by UnHerd
Wednesday, 17
March 2021
Spotted
15:48

Was 1920s America right to prohibit alcohol?

Banning booze had plenty of upsides, as a new paper shows
by UnHerd
Not everyone was pleased with the Prohibition experiment Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images

The news that Scotland is to allow pubs to reopen, but not to serve alcohol indoors, recalls the Prohibition Era that started a hundred years ago.

Between 1920 and 1933, the United States imposed a nationwide ban on the production, import, export and sale of most forms of booze. These days we simply call it “Prohibition” — and it’s become a byword for the unintended consequences of state interference in personal pleasures.

In our own era, it’s a favourite case study for the advocates of decriminalising the trade in cannabis and other drugs.

But was Prohibition the comprehensive failure that it’s now imagined to be?

In an article for VoxEU, David Jacks, Krishna Pendakur, Hitoshi Shigeoka write about their recent research into the effects of repealing Prohibition.

One would have thought that the effects of ending such an important government intervention in lives of so many people would be the subject of intensive study. But as the authors point out “there is surprisingly little research in quantitatively assessing its outcomes.”

Jacks and his colleagues have made an effort to put that right. Their own analysis makes use of the fact that there was a lot of local variation in the extent to which Prohibition was imposed and subsequently lifted. This goes right down to county level and beyond. (In fact, to this day, hundreds of counties and smaller jurisdictions still prohibit the sale of alcohol, either partially or wholly.)

In any case, for the 1933 to 1939 period the authors have a lot of fine-grained data to help them separate the specific impact of ending Prohibition from unrelated trends.

Some of their conclusions confirm the standard critiques of Prohibition. For instance, they found that lifting restrictions on the alcohol trade was associated with a reduction in homicides. There was a decrease in fatal accidents too (“importantly, this category includes accidental poisonings”, the authors note).

However, the data also confirms a huge downside to repeal:

“We find that repeal was associated with equivalent and significant increases in infant mortality in both counties that chose to allow for the sale of alcohol (wet counties) and in neighbouring counties that chose not to (dryish counties), suggesting a large role for cross-border policy spillovers… Cumulatively, we estimate that 4,493 annual excess infant deaths could be attributed to the repeal of federal Prohibition.”
- David Jacks, Krishna Pendakur, Hitoshi Shigeoka — VoxEU

The authors don’t come to any firm conclusion as to why the increased availability of alcohol resulted in this death toll. They mention drinking in pregnancy is one possible mechanism. It seems plausible that neglect was another cause — both as a direct result of intoxication and second-order effects like the impact on family stability and finances. In any case, they note that infant mortality is a “rough indicator of population health”.

Whatever its failings, it’s important to realise that Prohibition was not imposed as a result of a mere ‘moral panic’. There was a reason why so many people were desperate to get alcohol out of their communities — and why women were often at the forefront of the campaign to do so.

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David Slade
David Slade
1 year ago

Oh great, just what humanity needs right now – yet more validation of petty minded authoritarianism.

I’m sure there are other solutions to the problems’ alcohol causes’ , probably starting with acknowledging that as a disinhibitor it’s not the underlying cause of any social problems but an aggravator of something already there. Maybe that ‘something’would be a more worthy and efficient focus of our attentions?

Furthermore, whatever happened to the idea that consenting adults should have the freedom to do anything as long as it doesn’t directly harm others; and that this idea is valuable in and of itself?

I can see any research showing up- sides to prohibition being all to eagerly seized upon by all the usual suspects.

tiaanjfourie
tiaanjfourie
1 year ago
Reply to  David Slade

You make good and valid points. I would agree with you because I find freedom of speech, movement, and decision-making important. However, the “prohibitions” South Africa had on alcohol kept the emergency rooms less crowded and fewer instances of large social gatherings during the past year.
So I have been in conflict with myself this past year. You are right, alcohol is an aggravator, but a very good one, unfortunately.

Jonesy Moon
Jonesy Moon
1 year ago
Reply to  David Slade

well…according to the article it did appear to harm infants…

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

I’m generally against banning anything for adults, although I have banned alcohol from my own life simply because it’s better without it, for me. And of course, alcohol was available during Prohibition, just really unsafe types of homemade alcohol.
Infant mortality is a much more complicated subject that this article indicates, not in the least because it is counted differently around the world.

Richard E
Richard E
1 year ago

There was a whole industry still making alcoholic drinks, so it wasnt just home made.

Scott Carson
Scott Carson
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard E

That’s true. Not sure it was “safe” though, being entirely unregulated. It’s quite difficult to manufacture spirits fit for consumption, (and I say this as a victim of my Italian father-in-law’s home distilled grappa.)

TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard E

That’s true, plus imports from S. America, Canada ETC. Watch the excellent Boardwalk Empire if you want historical proof :-)!

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

What big city was dry? Were economics examined? There was that whole great depression thing going on. Dry counties tend to be more religious and supportive of extended family so there tends to be more support for women. This was particularly important back then. Of course the woke have taught us that religion and family are suppressive and evil. So it must be the alcohol. I would take any claim like this with a grain of salt.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dennis Boylon
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

No, it wasn’t right. And don’t give our evil, authoritarian, tyrant politicians any more ideas.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

They are remarkably wicked, the political class. This is because the selection process, one funded by the Donor Class, the Soros kind of money and power elite, who fund election campaigns from the bottom to the top. At each level they require more obedience, at each level their permission (to run under the Party name, both parties, they own them both) comes at a higher cost, till the greasy pole a politician climbs finally ends up with them having sold themselves to gain the top, and so become one of them. This was why Trump was so amazing, he bypassed having to sell his soul to the devil to reach such heights, as Great Politicians often did in the past – but most climbed the greasy pole, like Rome and most since did, by selling out to the wealthy power underneath.

BUT, then, there is a country to be run, and that is done, even with the tyrant politicians. Laws must be made and enforced for the citizens well being. Rule of law still works pretty much, government programs are funded and managed, and so on – The actual running of things works, it is POLICY which is corrupt, and now it is to destroy the diasporaed members of European Middle Class, as they are the only ones with power to resist, to allow the brave, new, world of globalism and Great Reset.

James Clander
James Clander
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Spot on Comments —
Herein lies the problem for anyone who questions the official COVID-19 narrative. We are living in a time where rational inquiry itself is under attack. It seems that to question the validity of COVID-19 is verboten.
Yet clearly, there are justifiable reasons for doing so. The fake moral outrage of the mainstream media, fact checkers and professional “debunkers,” is a defence mechanism and a propaganda technique.
It isn’t designed to combat the claims of a relatively small group of sceptics; its purpose seems to be to stop the much larger group of somewhat sceptical people looking at the evidence.
“Here is the key difference between authority in everyday life and the power of the state: the state’s edicts are always and everywhere enforced at the point of a gun.
It is interesting how little we think about that reality, but it is the core reality. Everything done by the state is ultimately done by means of aggression, which is to say violence or the threat of violence.” —Lew Rockwell

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago

It provided the mafia with their all consuming grip on a fine silver platter

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago

Yes, but if booze hadn’t been banned it would have been something else (illegal pharmaceuticals, illegally cultivated strong drugs, child prostitutuion, pornography etc.etc.) This idea that legalising a contentious trade turns criminals into church-going penitents always strikes me as rather naive. They are criminal because the financial rewards are greater, and they are conscience-free and violent enough to sacrifice others on their behalf (couriers, debtors, dupes etc. etc.). They also tend to come from cultures where the value of a man is publicly reckoned by his displayed wealth in material terms (they travel conspicuously in expensive cars, with no attempt to hide or camouflage their financial superiority). This is typical of people originally from poorer rural backgrounds, where wealth can disappear overnight (e.g. when crops fail or natural disasters occur (flooding, drought etc.).

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
James Clander
James Clander
1 year ago

The Scottish people should revolt & show their revulsion at such outrageous edicts. Ridiculous lockdowns etc shows a Govt with No clues. It’s the same here in Australia except Liquor shops have always been open. The rest sucks.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
1 year ago

The same execrable Labour Party that shamelessly targeted the youth vote by bombarding them with text messages saying vote for us and we’ll extend pub (remember them?!) closing times. Victory achieved, promise reneged upon…

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 year ago

I’m really expecting this from the Carrie’n’Bozo govt now. He enjoys making people miserable, and don’t worry about taxes, his chancellor has found plenty more money.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

I down voted all the liberal posts below.

George Carlin said it well, ““Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”
So look at how China did during the Opium years. The goal of the small business man was to get his children running the business so he could devote the rest of his years to the pipe, society was decimated. This is what the West will be under Liberalism, computer games, VR, sex dolls, and drugs and humanity disappear into the euphoria of drugs and artificial pleasure.

Just as Liberalism in alcohol laws have decimated the Native Peoples of America and all the Far North, I have seen it, it is really bad. (fetal alcohol syndrome can reach 50% in some communities.) I have spent a great deal of time with drunks and addicts, have been them myself, it is not so easy as just letting each decide as the morality of the family and Church and community have broken down almost completely.

I am an anti-Liberal, I feel the normal person is too weak to withstand unlimited vice and self harming pleasure opportunities. Remember Dante had the eight circle of hell for Panderers and Seducers, which you become when you allow free access to vice by promoting availability to them through your vote.The society requires seat belts, taxes smoking till it is affordably to young people. Society exists to promote well-being of the people, not to just secure them an income and then anything goes.

I do believe in free speech, yet the same Liberals who would allow any deviancy and harmful act up to killing 600,000 babies a year, and even making it acceptable and funding it, they are not valid arbitrators of decency, yet they are the main opponent of free speech against their creed. If this was a liberal site I would have been banned the first week I appeared.

