Somehow a conversation at work the other day turned from the subject of women’s basketball to the 1920s alcohol Prohibition in the United States. (I think someone said, “You’d have to be drunk to enjoy women’s basketball,” and things proceeded from there.) A brief survey of all present revealed that most of us like to drink, some of us a lot. There was one member of the group, a quiet girl who usually doesn’t comment on anything more controversial than jaywalking, who admitted that she doesn’t drink and sometimes wishes everyone else couldn’t either. A few hours passed, after which we finally stopped laughing and seriously considered her proposal.
What effect would an alcohol prohibition have on the United States today?
Some of my older, deader readers may recall what the 1920s were like without alcohol: nothing but sunshine, good times, flowers, and bicycles. Well, at least for the first six months. After that, Al Capone became everyone’s best friend, and drinking became more prevalent than it ever was before Prohibition. I suppose the main reason Prohibition failed is that people fond of alcohol really can’t go that long without it, and even casual or light drinkers really don’t want to give up the juice forever.
But maybe there’s a way to achieve all the benefits of an alcohol prohibition while avoiding another speakeasy society. That’s why I propose that the United States institute a six-month prohibition against alcohol.
Okay Nick, What Are You Smoking This Time?
Hear me out! As I mentioned earlier, the early months of Prohibition yielded some success in meeting the goals of eliminating alcohol consumption.
- Alcohol consumption decreased. It may be true that alcohol consumption eventually rose to its pre-Prohibition levels, but the beginning of the Prohibition era was marked by a general decrease in alcohol use.
- Alcohol abuse and disease dropped. Livers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief as many alcoholic but otherwise law-abiding citizens gave up their drinks.
- Many crime levels dropped sharply. The Prohibition era is often popularized as a time of gangsters, shootings at every street corner, and a general sense of mayhem and debauchery. In fact, assault, domestic violence, vagrancy, prostitution, and many other crime levels were cut in half during the 1920s. Even Chicago, the speakeasy capital of the country, saw overall crime levels come down.
- People saved money and worked harder. By some accounts, savings account balances tripled in the early and mid-1920s, work attendance rose, and many people who had previously let alcohol rule their lives took back control.
Even six months of prohibition could see the start of these benefits in American society. And while the end of that period would likely see some reversal, six alcohol-free months might be enough to break some people out of the vicious cycle of alcoholism that causes deep debt and shattered marriages.
The Return of the Revenge of the Son of Al Capone
But what about all of the negative aspects of prohibition? How would six dry months avoid the same calamities encountered during 13 years of Prohibition? Put simply, the short duration would be enough to spark all of the benefits above while largely avoiding all of the negatives.
- Gangster crime and speakeasies. As “organized” as organized crime is, it still takes time to start a black market for alcohol. By the time alternative sources of alcohol could be established, the six-month prohibition would end. Thus, it wouldn’t be profitable for organized crime or speakeasies to violate the prohibition.
- Alcohol industry effects. Thirteen dry years devastated the U.S. beer and wine industries. The best breweries and vineyards packed up and headed overseas, and the quality of American alcohol has never recovered. Today, the alcohol economy is global, so cutting off the tap for six months to 300 million people wouldn’t have such a detrimental effect on alcohol makers as it did in the early 20th century.
- Government revenue cuts. Tax revenue from alcohol sales would evaporate during those six months. I guess they’ll have to end the War in Iraq a few hours early to make up for the couple billion tax dollars the government would lose.
So what do you think? I hope you’ll respond to this proposal with your answers to the following questions:
- Would you support a six-month alcohol prohibition?
- What affect do you think a short-term prohibition would have on you?
- Could the positive effects of prohibition be realized in such a short time?
- Would the negative effects of prohibition be realized in such a short time?
- What other considerations, if any, are missing from this idea?