headed. Not the lascivious exposé of the daily workings of drug smuggling I might have hoped for but really good nonetheless. Centred around the Latin American cocaine and marajuana business. Other drugs, most notably legal highs, are examined, but in less detail. The subtitle is a publisher's flourish - this is a populist economics book first and foremost and better for it. Very well narrated though I would have preferred a British voice for a British author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Utterly superb!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely - changed the way I think of drug use

What was one of the most memorable moments of Narconomics?

The way we get it so wrong on addicts and gangstas

What does Brian Hutchison bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Sarcasm and humour

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes both times

Any additional comments?

Very good all round.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Detailed and original

While there is little new here for people who are interested in the world of illegal drugs, it is given a fresh take and brilliant analysis. It’s final argument could be a big step in finally ending the ridiculous war on drugs.

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Enlightening

A brief but fascinating delve into the global narcotics industry, which treats it just like any other form of business, with factors such as competition, profit margins, supplier relations, diversification, outsourcing and e-commerce all examined. While I already agreed with many of the points Tom Wainwright made, his arguments were convincing and well-informed, particularly in relation to the pointlessness of the war on drugs.
The narration was excellent, despite the American accent

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Fascinating

Fantastic insight into the drug world through economics!

highly recommended read for interest and business

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  • HellRazor
  • In Transit. An eclectic gourmand rather than a picky gourmet.
  • 22-02-18

An intelligently written book about the war on drugs, its futility and consequences

Wainwright is an engaging knowledgeable writer on a subject that has involved the intolerable waste of enormous amounts of both human and economic resources, causing massive amounts of untold suffering and human wreckage that has produced a piss poor return on its investment.

Analyzing the drug trade as an economist would treat any other human activity, with some muscular objectivity rather than as a mamby-pamby moral issue or with a politically correct, lemming-like viewpoint of safe consensus is useful & refreshing.

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  • Felipe Alves
  • 15-12-16

Great book, miscast narrator

The book is excellent, it explains very clearly how the narcotics business works and which are its weak points. The narrator does a good job, but is sadly miscast: the american accent would not be a problem if the author did not mention he is British so often, and some foreign words were so mispronounced as to be unrecognizeable.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 18-05-16

NARCONOMICS

“Narconomics” is about the business of illegal drugs. Tom Wainwright notes drug cartels are modern businesses that benefit one-percenters while liberally rewarding middle class managers with money, power, and prestige. However, these one-percenters brutally terrorize employees and kill their customers. These business moguls systematically bribe and brutalize the public.

The manufacture and sale of illegal drugs is a growth industry, diversifying its practices and products while becoming global enterprises. An irony of Wainwright’s story is the ugliness and economic success of an illegal business is abetted by governments that support the war on drugs. The substance of Wainwright’s book is that cartels are run with many of the fundamental principles (aside from terror and murder) that make international companies like Wal-Mart richly successful.

Wainwright offers a compelling argument for attacking drug cartels by removing the source of their profits. The source of profits is the consuming public; not the illegal drug manufacturers and distributors. The illegal drug manufacturers and distributors are just the cost of doing business; not the source of profit.

Wainwright notes that drug cartels have already diversified; i.e. they are human traffickers, and extortion consortiums. The glimmer of hope is that human trafficking and extortion do not pander to the human desire for escape offered by drugs. Government agencies and the general public are equally repulsed by human trafficking, murder, and extortion. Governments and the general public are more likely to cooperate in eradicating that type of criminal activity; less so with drug addiction.

Decriminalize drug use, cure the public of its need for drugs or at least treat the addicted, and drug cartels have no motive to be in the business. There is no simple or cheap alternative to “the war on drugs” but there is a history that shows war on manufacturers and distributors of illegal drugs does not work. As long as the consumer wants the product, manufacturers and distributors will figure out how to supply the demand. Consumer demand is the driver behind the wheel of “Narconomics”. Treat the drug addicted, decriminalize and govern the use of drugs, and educate the public on the consequence of drug use. These actions, like the ban on smoking in public areas, will not end addiction but it will change the drug cartel industry into a criminal enterprise that most will recognize and despise.

