Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market

ISBN: 0965762645
ISBN 13: 9780965762649
By: Eric Schlosser

Check Price Now


Currently Reading Drugs Economics History Journalism Non Fiction Nonfiction Politics Sociology To Read

Reader's Thoughts

Tony Cohen

I don't get this book at all. So there are 3 different segments of the underground economy that are covered: pot, agriculture and porn. They exist in a marginalized world, he briefly talks about them, a short conclusion is tacked on, and away we go? I had no problem with the three choices he made for describing said economy, but there was not enough relevant data to tie these choices together, and without that, I felt that each section left so much unsaid/unexplored. Sure there are loads of juicy details, but just not enough of them. A few men made porn, which is ceasing to be marginalized, the Mexicanization of agriculture relies on a brutal system of peonage that his achieved a modicum of respectability due to a cadre of lawyers working in an unjust system, and pot may have been one of the few success stories of a protectionist economy: ban imports to raise the value of goods at home. And each of these sections elicits a range of emotions: rage at injustice; frustration over stupidity; amusement over the government floundering to battle porn lords. So each section works as an individual snapshot of a problem, but without a cohesive framework to explain more about the significance of said economies, each section just sort of hangs there, incomplete and lacking the firepower it needs. I give it a three because each section is well written, but for a recommendation, I don't think that I can offer. If you are interested in either of the three previously mentioned topics, choose another, more focus tome. If you want to know what the underground economy/vast illegal activities say about the schism between reality and justice, you also have to go elsewhere. I am afraid that doesn't leave much....


Another book on CD I listened to on the way to work - it was really fascinating... lots and lots of info on the taboo topics of the US underground trades of drugs, sex and illegal workers. I liked how the main focus was on the economic and legal impact of each of these issues and not so much on the morality surrounding it (although the laws are often impacted by that!). The author spent a lot of time on the drug trade (almost exclusively about marijuana use/sale) and way too much time on the sex trade (could have done without all the details on the life of Reubin Sturman (the supposed king of pornography distribution)... there was not as much info on the illegal immigration issue which I would have liked to hear more about. Overall it was a really good 'listen' although not as good as the author's class 'Fast Food Nation.'

