Reintroduce Prohibition for the U.S.?

Under the “it takes a lot of courage to condemn a convicted rapist” principle, my Facebook friends are complaining about what they feel to be the insufficient punishment meted out to Brock Turner (strictly speaking, he was not tried for or convicted of “rape,” though the New York Times and other national media refer to him as a “rapist”). His family probably spent roughly $1.5 million on a criminal defense (source of estimate). Unless he emigrates he will spend a lifetime as a third-class citizen on the sex offender registry. He will be in prison for up to six months (this latter punishment being the focus of public outcry).

As I was not in the courtroom hearing the evidence it is not for me to say whether or not justice was served. (And people who are outraged that he didn’t get the maximum sentence possible should review Langbein’s “Torture and Plea Bargaining” to learn how today’s maximum sentences relate to what were considered fair sentences pre-1960.) However, I think that nearly everyone would agree that, without alcohol having been consumed by both criminal and victim, at least this particular crime would not have occurred.

The politically acceptable point of view seems to be that we should change the behavior of drunken men, e.g., with harsher punishments for bad behavior while drunk. I wonder how successful that can be, though, given that there are already harsh punishments, mostly practical but also criminal justice-related, for bad behavior while drunk and yet humans continue to drink when alcohol is available and behave badly when drunk.

What about Prohibition? It didn’t work very well 100 years ago, but the modern police state is much more sophisticated. Americans are packed much more tightly together and subject to more surveillance. Getting truckloads of alcohol across the border from Canada doesn’t seem as practical today as it was in 1920.

There are a lot of reasons why Prohibition could make more sense today than it did in 1920.

In 1920 if a person suffered health problems due to alcohol consumption the cost of treatment and disability fell on the individual and his or her family. Today, through a combination of Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and SSDI, most of those costs will fall on taxpayers. Society thus has a more compelling interesting in prevent residents from drinking than it did in 1920.

In 1920 the government had debts that were minimal by today’s standards. The government was not obligated to pay large pensions to former public employees. There was no Social Security or Medicare. Headline bond debt was not at 100 percent of GDP. If Americans didn’t work at maximum efficiency the consequence was slower economic growth, not insolvency. Americans would have to work productively pretty close to 24/7 to pay off all of today’s obligations. Given the lack of productivity of drunk people, it seems intuitively obvious that we would have a larger economy and therefore pay more in taxes if none of us ever drank (except when traveling to foreign countries). [See link below, though, for a posting questioning this common sense idea.]

In 1920 the U.S. did not have a significant Muslim population whose religious principles prohibit alcohol consumption.

In 1920 there was a reasonably high percentage of jobs where consuming alcohol wouldn’t affect performance too much. Today even a slight mistake with a computer can cost the employer a fortune (21st century draft horse posting) and massive litigation costs can be incurred after missteps (you’ll never believe what happens when the rushed workers at Panera try to fill an order for grilled cheese that contains two comments regarding peanuts).

Could it make sense to prohibit alcohol when various U.S. states are in the process of legalizing marijuana? If alcohol is more likely to lead to stuff that society no longer wishes to tolerate, I don’t see why it would be inconsistent to ban alcohol while freeing the stoners to do as they please.

[Of course you could argue that preventing people from drinking alcohol takes away their liberty, but it seems that Americans are long past the point where liberty per se is a concern.]


13 thoughts on “Reintroduce Prohibition for the U.S.?

  1. Bravo!

    You didn’t even mention that guns become very angry and violent when subjected to 2nd hand alcohol exhalation. Alcohol Prohibition would also cure the angry violent gun problem!

    “A 2013 meta-analysis of 23 studies concluded that “48 percent of homicide offenders were reportedly under the influence of alcohol at the time of the offense and 37 percent were intoxicated.”

    “Several studies have established the relationship between alcohol abuse and firearm-related crimes. Just as an individual is severely handicapped while operating a car under the influence, these studies found that similar failures in judgment and impulse control manifest during the operation of a firearm. ”

  2. I don’t know the details of this case but the salient point is the national media is mentally still a crew of put-down nerds in high school. The fixation on the tiny number of crimes by white jocks and frat boys is amazing: duke lacrosse, uva’s jackie coakley, etc.

    These stories (when they turn out to have actually happened) are “man bites dog” affairs in terms of statistical significance. The thousands of rapes and murders we might actually do something about? Meh, who cares, let’s lynch some upper middle class white frat boys and talk about it for weeks.

  3. Putting a large number (40-60) of very young men by themselves, age 18-21, with no effective adult supervision, away from home for the first time, is bound to result in drug and alcohol-related and hazing issues. I’d advocate for stopping this practice on college campuses.

  4. This was a case of a severe lack of women & a severe surplus of poor, skinny, horny men. Alcohol is the solution by giving men large bellies, making them convey financial security.

  5. Bringing back prohibition would allow police departments to keep their big budgets while cutting back persecuting innocents. In fact, with civil asset forfeiture, most will become self-funding or even profitable.

  6. Well prohibition is working well for heroin, cocaine, meth, etc. So trying it again for alcohol certainly makes sense.

  7. Punish the innocent does seem to be a very popular solution for any given problem at the moment, especially among educators. However, I would tend toward public health solutions to the public health problems described in the posting. Public health solutions are more indirect than the raw use of state power, but we do have examples of them working while prohibition generally has not.

    bobbybobbob: Given the circumstances of the crime as described in the media, it seems unlikely that anyone but a privileged white man would have received this sentence for this crime. Had the defendant been a black athlete is is almost unthinkable that the judge would have been as lenient. This contributes to the “man bites dog” nature of the story and the outrage.

  8. Phil states […] “Unless [we know who] emigrates, he will spend a lifetime as a third-class citizen on the sex offender registry.

    From what I can gather from multiple sources on prospects in life awaiting convicted sex offenders in the USA, a blanket designation encompassing everything from manufactured felony pedophile leanings; to drunken levity and statutory rape among consenting adolescents; to incest etc, this is the right conclusion. It must affect thousands of Americans a year, a sizable number of them still young, and otherwise “criminally petty enough” to qualify for working permits and residence in other countries – be it as teachers of English (Spanish, etc) as a Second Language if no other. Yet, from what I gather, there is no such “mass migration” by so affected individuals from the USA to Europe and beyond.

    Could it be that those essentially branded-pervert-for-life still find it easier to make a life with the stigma in the USA, than to start anew without the stigma elsewhere? (I know there are no universal answers here, but, given waves of Vietnam deserters and draft resisters once seeking refuge in Canada and Western countries, I am looking for analogies/ clues…)

    Were this happening to any degree, and were these life-ahead-of-them US émigrés in time be joined by their Yankee families, it would be noticed as a brain- (and sex-drive ;-)) drain in the US, AND as—the horror the horror to bean-counters—depletion of future tax base. We can’t have that can we.

    BTW. Phil, if the opinions you quote are those of your “Facebook friends,” I wonder what your enemies there sound like—assuming you have, and/or would be willing to admit to any such. But I guess I’ll be going to my grave in the present state of utmost ignorance of any of them (if any).

  9. On the one hand, the police state is more sophisticated, but on the other hand, PEOPLE are more sophisticated. There are a million resources on how to make your own alcohol at home. With things like meth labs they try to control the precursors like Sudafed, but the precursors to alcohol are food. Unless you are willing to starve people, you could never stop alcohol from being produced even with the most sophisticated or repressive government. Even in the Soviet Union samagon production was a major activity.

  10. Jackie, as making alcohol (=purified fermentation product of organic matter) is a no-brainer, basically every culture since the Stone Age has stumbled upon it, people’s sophistication quotient doesn’t even enter into it.

    What’s more disturbing is that our host, who, in 1996 worried over preserving anonymity of welfare recipients:

    [… food stamps or handouts] Big Brother shouldn’t know that you had a Big Mac at 1:34 pm on March 14, 1998

    … 20 years later thinks nothing against the current dimension of same:

    Prohibition didn’t work very well 100 years ago, but the modern police state is much more sophisticated. Americans are packed much more tightly together and subject to more surveillance.

    Because—hey!—blanket police surveillance is here anyway, so we might just as well learn to live with it (… just as Phil’s requirements for a laptop, say, are all about eye and palm ergonomics, and not a whiff of unease over his choice of MS Windows 10 that’ll spy the bejesus out of his computer usage, package the data, sell to the highest bidder AND deliver to the government just in case). Because he has nothing to hide. Hence this blog.

  11. I am pretty sure that Philip, given his views on liberties and surveillance, is being facetious in this post, which is a very modest proposal.

Comments are closed.