Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Prohibition story is one-sided

The Ken Burns alcohol prohibition story is fascinating, but one-sided. The main point of the show seems to be to argue that Americans were foolish and hypocritical to try to ban alcoholic beverages.

The show does acknowledge these two facts, but does not draw the obvious consequences:
  • Pre-prohition alcohol comsumption was much heavier than today.
  • Prohibition was led by leftists and women, and their other big accomplishment was to pass the 16th Amendment to create the federal income tax.
At the time, the federal govt got most of its money from alcohol excise taxes, and the leftist progressives wanted to eliminate that so that the feds would have to adopt an income tax, and thereby redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. There was no mention at all of the technological factors underlying alcohol consumption trends at the time.
  • Clean and safe drinking water was not available until around 1900. Neither was refrigeration. Alcoholic beverages were a necessity.
  • Before steam engines and other technologies, men had to work very physically demanding jobs, and they needed the calories from alcohol.
  • California is suited for wine production, but not the rest of the USA,
    so Americans drank drank hard liquor and beer.
Thus the enormous American alcohol consumption was no longer necessary, and it was reasonable to pass drastic laws to break our addiction. Even today, it is conventional wisdom that an alcoholic must quit cold turkey to break his addiction. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better to try a less extreme measure, and to shift more gradually to beer and wine consumption. If so, then blame the progressives, socialists, and women who pushed for extreme change. But it must still be acknowledged that Prohibition achieved a substantial and permanent reduction in alcohol consumption, and cured millions of Americans of alcoholism. This PBS documentary missed the point badly.

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