Vince Darcangelo

This review originally appeared in the BOULDER WEEKLY from the Underground NationThrough pot, produce and peep shows, Eric Schlosser explores America’s shadow Vince Darcangelo- - - - - - - - - - - - A poor Midwestern farmer serves time in Leavenworth for growing pot. Migrant farm workers from labor camps sleep in parked cars in Southern California. A comic-book salesman in Cleveland builds a pornography empire and turns the modern porn industry into a mainstream multi-billion dollar business. How in the name of Kurt Vonnegut are these folks related? They are all part of America’s underground economy, documented in Eric Schlosser’s new book, Reefer Madness.In his newest work of investigative journalism, Schlosser, the author of the best-selling Fast Food Nation, explores America’s black market–a shadow economy that accounts for an estimated 10 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product–through essays on marijuana, illegal immigrants and adult entertainment. The essays in Reefer Madness stand alone as individual works of investigative reporting, but Reefer Madness is not an anthology. It is a cohesive, multi-layered piece tied together by a narrative thread that gives voice to the winners and losers of the black market."It’s a different kind of book, not purely a collection of essays because the three [topics] share a lot of common themes," says Schlosser. "But it’s also not a book that I sat down and conceived from scratch like Fast Food Nation."Though he pitched this book prior to writing Fast Food Nation, Schlosser says he couldn’t get publishers interested in Reefer Madness until Fast Food Nation spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list."It was terribly difficult to get people to care about pot smokers being locked up and really hard to get people to care about illegal immigrants being exploited," he says. "It took the success of Fast Food Nation to provide the leverage to pay attention to these things. It’s a lot easier to write about Britney Spears if you want attention and publication, but poor people of color is not something that publishers are desperate to publish at the moment."I feel like a lot of what I’m doing is in opposition to the celebrity journalism that has been so popular for the last 20 years," he continues. "I’ve really been trying to do old-fashioned investigative journalism… to take voices and people who don’t have access to the mainstream media and give them the opportunity to be heard. I think these subjects are important, but they’re maybe not getting the kind of coverage they should be."This is especially clear in the book’s second essay, "In the Strawberry Fields," which takes the reader beyond the produce counter and into the fields where migrant farmers are exploited for cheap labor."Once people felt comfortable that I wasn’t an immigration officer, people were really eager to talk," says Schlosser. "There are not reporters banging on the doors of migrant workers every day. These are people who are completely excluded from the mainstream, whose voices really aren’t heard every day."Schlosser’s ability to gain intimate access to his subjects and follow them into the fields accentuates the human component of black-market politics, part of the struggle that is often neglected in discussions of legal battles and illicit profits concerning the underground economy. "In the Strawberry Fields" tackles the intricacies of immigration law, sharecropping and the agricultural industry, but what is most compelling are the portraits of the exploited workers, the tragic victims of America’s black market.Another tragic figure in Reefer Madness is pornography kingpin Reuben Sturman, one of the black market’s winners whose improbable rise and ultimate fall is documented in "An Empire of the Obscene." Sturman was a comic-book salesman who built an adult-entertainment empire that shaped the industry in the ’80s and ’90s and was victorious in numerous freedom-of-speech battles with the federal government. But Sturman was eventually nabbed for tax evasion, making him an ironic figure akin to Al Capone."I found Sturman to be an incredibly charismatic, bright and interesting person," says Schlosser. "When he was battling the obscenity laws, I really felt like he was on the right side. When he was funneling millions of dollars in cash to offshore accounts and threatening people with violence, he went over to the dark side."He’s somebody who I just think got corrupted by power and money. He started out maybe in one place and wound up in a very different place. It’s a very American story in that sense," he continues. "But had the laws been different, you would have seen his face on the cover of Fortune magazine and hailed as this great, brilliant chief executive."Whatever his thoughts on Sturman are now, in Reefer Madness Schlosser presents each of his characters with absolute objectivity. The impartiality and lack of an agenda in Schlosser’s writing allows the reader to experience the subjects as though they are the ones conducting the investigation. Schlosser attributes this to his approach of investigating first, opining later."I have the good fortune on most of the subjects I write about to start from a place of total ignorance," he says. "For me, a lot of the pleasure in the work is educating myself about what’s going on and learning about the subject. It’s toward the end of the research that I have very strong views about what’s going on."This is especially true in the book’s opening essay, "Reefer Madness," which Schlosser says came about through a discussion with an editor at the Atlantic Monthly about whether there was anyone in prison for marijuana."I had smoked pot, but I didn’t begin the investigation from the point of view of trying to persuade people to change the marijuana laws because I didn’t know anything about it," says Schlosser. "Once I’m done with a subject and I’ve come to my conclusions, then I speak out, then I become more of an activist on an issue. I don’t start as an activist and then decide to write something."The result is Reefer Madness, a thoughtful collection of essays that takes the reader into America’s economic underbelly and into the lives of its often colorful participants. In the end, the reader will never look at a doobie, strawberry or porn flick the same way."I think I write things to open people’s eyes and maybe wake them up," says Schlosser. "What’s gratifying to me is if people start the book and then finish it and at the end of the book they’re more aware than when they started it."


Fantastic history of marijuana and migrant farm workers. The theme of the book is the underground industries where people are paid "under the table". The 3 themes are the marijuana market, migrant farm workers, and the porn industry. Eric Schlosser has done some great research and has presented enough facts and data to make strong conclusions on these topics. The writer states his own beliefs and the end of each section but the facts are so compelling that the reader can figure it out on their own. I never really knew the real story behind the war on drugs and the mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. It's amazing that there are so many hundreds of life sentences based on non-violent marijuana offenders. It really has to do with how well they play ball and how many names they can give. One of the characters they examined had been a middle-man on a large marijuana sale but he received a life sentence because he had no names or people to rat out and he was too stubborn to play ball. A life sentence for no real reason is just a waste of millions of tax-payer dollars and is another sign of how America is in a state of decay compared to Europe. There have been something like 700,000 Federal sentences handed out for marijuana related crimes. Each one of them will cost at least a million dollars in prison costs and the damage becomes multiplied considering the damage done to family members. Meanwhile in the Netherlands, all drugs are legal and the amount of drug use is much lower that the US. There is much more to it than that but this book shows the war on drugs to be the worst sign of government incompetence. I was amused to read that the citizens of the Virginia colony were required by law to grow hemp and that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew marijuana plants as part of their farm. Yet today Virginians can receive multi-year prison sentences for growing marijuana plants.The section on migrant farm workers is also very informative and eye opening. Anyone who thinks these illegals are taking American jobs have no idea what these jobs consist of. The people picking strawberries are making good money in terms of Oaxacan peasants in the poorest area of Mexico. The idea of Americans happily taking jobs which pay a small fraction of minimum wage is silly. These migrant workers live in caves and shanty-towns filled with garbage. They work solely to send money back to desperately poor communities in places like the Mixtec indian areas of Oaxaca, Mexico. Picking strawberries is so hard that college students trying to make extra money couldn't last an hour. But the free labor is a major support for the economy of California and most people don't realize it. Americans can't do the work and it needs to be done meaning that we need those people. I guess everyone is better off but the treatment and exploitation of the migrant workers is disturbing. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to have a clear understanding of the immigration issue.


Reefer Madness is a collection of 3 extended essays about the underground market in America for marijuana, migrant workers, and pornography. The author has focused primarily on the economic aspects of the underground. The topics themselves are quite interesting. Reading about the strict laws against marijuana use are both frightening and mind-boggling. How can consuming something as harmless as a joint warrant a harsher sentence than what is often handed out to murderers or other violent criminals? How is the US contributing to the influx of illegal immigrants in the US by failing to regulate agricultural growers who employ migrant laborers from Mexico for little to nothing? What does the overwhelming consumption of porn in the US reveal about how out of touch mainstream thought and criticism regarding porn are from what many people feel about it privately? The point being there is never an absence of food for thought. Schlosser feels that few laws albeit strictly enforced ones and government regulation of certain areas like business and worker's rights are necessary to produce the kind of equal and fair economy and country that most people espouse. Few would disagree with him there. Ultimately though, this book is somewhat stilted and doesn't form a very cohesive whole. While some of the essays seem to hold great promise they aren't developed enough and seem to be a little helter-skelter. As if the author gathered up his information from previous papers and interviews and decided to just throw it together to form a book. You understand his position but not convincingly. I am sure the author was riding a high after his previous success with Fast Food Nation but this book fizzles and eventually becomes less than hoped for. Once again, interesting food for thought but to feel sufficiently informed about these subjects you'll have to turn elsewhere for more detailed and channeled knowledge.

Brandon T.

Eric Schlosser has made a name for himself by probing behind the scenes of popular American phenomena. He became famous for Fast Food Nation, which was later turned into a film.Schlosser's subject matter may trend towards the pop world, but his cross of investigative journalism and postmodernist sociology is both fresh and informative. It is obvious that he takes his material as seriously as any professional observer, and the reader reaps the reward of his work in the form of a much clearer understanding of the ways that American culture impacts the lives of real individuals.In this book, Schlosser explores the American black market trade, as it has developed around three much different parts of society - the world of marijuana cultivation and sale, the immigrant labor market in California's fruit fields, and the nearly legitimized pornography industry.Although there is a bit of a disconnect from section to section (which makes the book read almost like three), each is explored in detail, from multiple angles. He uses many reliable sources, interviews, histories, and his own observation to bring the reader into these rarely seen realms that nevertheless constitute indispensable columns of the American industrial/economic empire.


It's hard to argue with any part of Schlosser's book. He does not, for the most part, espouse any particular agenda (though it's obvious where his sympathies lie); he merely marshals facts - lots of facts, backed up with copious though unobtrusive notes - and observes the effects of current U.S. policy on three specific areas of the underground economy that makes up such a huge, though ill-documented, portion of our Gross Domestic Product: marijuana cultivation, undocumented immigrant workers in California, and pornography.Hint: current policy isn't working very well, whether you believe the goal is to suppress the activity entirely or to minimize harm from it.As is usual with Schlosser's work, Reefer Madness is meticulously researched and brimming with specific numbers, facts and citations (as much as can be, given that the participants in these fields are breaking the law, and hence are often reluctant to provide too many details to any above-ground agency). The end notes and bibliography are not to be missed, either - and they do in fact, along with the acknowledgements and index, make up a good third of the book.This is an important book. It may not convert you to Schlosser's way of thinking, but it should shake the foundations of your worldview a bit.


Reefer Madness is not so much a collective novel as much as it is a collection of three essays with a unifying theme. The unifying theme is meant to be the undermining and corruptive “black market” of marijuana, illegal immigrant workers and the porn industry. While each essay has its strengths, the theme as a whole does not really work.The theme is weak in part because the “black market” aspects of each topic are corruptive in completely different ways. The first essay is the most effective and is about the ridiculous sentences charged to those people who produce, distribute and consume marijuana, sentences that are often vastly more severe than those passed out to violent criminals such as murderers, rapists and child molesters. The author Eric Schlosser, who also wrote Fast Food Nation, clearly has no love for big business and an unchecked profit motive. Schlosser makes the argument there is no real reason for the criminalization of marijuana other than the fact there is no money in it. If pharmaceutical companies could package it and sell it as profitably as a pill, it would probably be in every corner pharmacy. While I agree with many of the assertions Schlosser makes for the hypocritical reasons marijuana remains illegal, I am not sure if I believe pot is quite as innocuous as Schlosser suggests. The most effective part of the piece by far is Schlosser’s description of the people affected by the harsh penalties, especially one poor individual who was sentenced to life in prison for merely introducing a buyer and a seller. The section also describes the lengths to which some of these people go to avoid capture. The narrative, if nothing else, is an interesting read.Schlosser’s description of the plight of California immigrant strawberry pickers is equally effective. Much like he did with the meatpacking workers in Fast Food Nation, Schlosser illustrates a group of people with no rights who nonetheless risk everything to do backbreaking work in the hot sun for 12 hours a day because it is still better than the options back home. If nothing else, it acts as a kind reminder of some perspective when complaining about some of life’s smaller inconveniences.The last essay is by far the weakest, which was surprising. To have the porn industry detailed by a reporter of Schlosser’s pedigree seemed like an excellent opportunity to examine the hypocritical, two-faced Puritan roots of this country. While some of that is explored, the essay is far and away dominated by the story of one man who rose up through the industry, gained enormous wealth, and then lost it all and was sent to jail because of tax evasion. That’s right tax evasion. Not because he broke any ethical laws over the materials themselves, but because he skimmed millions off the top and was sent to jail for it. The guy is clearly meant to be seen as a persecuted hero but I did not entirely buy it.


I read and enjoyed Fast Food Nation several years ago. This book is by the same author, Eric Schlosser.None of the detail or commentary in this book is original, but it is put together in a compelling package and in a manor that makes you think about how some of the laws and prejudices that we have in place are that way, and it just may make you think to question that.There is a quote in the ending narration of the book that talked about what Freedom means, and it said that if you are going to be a nation with Freedom then you have to be willing to accept the good and the not necessarily so good that comes with it. That really hit home with me. While I'm not for example a supporter of pot smoking or paying immigrant farm workers extremely low wages, I don't necessarily think that the way our government currently treats these situations is the best either.It is a compelling read, agree or disagree it should make you think about it.Thumbs Up.


