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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9053/75th-anniversary-of-the-repeal-of-prohibition/

75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition

December 4, 2008 by

AFP quotes me extensively on tomorrow’s anniversary of the repeal of prohibition.


Dick Fox December 4, 2008 at 10:04 am

I am not in favor of returning to prohibition but the myths that have grown up about it should be put to rest.

Prohibition did not increase the crime rate. While it may not have reduced crime it certainly improved relations within families.

There have been studies done that show that in the rural areas alcohol abuse did decline.

Also, the myth that prohibition created the Mafia is simply foolish. Organized crime has existed in the US since the founding. New York was virtually run by organized crime during the 1800s with gangs fighting for power. While organized crime did turn to bootlegging if it has not been alcohol it would have been something else.

We should never justify the end of prohibition to crime. Prohibition was ended because the government wanted to tax alcohol to increase revenue, period.

We should actually just drop this debate because at best it is just a person’s personal abuse of his body, but at its worst it is the primary contributor to spouse and child abuse.

Neal W. December 4, 2008 at 10:43 am

Dick Fox,


Kathryn Muratore December 4, 2008 at 10:55 am

Dick- Thornton’s “Economics of Prohibition” addresses the concerns you raise. He uses both historical data and economic reasoning to show that Prohibition did increase the crime rate relative to what it otherwise would have been. Also, neither the AFP nor Thornton claims that Prohibition created the mafia, but, rather, that the mafia was strengthened due to Prohibition. Organized crime relies on government regulations and prohibitions.

“We should actually just drop this debate…”
This debate is extremely relevant today, as it relates most directly to the War on Drugs. This War is largely responsible for America’s large prison population through direct prosecution of drug offenders and through the indirect encouragement of corruption and organized crime, etc.. And, if you want to talk about destroying families, consider that 1 in 15 young black men are incarcerated. These men are sons, brothers, and fathers. Their families are paying the ultimate price for our government’s inability to allow “personal abuse of [one's] body.”

Michael A. Clem December 4, 2008 at 11:45 am

We should actually just drop this debate because at best it is just a person’s personal abuse of his body, but at its worst it is the primary contributor to spouse and child abuse.
Kathryn’s right. Prohibition has much to tell us about today’s War on Drugs. The consumption of alcohol has a long history in human society, and only a small portion of it is alcohol abuse. Similarly, it’s a myth that all drug use is necessarily drug abuse, and even what drug abuse there is, it’s a social problem, not a criminal problem. Criminal prohibition just makes things worse and makes it harder, not easier to deal with. This was true during Prohibition, and it’s true in the War on Drugs. Destroying families in the name of saving families makes no sense at all.

Brent December 4, 2008 at 12:58 pm

I don’t think you can just “drop” a debate about a “war” that militarizes police forces, destroys our civil liberties, and results in many innocent people rotting in jails and sometimes even losing their lives.

Michael December 4, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Dick, I’m sorry. The notion that prohibition does not facilitate crime is patently false. Please provide sources for your claims in your next post.

Back to topic, I look forward to the day that the various other “wars” on prohibition end: The War on Drugs, the War on Poverty and the War on Private Gun Ownership.

All these interventionist wars do is meddle with the price to no market participant’s benefit.

David Carlson December 4, 2008 at 1:20 pm

I second Michael’s opinion. Drop the debate about a war? That is simply insane. The effects of the war on drug are far reaching and extend far beyond our own borders. The war on drugs is a total waste of resources, both financially and in human lives.

-David Carlson

(8?» December 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Dick Fox, I don’t see you putting myths to rest, but propagating them with a moralistic wrapping in an effort to deny the morality of the repeal.

Funny how far some will go in denying reality, merely in order to prosecute their demons as they exist in their belief systems.

Apologizing for the good as being just not as bad its alternative is an exercise in incoherence. You may not like alcohol, but that is hardly any reason to invent generalities about crime statistics that don’t exist, mixing in the unquantifiable ambiguity of “family relations” in an attempt to take the high-ground.

Problem is, moralistic high-ground in an incoherent state is of little value when actually trying to solve the human problems you recognize. Especially when you are denying the empowerment of the criminal element over society that prohibition brings. How can the family be less abused in this scenario?

