Thursday, March 09, 2006

Prohibition worked!

Here's a message from the DEA to make Eliot Ness smile:

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. Alcohol use is legal, except for kids under 21, and it causes major problems, especially in drunk driving accidents.

Hmm. This is surely overstated, but it does drive home a point: a law can be politically unsuccessful, yet still have quite impressive positive effects. While these might not be enough to justify the law, it reinforces the point that making something illegal does reduce its incidence--even if it doesn't eliminate it entirely.

The principle is applicable to whole range of issues from drug legalization to abortion rights. It's a good idea to post this point as a square yellow post-it note somewhere in the corner of your mind.


At Friday, 10 March, 2006, Blogger Laserlawyer said...

Actually, I knew that. Prohibition drastically reduced the consumption of alcohol. (I seem to recall reaching that conclusion as an undergrad.)

However, one of the unintended consequences of prohibition was, I think, that the idea of lawlessness was made de rigueur in the culture. Its not that most people flaunted the laws against alcohol (clearly, most didn't). But enough people did -- from all walks of life -- that it had the cultural effect of undermining the general respect for law. It made rebellion "cool." And we've been harvesting that crop, and replanting it, for many generations.


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