** spoiler alert ** In Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser thoroughly examines the vast underground economy in the United States. The book is made up of three essays discussing marijuana in the black market, illegal immigration/cheap labor, and the porn industry. Throughout his essay on marijuana, I like how Schlosser doesn’t just state statistics, but actually goes into detail on the topic. He explains overly-harsh penalties for marijuana dealers, growers, and smokers with real life facts and examples. This is shown when he tells the story of a man named Mark Young. Young lived in Indiana where the average sentence of a convicted rape crime is eight years. He became the middleman in a marijuana grow operation, introducing two growers to a place to grow and buyers. The men, Claude Atkinson and Ernest Montgomery, began their grow operation and gave Young $100 for every pound they sold. Eventually they got caught through a federal raid of one of their houses and found Young’s name in a briefcase. Young couldn’t talk as he had no information that the other men wouldn’t provide, and he received life in prison without parole for conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana in a quantity in excess of 1,000 plants. This part of the book was the most interesting to me because of the actual examples and the seriousness. He included facts such as 3 million Americans smoke marijuana on a daily basis, which really kept the 64 pages enjoyable. I liked Schlosser’s point of view on the issue, although he didn’t include many negatives of marijuana smoking or decriminalization.The second essay in Reefer Madness was labeled “In the Strawberry Fields.” Although the shortest part of the book, I also found it to be the most boring. Illegal Immigration isn’t something that I am interested in and enthusiastic about but I gave the essay a chance. Schlosser takes a different view in this essay, going after the bosses who hire illegal immigrants and the system of illegal immigration itself, not the government as in his other essays. It basically talks about immigrants from Mexico and other bordering countries working for under our minimum wage with nothing new brought to the table, reiterating information that is widely already known and uninteresting.The last essay in Reefer Madness is titled “An Empire of the Obscene.” This essay was definitely very interesting all the way through although it was the longest. It focused around a man by the name of Rueben Sturman, who was a huge figure in the porn industry up until the 90’s. It goes through his business, how he kept in the shadows. He hired Canadians to run his stores and smaller businesses, taking some of the profits from the peep shows and booths that he placed throughout the United States. He became a multi-millionaire through the porn industry, and evaded his taxes through offshore and foreign bank accounts under pseudonyms. Eventually it caught up to him and, after many court cases, he decided to ease out of the business, shredding documents and handing over companies to trusted friends and business partners. Schlosser throws in many interesting facts in this section such as the fact that the VHS became popular through porn because when it first came out no movie producers were using them.Overall, I liked this book. It got a little boring through some parts as essays aren’t my favorite things to read, but this book was filled with a lot of information that got me to look further into information that I found interesting and it is definitely a must read if this is your type of book.

Dennis Littrell

Schlosser, Eric. Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market (2003) *****Journalism as social criticism--or vice versaThere are three long, but very well-written essays in this book, portions of which previously appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone and the US News and World Report.The first, the title essay, is on the marijuana business in the United States with a concentration on the "killer weed's" legal history, its economics and how it is cultivated today. Schlosser presents the unembellished facts along with some vivid detail about the growers, the sellers, the law enforcement people, and the politicians. Reading this reinforces my belief that the "new prohibition" (not so new anymore of course) is really a full employment program for the law enforcement establishment endorsed by hypocritical social conservatives (Rush Limbaugh would be a fine example) and Christian fundamentalists, most of whom have little idea about what is going on.The second essay, entitled "In the Strawberry Fields," is about Mexican laborers in virtual peonage in California, the history of this phenomenon, its politics, its economic consequences, and the reality of today's conditions in the field and across the border. The endemic political and economic hypocrisy is illustrated by Scholosser's eye-opening observation on why Mexican migrants are routinely rounded up and sent back to Mexican in a kind of (wink, wink) revolving door policy. When migrants are allowed to settle here and raise their children, the states end up paying for their education and welfare. However by periodically deporting them we benefit from their cheap labor "while effect...[pays:] for the education, health care, and retirement of California's farmworkers." (p. 95)The third essay, "An Empire of the Obscene" is about the pornography business with the focus on porn king Reuben Sturman and his nemesis IRS agent Richard N. Rosfelder, Jr. who finally got Sturman for tax evasion. Although this is the longest essay in the book (longer than the other two combined), I found it the least interesting. That Sturman was able to launder and hide his profits off shore in the same manner as drug dealers (and, for example, Enron) was interesting, as was the way Schlosser chronicles how pornography has become such a huge business that it now accounts for a significant part of the revenues of some Fortune 500 companies.Holding the essays together is Schlosser's idea that the private morality of Americans is inconsistent with our public morality, and that the evidence for this is especially compelling in these three domains of the black market economy. He frames the essays with an introduction called, "The Underground," and a postscript named rather hopefully, "Out of the Underground."Some highlights:"Today approximately three-quarters of all $100 bills circulate outside the United States." As Schlosser notes, this "serves, in essence, as a gigantic interest-free loan" from them to us. (p. 7) (I just hope that George W. Bush's huge deficients don't lessen the world's love for the Yankee dollar and lead them to adopt the Euro instead!)"Import barriers [on marijuana:] drove prices high enough to make domestic production extremely profitable," allowing UCLA professor Mark A. R. Kleiman to note that this is "a rare instance in which protectionism actually worked." Schlosser adds, "Some American marijuana is now worth more per ounce than gold." (p. 36)"The new mandatory minimum laws [for marijuana possession and trafficking:] took...power from the judge and handed it to the prosecutor" who could decide who to prosecute and for what. (p. 45) This results in an uneven application of the law and "de facto sentencing by police and prosecutors." (p. 53) Added to the power the police have because of the forfeiture laws, and one sees that justice in marijuana cases can be anything but. Schlosser cites an example in Ventura County, California in which drug agents had first obtained an appraisal of a $5-million ranch and then raided it for marijuana cultivation only to find nothing growing there. (p. 62)A further point about the forfeiture laws (which I think are unconstitutional since they are seizures without due process) is that informers may get up to one-quarter of the proceeds. Schlosser claims that this has resulted in a "new business: the buying and selling of drug leads. Defendants who hope to avoid a lengthy...sentence...can now secretly buy information from vendors on the black market." (pp. 62-63)Recalling that justice Douglas H. Ginsburg (nominated by Reagan) declined nomination to the US Supreme Court "after confessing that he smoked marijuana as a young man," Schlosser recalls the McCarthy era's "defining political question"--"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?"--with today's question that congressmen and political candidates have to answer: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a pot smoker?" (p. 49) On page 51 Schlosser notes however that "Legislation to impose drug testing on members of Congress has repeatedly died in committee and never reached the floor for a vote." One wonders why.Finally, Schlosser compares America's attitude toward the drug Viagra with its attitude toward marijuana. He recalls Bob Dole's TV commercial for Viagra and then notes that "Elizabeth Dole, now a US senator from North Carolina, apparently doesn't oppose this sort of recreational drug use."Bottom line: social conservatives will deplore this book, and right wing AM shock jocks will rant against it, while most of the rest of the country will ignore it. Too bad. This is a fine piece of work by Schlosser and everyone involved in the project, and an engrossing read. --a review by Dennis Littrell

Darcia Helle

This is a powerful book. Broken into 3 parts, it deals with the history of our approach to marijuana use; our use of illegal immigrants, specifically in the strawberry fields of California; and the development of porn in our country, how it grew, and how our government's attempt to suppress it only continued to spark the flame.Eric Schlosser's meticulous research is written in an easy to understand form. He states the facts without any bias. For instance, you'll learn that a young man, with no prior record, arrested for marijuana possession can receive a longer prison sentence than a convicted murderer or rapist. And, while our country is in an uproar over illegal immigrants, our government allows these people to be used like slaves when convenient. When they are no longer needed, they are rounded up like cattle and sent back to Mexico. In the end, whether you agree with his conclusions or not, a new light is shed on a world most of us pay no attention to. And perhaps tells us that we need to get more involved.


