The Untouchable
Acton Institute Powerblog

The Untouchable

Today marks the birthday of Eliot Ness, Prohibition Agent for the Department of Treasury-Chicago. Ness was made famous for bringing down Al Capone. The story was loosely portrayed in the movie The Untouchables, starring Kevin Costner as Ness.

And on a related note, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision ruling that buying liquor does not violate the Constitution (May 26).

In his occasional paper on the sin tax, Rev. Robert Sirico writes, “The sin tax and monopolization of the provision of sin (as in the alcohol example) are the halfway house to total prohibition. For that reason, it is impossible not to notice the parallels between the recent Canadian experience and the American era of Prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933. The entire country became engulfed in a crime wave, while statistics reveal little if any difference in actual alcohol consumption. The worst elements of society — those willing to take enormous risks with the law — made handsome profits, while the peaceful users of these supposedly sinful products paid high prices for their goods. The Prohibition era ended up making a mockery of the law. Even otherwise law-abiding people were dragged by their desire for the ‘sinful’ product into underground markets, lessening their overall respect for the government and authority in general.”

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.