Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel

Written by: Tom Wainwright

Narration by:  Brian Hutchison



“Narconomics” is about the business of illegal drugs. 

Tom Wainwright notes drug cartels are modern businesses. They benefit rich owners while liberally rewarding middle class managers with money, power, and prestige.  The difference is–middle managers brutally terrorize employees, kill their customers, and murder innocent bystanders. 

Drug Cartel murders Mormon Family living in Mexico in 2019.

Picture from the New York Post, Nov. 6, 2019.

These business conglomerates systematically 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 drug cartel businesses are abetted by bribe-taking government leaders. 

President Enrique Peña Nieto (Former President of Mexico– accused of bribery from the Oil Industry and Sinaloa Drug Cartel.)

The substance of Wainwright’s book is that cartels are run with many of the fundamental principles (aside from overt terror and murder) that make international companies richly successful.


Though policies like the war on drugs and alcohol prohibition were meant to save people from themselves, Wainwright suggests they failed. 


When desire for money, power, or prestige is unmet, humans compensate with drug use; or other escapist behaviors.


Wainwright argues that understanding drug cartel business practices will show how their industry profits can be disrupted. 

Wainwright suggests changing the focus from a war on drug producers and sellers to a policy for treating, educating, and rehabilitating users.

Wainwright shows how drug cartels capitalize on fundamental human drives and weaknesses.  He goes on to suggest how drug cartels can be destroyed.

Rather than spending billions to militarize national police forces, Wainwright suggests those dollars be spent to treat, rehabilitate, and educate accused and/or incarcerated users. 

An encouraging article in the WSJ (12/15/21) notes that Mexico and U.S. drug interdiction agencies are working on a framework to combat drug cartels “… likely to focus more on drug addiction”. In destroying the drug cartel’s consumer base, they lose profit.  Without profit there is no money, no power, and no prestige.  There is only a failed business model.

Wainwright goes on to suggest that drug use be decriminalized and regulated by the government.  This is no panacea but history shows that the war on drugs is a failure.  The heart of success for drug cartels is its adoption of business practices that generate profit.  The reality of the fundamentals of well-run business organizations is that they do not disappear.  Remove the source of profit and businesses either fail or are compelled to change.


Wainwright explains that the business of illegal drugs is a global enterprise.

 A global level of government cooperation is needed for effective elimination of drug cartels.  No single nation can eradicate cartels because of globalization.  One nation’s success in the drug war only compels cartels to move to neighboring countries.  The solution lies in treating, rehabilitating, and educating drug users.  Only with decriminalization, user medical treatment, and public education will the source of profit for drug cartels be cut off.


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 fact that drug cartels are run like businesses reveals an infrastructure that allows diversification.  Once profits are reduced for drug manufacture and distribution, cartels will change to survive.

Wainwright notes that drug cartels have already diversified; i.e. they are human traffickers, and extortion consortiums.  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.


The glimmer of hope is that cartel diversification does not pander to the desire for escape from reality offered by drugs.

There is no simple or cheap alternative to “the war on drugs” but there is a history that shows in its current form, war does not work. The drug war is no joke, neither is it a solution.

Illegal drug manufacturers and distributors are just the cost of doing business; not the source of profit. Cure the public of its need for drugs, decriminalize drug use, or at least treat the addicted, and drug cartels have no motive to be in the business. 

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

One thought on “NARCONOMICS”

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