Many of the themes in "Fast Food Nation" return here, particularly in the section on migrant labor: Reading it, you quickly become aware of the corner into which our economy has backed itself. As is the case with the fast-food industry, the low costs we take for granted are only possible at the expense of the workers who produce these products. The section on pot is particularly disturbing as well; among other things, it's yet another reminder of what a disaster mandatory minimum sentencing laws have created in the penal system, and what terribly thought-out political window dressing these laws are. I know you don't want to read it, but really, please do.


This book is divided into 3 parts, the common link being black market economics, politics and social implications of weed, farm labor and porn. The porn section was by far the most interesting, covering the fascinating life of porn kind Reuben Sturman, the Godfather of American porn long before the emergence of Playboy and today's current incarnations. Incredibly well-researched, and a fascinating study of a man who started from nothing, from when "porn" barely existed up to the modern era when organized crime eventually became involved with much adventure and intrigue along the way.An overlooked piece of American history, filled with background details of how the underground business evolved and was legally attacked.


Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market310 pages© 2003 Eric SchlosserWhat do pornography, marijuana, and migrant labor have in common? They're all factors in an underground economy, a vast web of cash-heavy transactions barred (or limited) by laws and social mores, but which generate substantial wealth for those willing to risk criminality. Reefer Madness contains thre seperate exposes on these subjects by the author of Fast Food Nation, followed by a conclusion which attempts to tie them together and glean some general lessons about the black market. Although the three don't quite fit together as well as Schlosser might hope, each piece is well worth considering on its own, pointed as well as entertaining.Although "An Empire of the Obscene" is something of an oddity (pornography isn't illegal), the preceding sections ("Reefer Madness" and "In the Strawberty Fields") address subject alive and well in American politics today. All three mix colorful history and contemporary exposition which reveal both fascinating trivia and lessons about the specific subjects and the black market in general. The underground economy is not marginal, and its size should concern us not because of potential tax revenues lost by corrupt porn kings like Reuben Sturman, but because they fundamentally alter the rules that everyone else plays by. The use of undocumented workers in California, for instance, keeps food prices artifically low and stifles innovation by allowing companies to be dependent on cheap labor, just as the American south stagnated based on its use of slave labor. Considering the conditions migrant workers are forced to live in, the comparison to slavery is most apt. Despite the long-term consequences of allowing this behavior to go on -- tolerating it because it keeps food cheap -- the US government's attitude toward companies that seek out migrant labor is far too lenient. In other cases, the government is far too heavy-handed. This is the case with marijuana; Schlosser covers our bizaare obsession with it, which far exceed the concern the facts would merit we have. In what other nation can a person receive a lighter sentence for murder than selling a largely harmless drug? Considering the US's economic woes, decriminalizing the drug would go a long way in freeing up police and prison resources that could be better used elsewhere.Schlosser believes that a study of the black market can teach us about the market in general -- and namely, impart the lesson that Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' is not always one of providence. It is one, in fact, that can lead to great abuses (like exploitation of migrant labor). What they excel in providing us outside the bounds of the law tells us secrets about ourselves; that we have a 'deep psychosis' regarding marijuana, for instance, and that Puritanical rejection of sexuality is out of line with human nature. Reefer Madness is a call for sensibly-informed moderation, although it misses one point certainly worth mentioning, that foolish laws, or the lack of laws when they are crucially needed, saps the public's respect for law in general.Choice quotations:We have been told for years to bow down before 'the market'. We have placed our faith in the laws of supply and demand. What has been forgotten, or ignored, is that the market rewards only efficiency. Every other human value gets in its way. [...] No deity that man have ever worshiped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked. [...] p. 108Black markets will always be with us. But they will recede in importance when our public morality is consistent with our private one. The underground is a good measure of the progress and health of nations. When much is wrong, much needs to be hidden.p. 221Related:Off the Books: the Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir VenkateshFast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *