October 28, 2005

A WORTHY EXPERIMENT (via Governor Breck):

Writer's Almanac (NPR, 10/28/05)

It was on this day in 1919 that Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson's veto and passed the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States. Ours isn't the only nation to attempt a ban. Various forms of alcohol prohibition have been attempted since ancient times by the Aztecs, ancient China, feudal Japan, the Polynesian Islands, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, and India.

The movement to ban alcohol in this country began as a religious movement, and it was also a movement dominated by women. At the time, it was still difficult for women to make a living on their own, and many women had seen their lives ruined when their husbands squandered the family income on booze. It was the liquor industry that put up such a long fight against women getting the right to vote, because they were terrified that women voters would usher in restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

It's commonly believed that Prohibition was a huge failure; that no one stopped drinking and the law's only effect was to give a boost to organized crime. That was true in big cities, but in rural America, prohibition was quite effective. Both cirrhosis death rates and admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholism fell by more than fifty percent. Arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct also went way down. And while organized crime may have gotten a boost, homicide rates were the same during the 1920s as they were in the previous two decades.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has likewise been one of the most successful citizen movements of the past thirty years -- both in terms of legislation won and positive effects on society -- because we remain a Puritan Nation. But wholesale prohibition was a mistake because alcohol serves a useful purpose as a social lubricant, is deeply ingrained in the culture and our traditions, and has real health benefits when consumed in moderation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2005 7:08 PM

We've been here before. I pointed out you could say the same things about marijuana.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 28, 2005 7:42 PM

Except that none of them would be true. It's antisocial, has no significance to our culture and only negative health effects.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2005 9:31 PM

Right. And I pointed out that this is true if "our" only means white.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 28, 2005 11:35 PM

alcohol [...] has real health benefits when consumed in moderation.

Yeah, I tell myself that, too.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at October 29, 2005 2:18 AM

...alcohol serves a useful purpose as a social lubricant

Sorry I wasn't around last night. I was out getting a lube job.

Posted by: Peter B at October 29, 2005 6:28 AM


First, it does. Second, the argument that drugs have had a beneficial social and health effect on the black community would be hilarious if not for the human tragedy it blithely ignores.

Posted by: oj at October 29, 2005 7:26 AM

OJ --

If you're a liberal Democrat who knows any electorial success depends on the continued dependancy on government of a block-voting black underclass, than yes, I guess you could say it's had beneficial social and health effects, just not for the people actually smoking the stuff.

Posted by: John at October 29, 2005 9:21 AM