Culture Beat / December 5, 2018

Government and Alcohol

Today marks the 85th anniversary of the end of Prohibition … at least federally speaking.

Today is “Prohibition Repeal Day” — the 85th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment with the passage of the 21st Amendment. On this day in 1933, the U.S. ended what has become almost universally accepted as the failed experiment to end alcoholism and the abuses associated with it by banning alcohol. (Of course, back then, Americans had the sense to actually amend the Constitution to grant power to the federal government.) Every year since repeal, Americans across the country have hit their favorite watering hole to raise a glass in celebration — celebration of a freedom that should never have been banned in the first place.

Prohibition effectively proved that the devil in “demon rum” was not found in the alcohol but rather within the human heart. Like gun-control activists of today, those temperance crusaders clamored for prohibition based upon the faulty notion that banning alcohol would magically eliminate many societal ills associated with alcohol abuse. However, even as overall alcohol consumption diminished considerably during the 1920s, criminalizing it only served to negatively stigmatize it while creating more crime and more sophisticated criminal enterprises.

Ironically, it was not crime or the growing realization that the Prohibition experiment was a failure that led to its an end; rather it was money, and more specifically tax money that the government was forgoing. Unfortunately, the lasting vestige of Prohibition that remains to this day is the mindset that grants all levels of government almost free rein to punitively tax and regulate the industry due to its historically negative stigma. And government is more than willing to oblige with a variety of what Jarrett Dieterle and Daniel DiLoreto of the R Street Institute have called “America’s Dumbest Drinks Laws.”

Regulation, while needed, must itself also be limited in purpose and scope so as to maximize and balance individual freedom and the Rule of Law. Prohibition sought to do something no law can possibly do — change people’s hearts. Unchecked regulations will eventually lead to a totalitarian society and, ironically, an irresponsible citizenry.

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