Coronaplague, experts, and Prohibition


Most people today regard America’s experiment with alcohol prohibition as a national embarrassment, rightly repealed in 1933. So it will be with the closures and lockdowns of 2020, someday.

In 1920, however, to be for the repeal of the prohibition that was passed took courage. You were arguing against prevailing opinion backed by celebratory scientists and exalted social thinkers. What you were saying flew in the face of “expert consensus.”

To sum up the “science” behind Prohibition, society had tremendous numbers of pathologies on the loose and they all traced to one dominant variable: liquor. There was poverty, crime, fatherless households, illiteracy, political alienation, social immobility, city squalor, and so on. You can look carefully at the data to find that in all these cases, there is a common element of alcohol. It only stands to reason that eliminating this factor would be the single greatest contribution to eliminating the pathologies. The evidence was incontrovertible. Do this, then that, and you are done.

Of course, my neo-Prohibitionist heart was warmed by this. Everything that we say about coronaplague goes double or 10X for alcohol! The loss of life-years from alcohol is far larger than an unmitigated coronaplague could have ever caused (since, in addition to the virus targeting the elderly/sick, eventually humans do develop immunity). Alcohol also creates a lot of misery among those whom it doesn’t kill.

So… once the COVID-19 dragon is slayed, let’s raise a glass to a renewed expert consensus around purging the U.S. of alcohol!

18 thoughts on “Coronaplague, experts, and Prohibition

  1. In their censoriousness there are certainly parallels between the prohibitionists and today’s masketeers. However, there is also a contrast: the expert consensus for prohibition was upheld chiefly by the “old USA”, the small-town and rural Protestant population. Its opponents (and targets) were the new Americans – Catholic and Jewish immigrants living mostly in the big cities. The Protestant farmer or schoolmarm wanted to stop the demon drink but the Italian city dweller didn’t see things the same way, nor for that matter did the Irish cop who was supposed to make him.

    Coronafaith is the opposite, in that fervor in the holy cause is strongest in the Woke vanguard and weakest, or negative, among the legacy population of Deplorables. The “someday” in that first paragraph looks doubtful to me. The prohibitionists, or at least many of them, eventually conceded that their great project had failed, based on facts they observed. Today’s Coronafaithful aren’t to be diverted by any amount of contrary evidence.

  2. Yesterday, I was invited to a backyard social event at which alcohol would be served. I thought that it was a wonderful teachable moment regarding the twin dangers of spreading coronavirus and drunk driving. Despite not having the scientific training of Dr. Jill Biden, I decided that I would use a long lecture featuring quotes from the New York Times and CNN to educate my host… a professor of medicine.

    • @Philg: You may be pitch-perfect with the medical doctors, but Peggy Noonan disagreed with prohibition during Coronavirus, way back in April:

      “This is because there isn’t a politician in the country stupid enough to prohibit alcohol in a national crisis…No nation in the history of the world has closed both its churches and its liquor stores simultaneously and survived.”

      Tom Wolf (governor of Pennsylvania) actually tried shutting liquor stores *and* churches down in April and within a week the uproar was so enormous (about the booze) that he had to retreat.

      Flash forward eight months: Biden said today that: “Our Darkest Days are Ahead of Us, Not Behind Us.” There is no way on Earth we’re going to ban alcohol and other recreational drugs with our Darkest Days still to come. All the problems associated alcohol are just going to compound living through the Year of Coronavirus. And that’s assuming the virus doesn’t mutate its way out of vaccines being effective.

    • @Philg: I’m sorry for being so pessimistic, but I don’t see any way out of this. Nobody has an exit plan except: “Shut things down with all the hardship that causes, count on the Great Bank in the Sky to pour out money to mitigate them, and pray the vaccine works.”

      That’s Charlie Baker’s strategy in a nutshell.

      We’re back to 10 people in an establishment at a time:
      “Capacity limits will be lowered to 25 percent for all businesses. Indoor gathering limits will be lowered to 10 people and outdoor limits will be lowered to 25 people. The restrictions will be in place for at least two weeks…[he] hopes the federal relief package passed this week will help mitigate the impact.”

      And the alcohol and marijuana are going to continue to flow…the liquor stores and pot dispensaries may be the only businesses that do better this year than last.

    • From the President Elect: Darkest Days Ahead, Big Bank in the Sky Raining Ever More, $900 Billion Just the Beginning. No Prohibition!

      “He reiterated that he would push for a bigger package when he is president, including for more direct payments to families, as well as money for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing, and aid for state and local governments.”

      No prohibition mentioned. It may be a good idea, but unless you know someone much more powerful than me, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

      The big aid package to the states is coming, too, that’s a certainty. All of them are totally committed to having that money allocated and spent. This gibes with the informal talk by Alan Chartock on WAMC back in July when he said that under the Biden Administration, New York State would be “flush with cash” — which was why Cuomo was ultimately happy remaining the Governor of New York. Everybody drink up!

    • 3 strikes and you’re out! Alex, stop responding to yourself. It’s annoying. Please leave.

    • @Toucan Sam: That hurts, and I will leave. I’m sorry for telling the truth. I should have just said: “Prohibition in America was an impossibility when it was first tried, and it’s a thousand times less possible now.” This country is now built on alcohol and drugs, legal and illegal. We’re not trying to stop it – we’re amplifying it. A great deal of what modern “medicine” does now is push pills. Name a disease and tell me what we’ve been able to “cure” recently. Virtually nothing, from ALS to Alzheimers. It’s good that alcohol is relatively cheap and available to everyone, because what we think of as a health care system is an enormously expensive waste of money and time.

      Philg’s correct: it would be a lot better if Americans abstained, but our society runs on this stuff. Go to any small, hollowed-out town in the Rust Belt of America where people used to be able to earn a good living and you’ll find that the liquor stores are doing great, they’re pillars of the community, for God’s sake.

      I’m sorry for having troubled you so.

    • Alex: Toucan Sam is a sourpuss! You often find some interesting links to related (or very tangentially related) material!

      And if not for you, I wouldn’t have known about Governor Baker’s 59th executive order related to COVID-19. If you don’t stick around, how will I find out about all of the one-year-anniversary emergency orders? (reference: )

    • Obama always says if you like your sourpuss you can keep your sourpuss. Merry Christmas, Alex we will let you stick around but please try to organize your comments better!

    • @Philg, @Toucan Sam: I know I have to work on the self-response thing. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, as they say. I’ll do better with it. And the reason I’m so overexuberant sometimes is that I really do love this blog. I love the questions you ask, I love the way you think independently, and I love how you’re relatively fearless about that. Whether or not I should love this blog, or if that represents some indication of a deep character flaw, is up to everyone else to decide, I suppose.

  3. The blast radius of a single alcoholic is much smaller than a coronaplague carrier taking a flight.

    What’s the alternative to making science-based decisions? Do whatever we wish and let the chips fall where they may?

    When the science gets good enough that we are able to trace back the variant of the disease to a specific individual will it be okay to sue the knowing spreader and their families into abject poverty for the next 3 generations? (my answer is a nuanced “Yes”)

    • But the typical American who gets infected with coronavirus is already judgment-proof due to having minimal assets and plenty of debt! Thanks to policies designed and implemented by the rich, this has been a disease of the poor.

      Separately, where is the satisfaction in creating a new 3-generation family “in poverty”? Isn’t “in poverty” a synonym in the U.S. for “on welfare”? Here in Maskachusetts that means $100,000/year cost to the taxpayer per household. And fertility goes up once an American’s income falls, so 3 generations could be 10 or more “households”.

    • > The blast radius of a single alcoholic is much smaller than a coronaplague carrier taking a flight.

      Not really. The “blast” will kill those near it but screaming “fire” over and over in a crowded arena or movie theater will kill far more due to stampede to name one. That’s what we are getting out of this coronaplague, we keep pulling the fire alarm trigger over and over in the hope of 0 people will die from it but yet there are far more deadlier issues out there [1]. And yet, we have not seen the full impact of the lockdown and coronaplague “fear” on people’s well being [2].


  4. The alcohol/COVID parallel is great. I’m also a big fan of comparing COVID to HIV. Imagine how our lockdown proponent neighbors would respond to a measure that says you can’t enter a bar without proof of a negative HIV test because you might hook up with someone and thus spread this terrifying disease. Or, we must close all high schools until we are able to guarantee that all the students are HIV negative because of the risk of students getting frisky behind the bleachers.

    • I kind of like the COVID/smoking parallel. Lots of restrictions on people smoking due to effects of second hand smoke. We seem to have found those restrictions on “freedom” quite acceptable. We also seem to make our peace with the science around smoking despite a lot of “information” from very credible sources that smoking was not harmful or even healthy.

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