Teaching Points– Regulation of Vice

Editor’s Note: This week’s Teaching Points entry takes a turn for the dismal, as we showcase the work of economist Jim Leitzel, Senior Lecturer in Social Science and Director of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.  Don’t let the wonkishness fool you though: Leitzel is also the founder of TWO blogs, Vice Squad and Self-Exclusion, and quite possibly the first Points contributor to have given a TEDx Talk (on “Re-Legalizing Drugs”).  Here he moves beyond drugs qua drugs and discusses the larger question of the “Regulation of Vice.”

I taught versions of this undergraduate Regulation of Vice course nine times at the University of Chicago between 1999 and 2008. Since then, I have offered an independent study version, and might reprise the regular course someday. I got the idea for a vice policy class from Phil Cook, who taught a similar course beginning in the mid-1990s when I was his colleague at Duke University. In the early years I surely borrowed quite a bit from Phil’s syllabus, too.  In general, I take a “less is more” approach to assigned readings, in an effort to simplify the triage problem facing students. Economics is a popular major at Chicago, and as Regulation of Vice is an Economics elective, the typical student is a third- or fourth-year Economics major.

Brief Description: This course concerns government policy with respect to the traditional vices of drinking, smoking, gambling, illicit sex, and the recreational use of drugs. Among the policies that will be considered are prohibition, decriminalization, taxation, licensing, and marketing controls. The intellectual framework employed for the evaluation of various policies is primarily economic and legal, though other disciplines also will be drawn upon.

J.S. Mill

Text: There is no required core text for the class. Books that might be helpful include Robert J. MacCoun and Peter Reuter, Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times, & Places, Cambridge University Press, 2001; Jim Leitzel, Regulating Vice: Misguided Prohibitions and Realistic Controls, Cambridge University Press, 2008; and Mark A. R. Kleiman, Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results, Basic Books, 1992. John Stuart Mill’s essay, On Liberty, opens the course. 

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