Commentary

Sound Money: Tide Laundry Soap Becoming Gold Standard in the Drug Trade

It is fitting that this story would surface around the same time that Bernanke has been harping about the gold standard. From TheDaily:

Law enforcement officials across the country are puzzled over a crime wave targeting an unlikely item: Tide laundry detergent. Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid. […]

Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high — roughly $10 to $20 a bottle — and it’s a staple in households across socioeconomic classes. Tide can go for $5 to $10 a bottle on the black market, authorities say. Enterprising laundry soap peddlers even resell bottles to stores. “There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track,” said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. “It’s the item to steal.”

So… what is up with this? Why Tide? Joseph Salerno picks up the story on the Christian Science Monitor blog:

This is just another confirmation of [Carl] Menger’s insight that the market responds to the absence of sound money by monetizing highly salable commodities. It is clear that Tide has emerged as a subsidiary local currency for black-market, especially drug, transactions — but for legal transactions in low-income areas as well. Indeed police report that Tide is being exchanged for heroin and methamphetamine and that drug dealers possess inventories of the commodity that they are also willing to sell. But why is laundry detergent being employed as money, and why Tide in particular?

Menger identified the qualities that a commodity must possess in order to evolve into a medium of exchange. Tide possesses most of these qualities in ample measure. For a commodity to emerge as money out of barter, it must be widely used, readily recognizable, and durable. It must also have a relatively high value-to-weight ratio so that it can be easily transported. Tide is the most popular brand of laundry detergent and is widely used by all socioeconomic groups. Tide also is easily recognized because of its Day-Glo orange logo. Laundry detergent can also be stored for long periods without loss of potency or quality. It is true that Tide is somewhat bulky and inconvenient to transport by hand in large quantities. But enough can be carried by hand or shopping cart for smaller transactions while large quantities can easily be transported and transferred using automobiles.

Sound money can be hard to come by.

Anthony Randazzo

Anthony Randazzo is director of economic research for Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. His research portfolio is regularly evolving, and he maintains a wide interest in economic policy at both a domestic and international level.

Randazzo is also managing director of the Pension Integrity Project, which provides technical assistance to public sector retirement system stakeholders who are seeking to prevent pension plan insolvency. His research focus on the national public sector pension crisis has a dual focus of identifying the systemic factors that cause public officials to underfund pension obligations as well as studying the processes by which meaningful pension reform can be accomplished. Within the Project he leads the analytics team that develops independent, third party actuarial analysis to stakeholders considering changes to public sector retirement systems.

In addition, Randazzo writes about the moral foundations of economic theory, and is currently developing research on the ways that the moral intuitions of economists influence their substantive findings on topics like income inequality, immigration, or labor policy.

Randazzo's work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Barron's, Bloomberg View, The Washington Times, The Detroit News, Chicago Sun-Times, Orange-County Register, RealClearMarkets, Reason magazine and various other online and print publications.

During his tenure at Reason he has published substantive research on housing finance, financial services regulation, and various other aspects of economic policy at the federal level. And he has written regularly on labor economics, tax policy, privatization, and Turkish-U.S. political and economic issues.

Randazzo has also testified before numerous state and local legislative bodies on pension policy matters, as well as before the House Financial Services Committee on topics related to housing policy and government-sponsored enterprises.

He holds a multidisciplinary M.A. in behavioral political economy from New York University.

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