The Economic Costs of Drug-Trafficking Violence in Mexico
Working Paper

The levels of violence in Mexico have dramatically increased in the last few years due to structural changes in the drug trafficking business. The increase in the number of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) fighting over the control of territory and trafficking routes has resulted in a substantial increase in the rates of homicides and other crimes. This study evaluates the economic costs of drug-related violence. We propose electricity consumption as an indicator of the level of municipal economic activity and use two different empirical strategies to test this. To estimate the marginal effects of violence, we utilize an instrumental variable regression created by Mejía and Castillo (2012) based on historical seizures of cocaine in Columbia interacted with the distance of the Mexican border towns to the United States. We find that marginal increases of violence have negative effects on labor participation and the proportion of unemployed in an area. The marginal effect of the increase in homicides is substantive for earned income and the proportion of business owners, but not for energy consumption. We also employ the methodology of synthetic controls to evaluate the effect that inter-narco wars have on local economies. These wars in general begin with a wave of executions between rival criminal organizations and are accompanied by the deterioration of order and a significant increase in extortion, kidnappings, robberies, murders, and threats affecting the general population. To evaluate the effect that these wars between different drug trafficking organizations have on economic performance, we define the beginning of a conflict as the moment when we observe an increase from historical violence rates at the municipal level beyond a certain threshold, and construct counterfactual scenarios as a weighted average from optimal control units. The analysis indicates that the drug wars in those municipalities that saw dramatic increases in violence between 2006 and 2010 significantly reduced their energy consumption in the years after the change occurred.

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