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Teaching Points– Regulation of Vice

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

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.”


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. 

Course Outline and Readings:

Class One: Introduction

Class Two: The Harm Principle

  1. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapters 1 and 2

Class Three: Liberty and Vice

  1. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapters 3 through 5

  2. MacCoun and Reuter, Chapter 4, pp. 55-71.

Class Four: Rational Addiction

  1. Gary S. Becker, Michael Grossman and Kevin Murphy, “Rational Addiction and the Effect of Price on Consumption.” American Economic Review 237-241, May 1991.

  2. Stanton Peele, “What Addiction Is and Is Not: The Impact of Mistaken Notions of Addiction.” Addiction Research 8: 599-607, 2000.

Class Five: Less: Than-Rational Addiction

  1. Terry E. Robinson and Kent C. Berridge, “Incentive-Sensitization and Addiction.” Addiction 96: 103-114, 2001.

  2. George Loewenstein, “Out of Control: Visceral Influences on Behavior.”Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 65: 272-292, March 1996.

Class Six: Dynamic Inconsistency

  1. Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin, “Studying Optimal Paternalism, Illustrated by a Model of Sin Taxes.” American Economic Review 93(2): 186-191, May 2003.

  2. Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin, “Incentives and Self Control.”

Class Seven: Lecture on Zero Tolerance and Harm Reduction

Class Eight: Two Minds

  1. George Loewenstein and Ted O’Donoghue, “Animal Spirits: Affective and Deliberative Processes in Economic Behavior.” Mimeo, May, 2005.

  2. Colin F. Camerer, “Wanting, Liking, and Learning: Neuroscience and Paternalism.” University of Chicago Law Review 73(1), Winter 2006.

Class Nine: Addiction and Public Policy

  1. Robert MacCoun, “Is the Addiction Concept Useful for Drug Policy?” Chapter 13, pp. 383-408, in R. Vuchinich and N. Heather, eds., Choice, Behavioral Economics and Addiction, Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science, 2003.

  2. Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein, “Libertarian Paternalism.” American Economic Review 93(2): 175-179, May 2003.

Class Ten: Alcohol Prohibition

  1. History of Alcohol Prohibition,” National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse.

  2. MacCoun and Reuter, selection from Chapter 8, pp. 156-169.

Class Eleven: Prohibition, From Alcohol to Drugs

  1. Harry G. Levine and Craig Reinarman, “Alcohol Prohibition and Drug Prohibition: Lessons From Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy.” Amsterdam: CEDRO, 2004.

  2. MacCoun and Reuter, Chapter 5, pp. 72-100.

Class Twelve: Drug Prohibition

  1. MacCoun and Reuter, Chapter 6, pp. 101-127.

  2. John Kaplan, “Heroin Prohibition.” Chapter 2, pp. 59-100, in The Hardest Drug, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Class Thirteen: Taxation and Other Approaches

  1. Gary S. Becker, Michael Grossman, and Kevin M. Murphy, “The Economic Theory of Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs.” NBER Working Paper #10976, December 2004.

  2. Mark A. R. Kleiman, “Dopey, Boozy, Smoky – And Stupid.” The American Interest, 2(3), January-February 2007.

Class Fourteen: Broad Sets of Regulations: Alcohol and Tobacco

  1. Philip J. Cook and Michael J. Moore, “The Economics of Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol-Control Policies.” Health Affairs 21(2): 120-133, 2002.

  2. Jonathan Gruber, “The Economics of Tobacco Regulation.” Health Affairs 21(2): 146-162, 2002.

Class Fifteen: Overeating

  1. David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser and Jesse M. Shapiro, “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(3): 93-118, Summer 2003.

  2. Fred Kuchler et al., “Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences.” Amber Waves 3(3): 26-33, June 2005.

Class Sixteen: Lecture on the Internet and Regulating Vice

Class Seventeen: Prostitution

  1. Ronald Weitzer, “Prostitution Control in America: Rethinking Public Policy.” Crime, Law and Social Change 32(1): 83-102, 1999.

  2. Alexandra K. Murphy and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, “Vice Careers: The Changing Contours of Sex Work in New York City.” Qualitative Sociology 29: 129-154, June 2006.

  3. MacCoun and Reuter, selection from Chapter 7, pp. 143-155

Class Eighteen: Gambling

  1. Melissa S. Kearney, “The Economic Winners and Losers of Legalized Gambling.” National Tax Journal 58(2): 281-302, June 2005.

  2. MacCoun and Reuter, selection from Chapter 7, pp. 128-143.

Class Nineteen: Conclusions

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