Breaking Bad: The Economics of Meth

Breaking Bad's Walter White (Bryan Cranston) J...

Breaking Bad’s Walter White (Bryan Cranston) Jack O’ Lantern (Photo credit: edwaado)

In AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Walter White plays the role of chemistry teacher turned meth producer and drug kingpin. While it certainly makes for good television to think about the profits available to someone willing to trade in illegal drugs, the mountain of money that Walter makes by the end of the series is actually not that unrealistic. Meth has a street value that approaches $30,000 dollars per pound. Not only that, but Walter displays a deceptively keen business acumen, especially for a chemistry teacher. A number of keen decisions allowed Walter White to become as successful as he has.

Production Costs

As any business owner knows, merchandise costs are a major portion of any operating budget. Mr. White keeps his profit margins robust in a number of ways. The first of these is by managing his production costs. When he started out in the business, Walter simply stole the majority of the required chemicals from the high school where he worked. This allowed for the product to be sold at a substantial profit when compared to producers who are required to invest more upfront.

Location, Location, Location

On top of his discounted production, Walter was able to stay ahead of the competition both literally and figuratively by utilizing his RV for production. Typically, meth is produced in a laboratory environment, which requires a building. This adds an additional cost of rent to the typical business profile. Walter, on the other hand, produced out of his RV in the early stages of his business’ growth, further increasing his profit margin.


On the production side of the economy, a major consideration is distribution costs. While most of Walter’s competition used pricey, established lines of distribution for their products, he cut out the middle man by distributing his product with his team. This caused major disruptions to his business when his competitors tried to kill him. However, while he was able to accomplish this model, Walter was the beneficiary of increased profits. Then, when he killed his competition, he was able to return to the healthy margin he enjoyed previously.


Many new products are launched with a full blown media campaign. This is a costly proposition. Walter, instead, relied on the quality of his product to speak for itself. This competitive advantage reduced the need for an extensive advertising budget. Furthermore, after a period of time, his product became a preferred choice by consumers everywhere. While he was required to distribute a few loss leaders at times, Walter kept the advertising costs down and profited greatly.

So, while it may seem like Walter White was simply a chemistry teacher who got lucky, it’s clear that he actually had a specific plan for his upstart business. By following a few standard economic principles, he was able to increase his margins at the crucial beginning phase of his business, and had established himself as a leader in the market when he chose to expand

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