32 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Ethan M.
  • 11-04-16

Worthy book in the "economics explains X" genre

Since Freakonomics, there have been a lot of books that use economics to explain aspects of history or society, but Narconomics is one of the best of this genre. It examines drug cartels as if they were regular companies, and looks at how they deal with issues like hiring, distribution, and marketing (who would have thought of tattoos as an employee retention strategy?). Not only is the result engaging, but it also provides one of the most illuminating discussions of drug policy I have read.

I should mention that I am not particularly interested in the topic of drugs and drug dealers (I think I am the only person who has never seen either the Wire or Breaking Bad), but Wainwright made the subject deeply engaging, not just with breezy writing, but also by traveling to the locations and offering compelling interviews and reporting. I am, however, trained in economics, and I know a number of the scholars and papers he cites. Here Wainwright deserves a lot of credit for interpreting this material accurately and with remarkable clarity. Thus, even if you aren't interested in drugs, but just interested in economics and society in general, I think this is a great listen.

If this book has a downside, it is mostly that it is a little disjointed. It is loosely organized around topics like human resource, production, and distribution, but there isn't really a narrative to pull everything together. Still, I found myself listening for long stretches and found a lot of compelling concepts and arguments that were new to me. Wainwright is also very clear-eyed about the topic, dealing even evenhandedly with hot-button issues such as legalization and US policy in Latin America.

61 of 67 people found this review helpful

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  • Jolene
  • 23-04-16

Great book

Wonderfully thought out and made easy to understand. This is a topic touching so many people. The timing is impeccable. The economic portion was made simple enough for anyone to understand. I do not agree with the portion that knowledge of how the drug trade effects Central and South America will change the behavior of Americans and Europeans. I do however believe that regulation and taxation can lead to a windfall in the public sector just in time to save some of our failing infrastructure.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • J. Jorgenson
  • 05-05-16

Fantastic and challenging read

Tom Wainwright has penned an outstanding book looking at drugs as business. What he finds challenges many of our deepest held assumptions on how to tackle drugs policy. It's a great book that everyone, especially policymakers, should read.

As for the narration, Brian Hutchison does an excellent job, although it is odd to hear Briticisms in an American accent.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Eventus
  • 08-06-16

Very interesting information and well researched.

Very interesting book, although i don't think it was the authors' intent but it makes a strong case for legalization of all narcotics, in my opinion. Although it does lean more toward pro government action, in my view after reading the book I get the feeling governments are essentially useless and powerless to stop the industry. If they can't even keep it out of prisons, facilities which are completely dominated by government, there is no way governments can even slow it down in the rest of the economy. This is proven by the growing usage statistics from around the world. Instead the only real solution is education and rehab. Book does a great job exploring the industry. learned a lot

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • funkyman33
  • 06-12-16

An insightful look into the business of cartels

This was a great book. It provided amazing insight into the drug trade, how it functions, and the problem with our current "War on Drugs". The only major weakness was a minimization of the opioid epidemic currently happening in North America. While opioids were mentioned, they were reduced to a doctor-created problem and the author didn't go into much detail regarding the current steep rise in addiction. This can be excused by the fact that the book was published before the epidemic became widely known. I would highly recommend this book!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Ian David Provencher
  • 09-05-16

Extremely interesting

Very interesting. A very progressive way of looking at the economy of drugs. A lot of logical wisdom packed in here.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt
  • 18-04-16

Awesome book

If you like Freakonomics or Gladwell, you'll love this book. I wish Tom Wainwright had written another book--I'd be buying it right now.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Amelia
  • 15-12-16

Educational and Entertaining

I CANNOT recommend this book enough!! SERIOUSLY! It is the most entertaining and intellectual book/study I've ever read. It compares the dark world of drugs, cartels, gangs, human trafficking, etc. to corporations and basic business practices to shed a light on the economic impact of decisions that both sides are making, and how the real world cause and effects don't always correlate with the logical solutions being implemented. We attack supply instead of addressing demand. We focus on enforcement instead of prevention or treatment. We save money now but pay exponentially for it later. It's studies like this that we need to educate ourselves and each other, to make informed decisions to create and change public policy that will actually make a difference. Numbers don't lie.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful