CEO of Sinaloa
If you’re a fan of documentaries, then I have the perfect new one for you! Last year I was asked to contribute to a new documentary detailing how the Sinaloa Cartel operated similarly to other legitimate businesses in the United States. They reached out in the middle of the pandemic because they were in the process of identifying people who could highlight the ways Joaquin Guzman was able to expand his empire into the United States. If you have friends/family who love documentaries or who are interested in drug cartels, share this post with them!
This past summer, I drove down to Silver Springs, Maryland for the interview. I spent the morning talking with the crew, but I’ve kept the project fairly quiet except for one cryptic image I tweeted out. I didn’t want to post too much stuff about it at the time because I really didn’t know much about the entire project. I thought I was only a small part of the bigger film, and they didn’t really have an exact timeline of when it would premier. Needless to say, I was pumped (and nervous) the entire day!
Last week the documentary officially premiered on CuriosityStream! The platform features thousands of documentary films and television shows, and this production was one of their feature documentaries for the year. The platform was launched in 2015 by the founder of Discovery Channel and has about 20 million subscribers. There are some other potentially economics-heavy documentaries including Return of the Trade Wars and The Ascent of Money.
The producers for this documentary interviewed a lot of other really interesting contributors, including Jack Riley, the DEA agent who spent decades tracking down El Chapo. While they’re all really knowledgeable about El Chapo himself or about the drug trade in a broader context, the producers wanted to bring on someone who could speak to the more academic side of how drug trafficking organizations and illicit markets align with standard business models. Thankfully, they found an economist who was willing to talk about it on camera.
I spent a few hours being interviewed by some of the producers and it really was a ton of fun. I really enjoy talking to people, especially about economics, and I guess that’s something that most economists aren’t comfortable doing. I heard a similar story a few years ago when I flew out to Chicago to film a series of educational YouTube videos for CourseHero. Apparently, economists are kind of awkward on camera. Who knew?
Some of the economics-themed highlights of the documentary include topics like price markups on drugs compared to other (legal) products, the importance of money laundering, and the impact of the opioid epidemic on the illicit drug trade. Most of my discussion in the film focuses on how the illicit drug trade is very similar to that of other industries and that the leaders of these organizations operate similarly to CEOs of any other major corporations. Leaders of both industries care about product diversification, logistics, and the legal structures of the countries in which they operate.
I don’t want to give away too much about the movie, but it really is worth the $3 subscription fee to watch. CuriosityStream includes a lot of other really interesting titles that I plan to watch over the upcoming breaks. If you’re interested in learning more about the drug trade, beyond the Sinaloa Cartel, check out the book section below. Until then, sign up for a CuriosityStream subscription and watch the movie!
The CEO of Sinaloa is streaming now on CuriosityStream. Monthly subscriptions to CuriosityStream start at $2.99/month and you can cancel anytime. They also offer a free 7-day trial with an existing Amazon Prime Video account here if you don’t already have the subscription through them.
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Joaquin Guzman’s nickname, El Chapo, means ‘shorty’ because of his notorious 5’6” (168 cm) stature [NY Post]
Sinaloa was estimated to have controlled 40%-60% of Mexico’s drug trade by 2012 with annual earnings as high as $3 billion [Congressional Research Service]
The average retail street price of cocaine between 2007 to 2017, adjusted for inflation, ranges from $82 to $107 per gram [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime]
Joaquin Guzman is currently serving a life sentence plus 30 years at a supermax facility in Florence, Colorado [NPR]
Week #43 is over and the book total sits at 62 books for the year. This week I want to highlight a book that ties in with the topic of this week’s newsletter. Part of the reason I was asked to contribute to this documentary was that I teach a course on the Economics of Crime at Penn State. The College of the Liberal Arts reached out last year to write a short article on the course and the producers came across that article.
A lot of the material in the course, and in the documentary, comes from a great book written by Tom Wainright called Narconomics. I assigned this book to my students in the course and it’s always really popular with the students. They also read a larger portion of American Prison, which has a mix of undercover journalism and history. Both are written by journalists, rather than economists, but each leans heavily on previously published research.