It’s as if you are willing to sacrifice the forest in order to save the trees. It simply isn’t possible no matter how hard you try.

Jim December 4, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Wow, Dick’s admonition that we should drop this debate was remarkably effective wasn’t it? ;)

Curt Howland December 4, 2008 at 2:32 pm

“Organized Crime” flourishes because they specialize in those things that are illegal. The “black market” is created by prohibition.

To assert that prohibition (be it alcohol or drug) does not increase crime is to ignore that, by definition, the acts prohibited are now “crimes”. Since people still commit those actions, “crime” has increased by simply making more of people’s voluntary actions into “crimes”.

Even knowing what Dick meant, that violent crime somehow doesn’t increase, makes no difference. Those who interact illegally have recourse only to violence, not the law, for conflict resolution.

To quote Glen Fry,

“The sailors and pilots, the soldiers and the law,
The pay-offs and the rip-offs, and the things nobody saw
No matter if it’s heroin, cocaine, or hash,
You’ve got to carry weapons ’cause you always carry cash
There’s lots of shady characters, lots of dirty deals
Every name’s an alias in case somebody squeals
It’s the lure of easy money, it’s got a very strong appeal

Perhaps you’d understand it better
Standin’ in my shoes
It’s the ultimate enticement,
It’s the smuggler’s blues
Smuggler’s blues”

One of only two episodes of Miami Vice I watched avidly. Mostly because it showed the corruption and pointlessness of the entire War on Non-Big-Pharma Drugs.

Dr. Mark Thornton December 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Thanks gang for coming to my defense. I’ll be on the http://www.LewRockwell.com podcast tomorrow on this topic. Please listen in. Mark

Dr. Mark Thornton December 4, 2008 at 3:02 pm

I don’t know if this is true or not, but the scuttlebutt is that the Economics of Prohibition will be on sale tomorrow. There are not many copies in inventory so order early!

Artisan December 4, 2008 at 3:29 pm

The German concern about beer cracked me up. We Germans are are too much too serious about everything, even about beer!

Reason December 4, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Free audiobook that I bet Dr. Thornton would approve of: Fabian Franklin, from 1922.

What Prohibition Has Done to America


Intro page quote:

In What Prohibition Has Done to America, Fabian Franklin presents a concise but forceful argument against the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Beginning in 1920, this Amendment prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages in the United States, until it was repealed in 1933. Franklin contends that the Amendment “is not only a crime against the Constitution of the United States, and not only a crime against the whole spirit of our Federal system, but a crime against the first principles of rational government.” Writing only two years after Prohibition began, he correctly predicts many of its disastrous consequences, such as runaway bootlegging and organized crime. The book is both a passionate defense of liberty, and a reminder to Americans of the perils of surrendering it. (Summary by Leon Mire)

Dick Fox December 4, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Statistics are difficult to find covering prohibition but let me discuss one that is the most repeated, murder.

It is usually stated that during prohibition the murder rate was the highest in recent history and taken in aggregate that is true. What is not usually recognized is that the Tommy Gun was introduced to organized crime in 1921 and the result was mayhem.

Also if you look at a trend line murder rates were increasing during the period from 1910 4.6/m to 7.2/m almost double, but this was before prohibition. The most probable cause was the increase in the effectiveness of weapons through WWI.

The period of the 1920s and through the Great Depression was a very violent period but the repeal of prohibition did not bring the murder rates back to the 1910 levels. All through the 1930s the rate remained high.

But to understand the relationship of the murder rate to prohibition you can’t stop in 1940. During the decade of the Great Inflation 1970-1980 had a higher murder rate than the 1930s peaking in 1980 at 10.2/m.

There is no coorelation between prohibition and murder rates, though many have attempted to find one.

Bob Hillmann December 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

An excellent article and quite appropriate since the World Health Organization is currently spearheading a drive to return to the days of prohibition. This time it will not be a direct frontal assault but rather an end run ala the “tobacco model”–raising the taxes on it until it can no longer be purchased.

