Posts tagged with: prohibition

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Prohibition-Era-Cocktail-RecipesIn 1919 Congress passed the Volstead Act enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting, for almost all purposes, the production, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages. There are two erroneous things everybody has learned from Prohibition, says Anthony Esolen: “First, it is wrong to try to legislate morality. Second, you cannot do it, for Prohibition failed.”

The real lessons of Prohibition, though, go unheeded:
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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Monday, October 21, 2013

thenationdecreedNo, that’s not the name of a new James Bond movie. Rather, it’s a Public Discourse post by Anthony Esolen that discusses society’s ability (and disability) to get a handle on evil actions and morality.

The cry, “You can’t legislate morality” is, of course, false. That is exactly what law does, as Esolen points out.

All laws bear some relation, however distant, to a moral evaluation of good and bad. We cannot escape making moral distinctions. One man’s theft is another man’s redistribution of income. One man’s defense of family honor is another man’s murder. Even people who reduce law to utilitarian calculations cannot evade this truth.

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 29, 2007

Let’s engage in a little thought experiment. How would you feel about the following scenario?

1) The government bans all activities associated with Industry X because it judges that this industry damages the common good. Industry X is under government prohibition.

2) After enough time has passed and a new generation of bureaucrats has arisen, one of them has the idea of resurrecting Industry X because it has the potential to create new streams of revenue for the government.

3) The government then legalizes Industry X but imposes strict controls, such that the government itself is deemed the only institution responsible enough to administer these activities. We now have a government-run monopoly on Industry X.

4) After initial success, the income from Industry X suffers for a variety of reasons, including competition from private enterprises in competing industries. The government realizes that it cannot run Industry X effectively, and so decides that it must privatize the industry.

5) The government doesn’t want to lose all control of the industry, however. It just wants it to be run more like an effective private-sector business. The government decides to take bids to sell of its interests in Industry X. The winner gets the exclusive right to run Industry X and is protected by a government-enforced monopoly.

At the end of this chain of events, the government has cashed in on years of running its own monopoly on Industry X, and has also gotten a huge windfall in the sale of its monopoly to a private firm.

That industry hasn’t become a real competitive market, however, because the private firm has a government-enforced monopoly on Industry X. It is still illegal for anyone other than that private firm to create a directly competitive business in that industry.

That sounds pretty bad to me. But the reality is that we are between stages 4 and 5 in the lottery industry in America today. States like Illinois and Indiana are considering selling off their interests in running a statewide lottery.

In Illinois, for instance, state officials have seen lottery revenues fall due to competition from other forms of gambling, including casinos and Internet poker.

This has led John Filan, the chief operating officer of the state of Illinois, to come to the following epiphany: “This is fundamentally a retail business, and governments are not equipped to manage retail businesses. Gaming is getting so competitive around the world that we’re worried our revenues could go down unless there is retail expertise.”

Governments are not equipped to manage retail business. What a revelation!

Rather incredibly, however, the criticism of these moves has not come from those worried about the vitality of the market and its advantages. Instead, economists are concerned that states are being short-sighted in selling off long-term income streams for a single short-term payday.

Melissa Kearney, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Maryland says, “It’s unclear exactly what is gained by selling a lottery, except for a huge pot of money that legislators can start spending right away.”

Charles Clotfelter, who teaches economics at Duke University, agrees. And Edward Ugel, author of the forthcoming Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of America’s Lottery Millions, writes that “Illinois is selling its future in order to fortify its present.”

Nowhere is any concern expressed over the impropriety of a government-enforced monopoly (even less one that is government-run).

If it is true that lotteries are “retail enterprises” that are inherently risky, and that government is ill-prepared to run them and that they should be turned over to those who are “in the risk-taking business,” then the government should legalize lotteries and open up the industry to real competition. A government enforced monopoly of a privately-run lottery system is no solution.

A paper recently published at the National Bureau of Economic Research calls into question some conventional economic wisdom about the effects of certain kinds of legislation. In “The Church vs the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?”, Jonathan Gruber and Daniel M. Hungerman find that when so-called “blue laws” are repealed in any given state, “religious attendance falls, and that church donations and spending fall as well.”

But in addition, “repealing blue laws leads to an increase in drinking and drug use, and that this increase is found only among the initially religious individuals who were affected by the blue laws. The effect is economically significant; for example, the gap in heavy drinking between religious and non religious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed.” For more information on the study, check out this article from the CS Monitor, “Maybe ‘blue laws’ weren’t so bad” (HT: Zondervan>To The Point).

Richard Morin wrote an op-ed in the WaPo last week (HT: Religion Clause) about this paper, and wonders “why would the elimination of blue laws suddenly provoke such an outburst of sinning among the religious? After all, there are six other days of the week to shop (or drink) until you drop. And it’s not legal to buy cocaine or marijuana on any day of the week.”

Before I paint the broad outlines of an answer, let me point out the potential significance of Gruber and Hungerman’s conclusions. It has long been assumed that laws prohibiting or restricting the sale of certain controversial items (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, drugs) has a net negative effect. Mark Thornton over at Mises.org published a piece that claims, for example, that “prohibitions have no socially desirable effect.”

Acton’s own Rev. Robert A. Sirico, in an essay on the “sin tax,” wrote that sin taxes, prohibition, and presumably blue laws are each “a different point on the same continuum.” Sirico goes on to cite Paulist priest James Gillis, who said that prohibition of alcohol “was the greatest blow ever given to the temperance movement.”

Gillis writes,

Before prohibition, the people at large were becoming more and more sober. Total abstinence had become the practice, not of a few, but of millions… Under the Volstead Law, drinking became a popular sport. The passage of the law was a psychological blunder, and a moral calamity… The only way to make the country sober is to persuade individual citizens, one by one, to be sober.

It seems, however, according to the NBER paper, that blue laws do have the opposite effect, and in this way can perhaps be distinguished from prohibition. Is there a theological explanation for this? (more…)