Posted by: Tobias | October 2, 2008

Law of Unintended Consequences: Return of the Mack

Prisoners, whether POWs in WWII or in prisons all over modern-day America, have never been allowed to possess currency and have therefore commonly turned to various commodities as a medium of exchange and store of value and the commodity which – above all others – usually fulfilled that role were cigarettes.

So what happened when cigarettes were outlawed in federal prisons in 2004? What was the de facto currency substituted with? As today’s WSJ reports it was a rather unlikely good: canned mackerel (via Marginal Revolution, which even has a bit of monetary theory to go along with the humorous bits)



  1. Nice piece, a sad paradox in the end though: released from jail but loosing your ‘wealth’.

    Another problem with mackerel is that once a prisoner’s sentence is up, there’s little to do with it — the fish can’t be redeemed for cash, and has little value on the outside. As a result, says Mr. Levine, prisoners approaching their release must either barter or give away their stockpiles.

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