Think Tank: Make Fed Policy More Market-Driven

The Washington Examiner cited Senior Fellow Michelle Minton on the prohibition mindset.

Michelle Minton for the Competitive Enterprise InstituteOn December 5, 1933 the federal government’s nationwide prohibition against alcohol ended. Eighty-five years later, the beer market seems to have finally recovered. Today, there are more than 6,000 breweries — more than at any time before or since Prohibition — making a seemingly endless variety of beer for us enthusiasts to enjoy. But, while we may be living in the “golden age” of beer, the specter of Prohibition remains. Its effects continue to influence how beer is made, how it can be sold, and how much it costs. More worrisome, the mindset that led to Prohibition has never fully changed — it’s simply become more sophisticated. And, unless those who make and enjoy alcoholic beverages take a unified stance on principle, we could soon be living under Prohibition 2.0.

What few people realize about Prohibition is that it was not the product of some larger cultural movement that recognized the harms of alcohol on society. It was a lobbying campaign by a small group of moralists that succeeded by playing on growing xenophobic and racist sentiments. The beer industry was dominated by German immigrants, while distilling was largely run by Jewish families (considered foreign no matter where they were born). Together, these immoral foreign influences — according to the temperance movement — corrupted black men who, under slavery had been “protected” from alcohol and, as a result, “developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” Some, like Rep. John Newton Tillman, D-Ark., even argued that banning alcohol would bring an end to the southern lynching of black men and boys because it would cause them to commit fewer crimes.

Modern prohibitionists are not so crude as to believe that advocating for total bans of alcohol will ever be successful, nor are their arguments as crass as they once were. Instead, they now advocate for an ever-increasing number of small, sensible limitations to protect “vulnerable” individuals in our society from the evils of alcohol. These may include bans on certain products deemed too dangerously high in alcohol or, more commonly, making sure that alcohol prices are high and availability low.

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