Violence is again swallowing Ciudad Juarez, according to the NYTimes. Just across the border from each other, El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez provide a stark contrast of how two different political environments, legal structures, court systems, and police forces can lead to drastically different economic and social outcomes; Acemoglu and Robinson regularly conduct this important institutional analysis across borders on Why Nations Fail.
Yet we must also remember that the violence in Mexico is not solely a Mexican problem, in need of a Mexican solution. The decisions we make in the United States play a huge role around this porous border. Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel are largely funded by U.S. drug consumption, with marijuana likely being the most profitable drug. And many of the weapons that end up in the gangs’ hands come from Arizona, with its lax gun control laws and regulations.
Acemoglu and Robinson are right to look at the different institutional structures across the border: there are reasons why the violence takes place in Mexico and not as much in El Paso. And a long term, stable improvement will require that we develop institutions in Mexico that are more like those that we find in the United States. But recognizing the porous border also alerts us to the role that Americans play, and opens up some policy options to decrease the violence: (1) ban the sale of assault weapons in the U.S. (2) end the failed “War on Drugs” (3) decriminalize marijuana (and possibly other drugs trafficked through Latin America) in order to regulate the markets and divert funds from going to violent gangs.
However, these policy options are not even part of the political discussion in the United States. The problem is that we make political decisions on issues that we do not feel the consequences; there would be huge social benefits, but not to those who vote, so these discussions do not emerge. One might refer to this situation as a political externality, where actions are not taken on certain issues because their worst (or best) consequences are not felt within our borders.