Prohibition and the law of unintended consequences

Another round of Prohibition, anyone?


Americans abolished a widely exercised private right -- and condemned the nation's fifth-largest industry -- in order to make the nation more heavenly. Then all hell broke loose. Now that ambitious government is again hell-bent on improving Americans -- from how they use salt to what light bulbs they use -- Okrent's book is a timely tutorial on the law of unintended consequences.

The ship that carried John Winthrop to Massachusetts in 1630 also carried, Okrent reports, 10,000 gallons of wine and three times more beer than water. John Adams's morning eye-opener was a tankard of hard cider; James Madison drank a pint of whiskey daily; by 1830, adult per capita consumption was the equivalent of 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor annually.

Although whiskey often was a safer drink than water, Americans, particularly men, drank too much. Women's Prohibition sentiments fueled the movement for women's rights -- rights to hold property independent of drunken husbands; to divorce those husbands; to vote for politicians who would close saloons. So the United States Brewers' Association officially opposed women's suffrage.

Women campaigning for sobriety did not intend to give rise to the income tax, plea bargaining, a nationwide crime syndicate, Las Vegas, NASCAR (country boys outrunning government agents), a redefined role for the federal government and a privacy right -- the "right to be let alone" -- that eventually was extended to abortion rights. But they did.

Comment: Consider earlier post

1 comment:

  1. Interesting quote:

    "On Jan. 16, 1920 -- the day before Prohibition became the law of the land -- America's triumphant "drys" were supremely optimistic about the future: "The reign of tears is over," evangelist Billy Sunday told a revival meeting in Norfolk, Va. "Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent." "



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