“The blueprint, to be presented in two years, should include a set of recommended national measures for states. These could cover guidance on the marketing, pricing, and distribution of alcoholic drinks and public awareness campaigns.”

Here is a link to the WHO announcement on it last May:


A quick review of the wire services reveals that in just the past couple of weeks there have been some 1,600 news stories on the subject:


Dick Fox December 4, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Okay, I really didn’t have time to do this research but here is truth. Let me repeat, for libertarian reasons I do not agree with prohibition, but I will not be dishonest about the effects of prohibition. Prohibition did exactly what it was supposed to do. You can believe as I do that it is an intrusion of the government on the rights of the people, but don’t spread false rumors.

Prior to prohibition the average consumption of alcohol was around 2 gallons per person. The statistics are not available for the prohibition period but in 1934, the year after prohibition, consumption was less than 1 gallon per person. Consumption of 2 gallons per person did not return until 1944. Consumption today is close to 3 gallons per person.


All of the following are quotes from the articles referenced. Note that most of the articles are against prohibition, but the truth is the truth.

“The best evidence available to historians shows that consumption of beverage alcohol declined dramatically under prohibition. In the early 1920s, consumption of beverage alcohol was about thirty per cent of the pre-prohibition level. Consumption grew somewhat in the last years of prohibition, as illegal supplies of liquor increased and as a new generation of Americans disregarded the law and rejected the attitude of self-sacrifice that was part of the bedrock of the prohibition movement. Nevertheless, it was a long time after repeal before consumption rates rose to their pre-prohibition levels. In that sense, prohibition ‘worked.’ “


“A word about prohibition: lots of you hear the argument that alcohol prohibition failed—so why are drugs still illegal? Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically (Scientific American, 1996, by David Musto). Today, alcohol consumption is over three times greater than during the Prohibition years.”


Article in Reason Magazine by Jacob Sullum who opposes prohibition.

“It’s true that alcohol consumption fell during Prohibition, at least initially. In a 1991 paper, economists Jeffrey Miron and Jeffrey Zwiebel estimated, based on four measures (cirrhosis, alcoholism deaths, arrests for drunkenness, and alcoholic psychoses), that consumption dropped 60 to 80 percent immediately after Prohibition was enacted, then rebounded sharply beginning in 1921. By the end of the decade, consumption was 50 to 70 percent of the pre-Prohibition level according to three measures and slightly higher according to one. Drinking did not rise precipitously after repeal. Alcohol consumption in the late 1930s was about the same as in the final years of Prohibition; it returned to the pre-Prohibition level during the next decade.”


“Opponents argue that alcohol consumption declined dramatically during Prohibition–by 30 to 50 percent. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver for men fell from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929.”


I could only find anecdotal reports of a decline in child abuse and spouse related to the reduction in alcohol consumption during prohibition, but it should not be much of a stretch to understand that a 60% decline would mean a reduction in abuse related to alcohol abuse.

jason December 4, 2008 at 5:05 pm

The state making a market illegal does not stop the market. Instead it goes on in secret. In this environment, demand will be met no matter what anyone says. The state cannot just eliminate the laws of supply and demand. Because individuals who attempt to meet demand are met with force, those with a distaste for violence tend to stay out of the supply end of things, while those who are inclined to violence tend to stay in the market and become quite wealthy and powerful.

Therefore violence and aggression becomes more prevalent not less. If murders did not go down after prohibition, then it does not mean prohibition did not cause more violence, it means there was less violence despite prohibition. I also suspect it had to do with the local states not really fighting alcohol that much anyway.

Bill December 4, 2008 at 5:12 pm

The effects positive or negative really do not matter. What matters is that Prohibition was an attack on freedom itself. The only saving grace here is that the folks at the time realized that the Constitution did not prohibit consumption of alcohol so they made an amendment.

Roll forward less than 5 years and the Feds just casually made pot illegal. Then they proceeded to make an assortment of other drugs illegal. And no-one challenged them. That was the larger loss of freedom.

Dan December 4, 2008 at 5:24 pm


While we’re looking at alternative explanations for increased murder rates, is it possible that the alcohol consumption rate decreased because there was less disposable income in 1934 during the depths of the depression? As incomes increased and cost of alcohol decreased over subsequent decades, didn’t the alcohol consumption rate increase?

Dan December 4, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Statistics are lame for establishing causal connections–everyone makes them support their own preconceived conclusions. Let’s stick to praxeology on this one.

Som December 4, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Dick Fox,

“I could only find anecdotal reports of a decline in child abuse and spouse related to the reduction in alcohol consumption during prohibition, but it should not be much of a stretch to understand that a 60% decline would mean a reduction in abuse related to alcohol abuse.”

Ahh but you’re still looking at what is seen, and not at what is not seen.

Resources that could have been used to devote time to identifying and working on the root causes of abuse in families are now “crowded out” and used instead to prevent people from drinking. This means that a person who is a wife beater when he drinks, but just a sad, angry dude who is calm when he is sober, won’t deal with his real issues under prohibition because there is the false sense of security that there aren’t any issues. The wife and husband won’t examine themselves to improve their ways, attitudes, and honesty towards one another (the real root of the problem which could solve a whole host of problems) because they both feel the issues are “not that bad” since the “drunk beatings” wont come again.

Everyone knows that being drunk does not make people angry and violent all on its own (how many happy drunks do we all know). In fact, many have shown the “real” self tends to come out “unfiltered” when a person is drunk. The real solution is the spiritual development of the “drunk beaters” learning to deal with their anger issues and self-control. But if resources are sapped into stopping these people from drinking (which is enjoyable for a vast, vast majority of people) who would otherwise “invest” in teaching people (or themselves) that a person should be happy and respectful (and demand respectful relationships in return) no matter what “stimulants” are in him? (drugs cannot overcome willpower unless they knock you unconscious) Alcohol abuse isn’t real. All abuse comes from within. Don’t you think that there is an enormous cost when people assume that alcohol is the problem, and not the person’s internal issues? There is a high cost (not to mention the ridiculously high spiritual and material unseen costs) to the lie that is spread by prohibition. I would bet there was a lot more repressed anger and submissiveness during prohibition, which came out in strange ways and had unseen costs of its own, for angry drunk beaters and happy drunks alike.

Stanley Pinchak December 4, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Dick brings up an interesting point which meshes in well with Hoppe’s (and perhaps others) analysis of time preference. If we take high time preference to be associated with risky behavior, including criminal behavior, those conditions which lead to higher time preference will contribute to an increase in criminal behavior, including murder. Inflation creates conditions which encourage higher time preference, so it is not surprising that the periods of high inflation would be associated with a higher murder rate. Furthermore, other government intervention (including prohibition) and concomitant increased uncertainty have the tendency of increasing time preference. This may help explain why the period following prohibition was still so violent.

Paul December 4, 2008 at 6:04 pm

What about the war on drugs effect on drugs not making it through the FDA? ie: the unseen effect, the people who might be helped just die unseen…

How much does that cost?

newson December 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm

to dick fox:
and dancing leads to …

the path to social engineering is a slippery one. the decadence and debauchery of the weimar republic were artfully used to usher in a “cleansing” regime. whilst it was the monetary disorder that really corrupted german society, visible symptoms such as rampant drug and alcohol abuse, fornication etc, made a moral-purification election platform appealing.

when you or anyone else can establish the causative factor x in violence/child abuse, there’s a nobel prize up for grabs.

Chad Rushing December 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm

I am not a drinker, and I strongly discourage young people from becoming ones themselves; however, I am absolutely convinced that Prohibition was a huge, misguided blunder, both morally and legally.

I do not doubt that any societal benefits that arose from shifting alcohol sales from the “white market” to the black market were easily offset by Prohibition’s negative consequences such as the violent crime and rampant governmental corruption associated with bootlegging. What’s funny is that the federal government knew that the only way they could have Prohibition was through a constitutional amendment, something that was conveniently ignored for the “War on Drugs.”

If recreational drugs, gambling, and prostitution — all vices I personally abhor — were legalized and regulated, one has to wonder what organized crime would have left to manage. Also, all that tax money that is currently pouring into law enforcement for addressing those crimes could then be voluntarily redirected by concerned individuals into enterprises to help those caught up in those vices to overcome them. I imagine that would be far more successful than cramming nonviolent criminals into prisons and turning them into hardened, violent criminals like we do now.

Jason December 4, 2008 at 10:09 pm

“If recreational drugs, gambling, and prostitution — all vices I personally abhor — were legalized and regulated, one has to wonder what organized crime would have left to manage.”

Regulated? Why do you think this regulation would not be a source of corruption? If vices were only regulated rather than being outright illegal, this would be an improvement. Here is the thing, regulation increases the price of business and thus “legal” regulated businesses would still have to compete against the “illegal” unregulated businesses. This would still create a black market and thus still violence.

Also, the state would get to decide which vices would be taxed more than others, or maybe only certain businesses would be taxed more, creating incentive for state officials to involve themselves in the black market. Oh the sources for corruption never cease! The state is corruption.

Inquisitor December 4, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Regulated by whom? If one means social sanction, sure, then I agree it will be regulated by fostering good morals and a sense of responsibility in a community. If one means state “regulation”, however, count me out of that sham.

newson December 4, 2008 at 11:18 pm

just by the by, it’s often ignored by people who haven’t lived in italy, but these days camorra, ‘ndragheta, mafia and sacra corona unita all have public works as one of their principle revenue sources, rivaling traditional sources such as prostitution, drugs, contraband etc.

the health of rome is the health of the mafia, hence the lega nord’s desire for fiscal decentralizion.

Gil December 5, 2008 at 5:16 am

But why not mention “well a private owners can forbid drugs on their premises”, “private employers can demand workers be totally sober”, “private road owners can forbid drivers from driving under the influence”, etc.? There may be Holland-like pockets in Libertopia where people can have a fun weekend but drugs aren’t going to be everywhere if Libertopia is going to be productive.

Gil December 5, 2008 at 5:50 am

Here’s a good article that’ll irk everyone to some degree. My favourite part is where the author discuss the notion of a ‘war on drugs’.


Here are some choice sections from it:

“The failure of the so-called “war on drugs” is widely seen as discrediting the hard-line approach to drug control. In reality it does nothing of the sort. The reason is simple: the war on drugs is a phoney war. It is a war we have not yet begun to fight.

Forget the rhetoric. Forget the politics. Forget, for the time being, any question of right or wrong. What would a real war on drugs entail? Here’s the scenario:

The passage through Parliament of a Defence of the Realm against Dangerous Drugs (Temporary Provisions) Act sets aside the civil authority of customs and excise, the courts and the police; this is tantamount to a declaration of war. Habeus corpus is suspended. Jurisdiction devolves onto the military, which is ordered to crush the drug trade by whatever means it deems tactically and strategically sound. D-notices ensure that the press prints only what it’s told to print. Parliament must now toe the government line.

At home, the army performs spot checks of vehicles and passengers entering the country; all smugglers are summarily executed. However, the army’s major effort is directed against the street-level pushers; these are soft targets, easy to detect and capture; after interrogation and torture they face the firing squad. Intelligence on those higher up the chain is thus not difficult to secure. Information gathered this way allows commando raids to be launched against the traffickers’ warehouses, distribution centres and headquarters. Some of the drug lords may attempt to put up a fight, but against the firepower of a modern army they haven’t a chance. So they’re holed up in a house with a dozen hostages? Slam an anti-tank missile through the window. So they’ve set up a strong-point protected by nests of machine-guns? Napalm the block. So their shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles are threatening our helicopter gunships? Call in an artillery strike from twenty miles away.

In the overseas theatre, our commanders take the view that the producer countries are harbouring the enemy. They demand that the export of drugs be stopped, on pain of massive military retaliation: If the Colombian people and army do not destroy the cocaine cartels, they say, we will destroy Medellin, then Cartegena, then Bogata, and so on, until the menace is ended or the country has been bombed back into the stone age. In the meantime, the Navy will blockade the seaports and interdict air traffic. Warplanes flying from naval carriers or bases in the Caribbean will carry out raids into enemy territory: napalm and defoliants against the coca plantations, cluster bombs against the villages.

Rather than allow themselves to be nuked into oblivion, we may assume that the Colombians will end the export of cocaine — whatever the strength of the drug lords and the cost to their economy and internal liberties. We may also assume that once Colombia has fallen into line — or been made an example of — the rest of the producing countries will follow suit.

“None of this was inevitable. Prohibition could have worked. Let’s look at how. The Eighteenth Amendment made bootlegging a crime against the constitution. Bootleggers and their customers were not merely criminals; they were traitors; the conspiracy of organised crime and the smuggling and distribution of illicit liquor by armed gangsters was insurrection; the whisky-guzzling senators and presidents were committing treason. Under the War Powers provision of the American Constitution (suspending the writ of habeus corpus in time of invasion or rebellion) they would all have been liable to summary execution.

Had the political will existed — it didn’t, of course — the trade in bootleg liquor could have been squashed almost before it got started. Take the speakeasies. How long would they have lasted if as soon as the authorities got to hear of one it was raided by armed troops who immediately lined everyone up against a wall and shot them? How long would Al Capone have lasted after army snipers were tasked to take him out?

Back off a peg. Suppose we stick to the civilian regime. We could still introduce the death penalty for bootlegging and racketeering. But suppose we don’t. Suppose we stick to the Volstead Act as promulgated. It was obviously politically viable — it passed. Was it ever workable? Certainly it was — or would have been had the determination to enforce it not been lacking. Take the speakeasies again. How long would they have lasted if as soon as the authorities got to hear of one it was raided by armed police who immediately carted everyone — and I mean everyone — off to the lockup, there to stay until convicted by a court of law and sentenced to a long spell up the river?”

Dick Fox December 5, 2008 at 8:24 am

Thanks again to Stanley for looking deeper.

Most of the arguments against my position imply that because prohibition does not solve all of the problems attributed to alcohol abuse it failed. This is like saying because there are still murders we should not have laws against murder. Or because government will not honor the gold standard we should not have a gold standard.

We must recognize that prohibition did exactly what it was intended to do. Our argument should not be that it failed but that the very institution of prohibition was a violation of personal rights and freedom.

Argruing that prohibition didn’t work only plays into the hands of those who wish to justify their vices as inevitable.

jason December 5, 2008 at 10:41 am

Dick, there is one problem I have with your line of thinking. You seem to believe that state coercion is successful. My contention is that it fails in every way. One of the main points Mises pushed, is that socialism is impossible.

If you believe prohibition was successful, then why not more coercion? The fact that it could not have been successful is the best argument I can think of.

Dick Fox December 5, 2008 at 11:18 am


There are many government projects that accomplish their purpose that should never be government projects. Just because it can be done by the government doesn’t mean it should be.

For example prohibition can be much more effective if it is left to the churches but the churches have to be careful or they can run afoul of the government.

What we should be about is defining what are essential services of government and making laws as to what someone can eat and drink should not be one of them.

Jim December 5, 2008 at 11:34 am

Dick Fox says:

We must recognize that prohibition did exactly what it was intended to do. Our argument should not be that it failed but that the very institution of prohibition was a violation of personal rights and freedom.


Dick’s point that alcohol consumption and related health consequences declined under prohibition, as illustrated by the numerous references provided, is well taken. The claim that this also reduced the social consequences of alcohol abuse is certainly reasonable if we accept these facts. However, by no means does this preclude a consequentialist argument against prohibition.

First, from the standpoint of welfare economics, the proponent of prohibition would have to show that the benefits of reducing the medical, social, and economic costs of alcohol abuse outweighed not only the direct costs of enforcement and the costs associated with distorted incentives that Mark gets into in his excellent book, but also the opportunity cost of the lost utility that non-alcohol-abusers would otherwise have enjoyed in the course of their normal, healthy consumption of alcohol that will be prevented by prohibition.

Second, the proponent of prohibition would need to demonstrate that state enforcement of prohibition produced a superior outcome, in terms of costs versus benefits, as opposed to free market/private property based strategies such as those mentioned by Gil above, but which would further include the rollback of agricultural and other subsidies that encourage the production and marketing of alcoholic beverages.

In either case, since prohibition does represent a violation of personal rights, as Dick and most others would agree, the burden of showing a net social benefit of prohibition versus either the status quo or a free market solution must fall on the proponent of prohibition.

C. Evans December 5, 2008 at 12:43 pm

I think C.S. Lewis best addressed the ideology of prohibitionists in this quote:

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we ‘ought to have known better,’ is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.”

The prohibitionists neither care for nor value individual liberty. They are convinced by their own self-righteousness that the goal of sobriety outweighs any ruinous effects that such policy may have. This is why Mr. Fox has a legitimate criticism of the argument “prohibition does not work.” In the minds of these pietists, as long as fewer people are drinking, prohibition does work; that they are not drinking because they are dead is just as acceptable to them as if they stopped on their own volition.

Yet another reason why the State must be abolished.

Jason December 5, 2008 at 3:15 pm

“What we should be about is defining what are essential services of government and making laws as to what someone can eat and drink should not be one of them.”

I am sorry dick, I think I see where we differ the most here. I am anti-state, so I don’t see much point in “making” laws. For me the very question of whether to legalize, make illegal or to regulate is repugnant to me. I love liberty so much and feel it is such a part of being human that I believe any attack on it will fail. Presenting data to prove or disprove the success of a government program ignores the unseen. Don’t assume a market is gone or has decreased just because you cannot measure it.

Good day sir.

Chad Rushing December 5, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Jason : “Regulated? Why do you think this regulation would not be a source of corruption?”

The only way I could ever see those largely unpopular vices being legalized in our modern society would be if the legalization was accompanied by some form of governmental oversight, i.e., with strings attached. I am not saying that is the ideal or even a good thing, but I think it is a realistic expectation given the current ideological climate. Even though alcohol sales and production are now regulated, the corruption surrounding alcohol is arguably far less than it was during the days of Prohibition.

Jason: “Also, the state would get to decide which vices would be taxed more than others, or maybe only certain businesses would be taxed more, creating incentive for state officials to involve themselves in the black market.”

Governmental social engineering or political favoritism via unequal taxation of various industries is another whole topic deserving of its own discussion thread. Note that I do not personally support “sin taxes,” believing that all taxed entities (if any) should be taxed at the same rate across the board.

Jason: “Oh the sources for corruption never cease! The state is corruption.”

As I have stated many times before on this blog, governmental corruption is a people problem regarding both the voting citizenry and the individuals put into office, not an institutional problem per se. If the staffs and loyal readers of lrc.com, mises.org, and antiwar.com were all put into office tomorrow, I imagine that the level of governmental corruption and abuse of power would take an immediate nosedive.

The more personal morality declines at every level of society, the more corrupt every single social institution — the state, academia, the media, the church, and the marketplace — will become, not just the state as many on this site seem to believe and advocate.

Jason December 5, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Mr. Rushing, I agree with your first premise for the most part. I just think ignoring prohibition is the way to go. Cops should refuse to enforce them. No laws need to be passed.

“believing that all taxed entities (if any) should be taxed at the same rate across the board.”

The same? What do you mean the same? Should they be taxed in dollars, euros, yen or perhaps in gold? Are you implying there is a state currency for the state to tax? Perhaps the state should take God’s 10% of all they produce? I don’t mind giving the state my dollars, let them have ‘em I don’t want them. Taxes are something I would like to debate.

Corruption is the nature of the state. The state is violence and force. I am sorry, but I do not even trust my self with that kind of power. I think power corrupts no matter what. Geesh, power is abuse.

I agree with your last post. The only thing I would add, is that the very existence of the state is a sign of an immoral society. For it is immoral, since coercion is immoral.

Chad Rushing December 5, 2008 at 8:02 pm

Jason: “I just think ignoring prohibition is the way to go. Cops should refuse to enforce them. No laws need to be passed.”

That could be a possible alternative, too. However, the only thing that bugs me about non-enforcement of laws on the books is that it breeds disrespect for the rule of law, the rule of law being a good thing in my opinion. For example, if the posted legal speed “limits” on roads are really only “suggestions,” than the law and associated signage should be altered to reflect that fact. Also, juries, not law enforcement officers, are the people empowered to choose which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore via jury nullification; that is the proper way to deal with unjust laws until they can be repealed.

Jason: “The same? What do you mean the same? Should they be taxed in dollars, euros, yen or perhaps in gold? Are you implying there is a state currency for the state to tax? Perhaps the state should take God’s 10% of all they produce?

If citizens or businesses must be directly taxed on an individual basis, I believe that all should be taxed at the same percentage rate. There should be no exemptions, no tiered tax brackets (with the lowest bracket usually paying no or even negative taxes), and no tax breaks offered to one that is not offered to all; all those are just forms of unjust governmental partiality. Also, I think private, hard asset-backed currencies with no legal tender laws are the way to go.

However, I imagine a referee State that only existed to protect life, liberty, and property and to enforce contracts could operate on no income tax whatsoever, probably just off of voluntary usage fees, punitive fines, customs fees, and such.

Jason: “Corruption is the nature of the state. The state is violence and force. I am sorry, but I do not even trust my self with that kind of power. I think power corrupts no matter what. Geesh, power is abuse.”

The concept of justice, one receiving the appropriate rewards or punishments for their free-willed actions, is one of the two highest moral goods (the other being love). There will be times that the pursuit of temporal justice will require the use of measured (vs. unrestrained) violence or force, so unless one believes the moral good of non-aggression always trumps the moral good of justice, there will be scenarios in which the use of violence or force is not inherently evil and is even required to accomplish a moral good.

James: “I agree with your last post. The only thing I would add, is that the very existence of the state is a sign of an immoral society. For it is immoral, since coercion is immoral.”

I agree that the existence of the State is a sign of an immoral society but for a different reason. That is because I believe the State rightfully exists to govern from without those who absolutely refuse to govern themselves from within to the point where they cause harm to innocents. Providing temporal justice for acts of murder, enslavement, theft, trespass, or breach of voluntary, explicit covenants (i.e., contracts) is the legitimate function of the State (while wealth redistribution is positively not). So, as long as those crimes are still being committed, there will be a legitimate need for the State.

Lastly, I am convinced that the size and scope of the State is inversely proportional to the exercise of individual responsibility and moral restraint by its citizens. There is no way to effectively shrink the former without proportionally increasing the latter as it is a zero-sum game. If the State is abolished without a corresponding increase in individual responsibility and moral restraint, something else (Blackwater? Google? Walmart?) will inevitably and necessarily rise up to take its place; that is just an unavoidable fact of universal human nature, and to ignore it is to be unrealistically utopian.

Chad Rushing December 5, 2008 at 8:07 pm

My apologies for the preceding long-windedness. It is sometimes difficult to be concise when addressing the kinds of complex issues that come up on this rather intellectually engaging blog.

Jason December 6, 2008 at 2:32 am

Thankyou Chad for giving your honest opinnion. I do not want to high jack this thread any longer, sorry if I have bothered anyone. Perhaps somewhere else. :)

Dick Fox December 7, 2008 at 10:58 am

C. Evans, thanks for the CS Lewis.

Jason, you should never apologize for intelligent comments.

I do want to thank you all. I believe this discussion turned from the superficial discussion that normally accompanies debate on prohibition and actually began to get at the heart of the issue.

Prohibition is a huge political issue because it touches on the legislation of morality. There are those who wish to be free to engage in any immoral act and wish to justify that. Prohibition in the whole scheme of things was tiny, but takes on this larger role because of the moral implications.

Defining the limits of government is difficult. Jason would have no limits but that results in anarchy with the rule of the jungle, might-makes-right, as the determination of a conflict of rights. Government exists because of the sinfulness of man. If man were not sinful then there would be no need. But then because the government itself is made up of sinful men we are once again in a quagmire. It is tough but worthy of the intellectual effort.

Ben October 28, 2010 at 10:21 am


You use words like “moral” as if they can be defined. The truth is that morals differ from person to person. To me, it is immorral to use tax dollars to kill innocent people. To others it is perfectly acceptable. We can not punish someone for being “immoral”, since no one can actually define that term, rather we can only punish and seek restitution for those acts which explicity deny a person their right to life and property.

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