The Price of Everything by Eduardo Porter: New Book / Great Video Trailer


A new year already brings optimism for the future of the mercurial and oft-mangled book trailer.

Penguin USA – famous in these parts for their masterful video book trailer for Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice – do it again with this clean, clever and evocative video for the new book by Eduardo Porter.

Considering the capacity of prices to shape people’s choices, it is rather surprising that governments do not use them more often to steer the behavior of the governed. For instance, public-health campaigns might be a nice way to educate people about the risks of certain behaviors, such as smoking and drug abuse. But they are nowhere near as effective as prices when it comes to making people stop. Four decades after President Richard Nixon launched his “War on Drugs,” drug abuse remains stubbornly popular. Between 1988 and 2009, the share of twelfth graders who admitted having done drugs in the last month increased from 16 to 23 percent. The share of teens who had smoked a cigarette in the same period fell from 28 to 20 percent.

This is a paradox. Though it is illegal for minors to purchase cigarettes, adults can readily get them. Drugs, by contrast, are illegal for everybody. Being caught with even a smidgen of cocaine in the state of Illinois can lead to one to three years in jail. Yet the difference is less paradoxical considering how the price of these vices has evolved. A battery of city, state, and federal taxes has roughly doubled the price of a pack of cigarettes since 1990, to about $5.20 on average. On July 1, 2010, the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City rose $1.60 to $10.80—of which $7.50 are taxes. By contrast, the retail price of a gram of cocaine on New York’s streets cost $101 in 2007, about 27 percent less than in 1991. The price of heroin collapsed 41 percent to $320 a gram. Falling prices refltect the failure of policies to stop the supply of illegal drugs into the American market. But it also suggests a potential solution: at a sufficiently high price, teens would cut back. Compared with a failed drug war, legalizing, regulating, and taxing drugs might be the more effective route to curtail abuse.

Thanks to the good people BoingBoing for the tip!

Sean Cranbury is the Executive Editor of Books on the Radio. He's also Founder and Creative Director of the Real Vancouver Writers' Series. Sean is General Manager at the legendary Storm Crow Tavern and consults with literary arts organizations on digital communications strategies.

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