• by Tom Wainwright
  • Narrated by Brian Hutchison
  • 9 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- Ethan M.


“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.
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Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-15-2016
  • Publisher: Audible Studios