Freedom of degeneracy, but no freedom of thought. that is Liberalism.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Are you actually suggesting personal responsibility?

Antonino Ioviero
Antonino Ioviero
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The unborn child is having the booze forced into their system.

Jonesy Moon
Jonesy Moon
1 year ago

wasn’t directed towards me, but i would like to answer; i believe in a woman’s right to choose not to put herself at risk for getting preggo; after that the baby comes first and foremost. the most innocent deserves to be protected from their malevolent progenitor.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“Society exists to promote well-being of the people”

Er, no it doesn’t. I couldn’t care less what other people do to themselves, as long as I am not expected to bear the costs of the ensuing damage, instead of them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Stunning. Darwin’s laws are consequential to the human race. Addictions generally relate to a person’s inability to deal with a given reality but once established very hard to change their reality. Hopelessness becomes deadly. Mankind has managed over many centuries a control over intoxicants. Banning anything doesn’t ever save people from themselves.

Last edited 1 year ago by Hardee Hodges
George Bruce
George Bruce
1 year ago

Im not for banning it and enjoy a drink<span style="color: rgb(119, 119, 119);"> myself from time to time, but its abuse and over-consumption is clearly ruining a lot of peoples lives in the UK.
If I recall my youth correctly (born in the 1960s) there was a large and pretty effective non-smoking campaign to the extent that when I went abroad in the 1980s onwards I thought that English speakers were about the only white people where a large percentage of young males did not smoke.
Time to do a similar job on the Demon Drink.

Last edited 1 year ago by George Bruce
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  George Bruce

You should also read the studies on the lower rates of long-term current heavy smokers admitted to intensive care for, and dying from, Covid-19. The blogger Chris Snowdon (Google) is doing great work drawing attention to these documented findings, about which the WHO peddles inaccuracies. It’s not established fact, yet, as there are certain variations, but it is suggestive.

40 years or so ago I read a double-page article in the Guardian – then a credible organ and a broadsheet – by two American doctors detailing the results of studies of deaths from lung-cancer among smokers by geographical region in England and Wales. They concluded there was a direct link. Comparisons were done according to the daily number of similar types of cigarettes smoked per age group. Imagine my surprise that living in, say, rural Clwyd (N. Wales) with lovely, healthy, open fresh-air gave much lower numbers of deaths for identical numbers of cigarettes smoked per day and per age category than for those who lived in big, heavily polluted industrial cities like Manchester, Birmingham etc., full of petrol vehicles, trains, factories belching fumes etc. etc. This aspect wasn’t even examined. Two British doctors also trashed their statistical findings in a different way in a letter of riposte in the following week.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

You can take your studies and shove them up your lying a$$. We have plenty enough fascist totalitarianism to deal with right now. Sheesh

David Foot
David Foot
1 year ago

No prohibition works. Any form of prohibition of any drug has one immediate effect, the need is supplied by criminals which end up having armies, navies and airforces all with even submarines and third world countries in the middle can’t cope if they were to be involved in any way.
We must learn that lesson, who do we want manufacturing the products which the young and even the old will consume?
There is no way the State can tell me what I can or can’t consume! Where did they get that idea and power from?
The state must get out of the way and tax what we consume to help redistribute income to society in general and to help pay for the attention of any health problems which may come as a consequence of general drug consumption as we do with alcohol now, after learning that lesson. USA with all its wealth was unable to prohibit alcohol or anything else, so what will the SNP be able to do?
And what is more for drugs in general HM Queen Victoria was partial to heroine, so shouldn’t we put all our Sovereigns on heroine if She did so well? (Sorry wokes if I offended you with that, I don’t care, I hate you any way. Because I just said that don’t start spewing lies out of context and out of time, Marx himself lived under HM Queen Victoria)
Also the war on drugs started in 1914 when chemists stopped selling them, so we have been losing the war for more than a century, isn’t it time now that we started regulating what we have been unable to prohibit?

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  David Foot

“The state must get out of the way and tax what we consume to help redistribute income to society in general and to help pay for the attention of any health problems which may come as a consequence of general drug consumption as we do with alcohol now,”

You pay for selfish drug-takers, mate. I don’t see why I should. I don’t mind people taking heroin (or alcohol) if they want to, but they must bear the full costs of any resulting medical treament, personally, or give up which, contrary to ludicrous fantasies about ‘addiction’ (the modern version of ‘possessed by demons’), they can do very easily. When Chairman Mao introduced the death penalty for drug use, strangely this ‘irresistable compulsion’ disappeared overnight.
As for ‘mind-‘altering’ drugs, they have the potential to create anti-social and violent behaviour (e.g.cannabis, regularly lied about as being ‘safe’). No sympathy. Strong penalties, ruthlessly enforced. Alcohol must be tightly regulated, becuase it leads to social disrupution and violence frequently. The responsibility for which is squarely with the so-called ‘alcoholic’.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt