From homeless to cash machine in the black economy

The second most unforgiving job in the world is selling drugs. Yet, few professions offer a better ROI and growth prospects relative to the minuscule investment required to kick it all off. Hence the endless stream of recruits willing to risk it all no matter how many of their colleagues society shamelessly enslave behind bars.

The people who enter this profession are ordinary folks just like you and me. Well, you at least 😉 All are brave entrepreneurs but often desperate and backed into a corner. Alexandra (22) is such a person. *Not her real name. You’d never guess it by her unassuming shy demeanour and plain style of dress.

I ran into her outside her new place of work on a cigarette break. Several breaks, and many a cigarette later, she decided to open up about her former career. She’s now gainfully employed in the formal economy but admitted to the fact that it is even more of a struggle than her old life. A life that ended with arrest and incarceration just a short year ago.IMG_0464Having moved to the streets aged 12, due to an alcoholic mother, she had to become self-sufficient and street-smarts as quick as possible. She spent her first years sleeping at friends’ houses and in the occasional abandoned building.

After a while, residing at the latter became a more frequent experience. Life was going nowhere she said until her late teens. Then things started to pick up, economically speaking at least, when she discovered weed. She became an instant fan. Soon enough her extended circle of friends naturally selected her as the go to girl for marijuana.

A shrewd business woman was born. Entrepreneurs often stumble upon an opportunity by accident and decide to run with it. Once Alexandra decided that this was it, her customer base expanded rapidly as she developed an edge over the competition.

It’s evident she understood the product she sold and was armed with knowledge of her customer’s preferences. Keeping them satisfied was the key to repeat business she said.

Selling weed is all about quantity and quality. The quantity you can obtain and the quality of the product. I have a high tolerance, so if I feel it is strong, then it’s going to be great for others, she explained.

Growth was rapid and she answered no to my question about problems with other dealers in the upstart phase. If she was under the protection of someone else she never said.

 

The Business School of Drug Dealing

The more I spoke with Alexandra the more I felt I was having a conversation with a business student. She displayed knowledge of profit margins, opportunity cost (just not by that name) and market share (again not using that term). Her margins were phenomenal, if she is to be believed.

I’d pay ($9 US) 35 lei per gram and sell for 60. I sold 100 grams a week. All my customers came from word of mouth. People would call me and I would go to their location. I never walked around trying to sell to random people. That was too dangerous.

When pushed about the dangers of drug dealing, she said there were many scary episodes, including robberies on several occasions. Despite this she claims she was never physically harmed.

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Alexandra’s current dream is to open a legitimate business. A coffee shop or small restaurant. During her dealer days she could afford whatever she wanted. She expressed regret at not starting such a venture earlier. Back then she never had to scramble to make ends met. Now life was a different matter.

In her new profession, I won’t divulge it for privacy reasons, hours are long and taxes high. She was rather vague on the issue of why she doesn’t go back to her old life. The story she offered involved police, competitors and threats. Needless to say it probably was no easy decision to start working in a job society deems fit for morally upstanding citizens, but for a fraction of her old salary.

 

The evils of work and profits

People love hating on drug dealers. I have several friends myself whom proudly espouse the view publicly, that when a dealer is killed or incarcerated, lives are saved. You really must be lobotomised to subscribe to this theory.

Dealers like Alexandra are simply fulfilling market demand. Demand indicates a need for a product or a service. The act of fulfilling someone’s need is virtuous, not evil. That’s what capitalism is all about, pleasing others. It’s how we managed to reach the living standards we revel in today.

When I lectured on this subject, students would often object:

but they’re doing it for profit and their own benefit.

My reply was always;

oh so you will work at IBM for free when you graduate? Or deserve to be scolded as a selfish hypocrite because you work for your own benefit, and dare I say it, profit?

Kill all the dealers in the world and demand for their product will still exist. New ones will step forth. The profits are there for the taking as the demand for drugs are stubbornly inelastic. The more illegal and dangerous the dealing business gets, the higher the potential profits a dealer can reap becomes.

 

Freedom and drug legalisation

As we walked through a modern arts museum, we debated drug legalisation, something Alexandra was vehemently against. For a second I pondered if this was because she understood that that meant street dealers losing market share to big business. That wasn’t it.

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She’d only ever done weed and it was hence the only drug she wanted on the shelves at the supermarket. I argued the case for full legalisation but she wasn’t impressed. She’d never sold other drugs and had no interest in legalising any of them.

Her stance on drugs made me once again ponder why on earth it is that people are always willing to defend their personal narrow fiefdoms and vices rather than real freedom to choose across the board. What people can and can’t put into their own bodies is an individual’s own decision to make.

It continues to puzzle me why this 110% self evident natural notion takes on the characteristics and incomprehensibility of some of the world’s most difficult mathematical equations when you utter it to otherwise rational human beings.

I was impressed with Alexandra’s character and journey through a difficult life. She has that inner drive I’ve recognised in other entrepreneurs. It is however rather disheartening to realise that even some of the people who find themselves on the wrong side of the war on drugs tacitly support it.

Since that evidently is the case, when will it ever end?

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