Patterico's Pontifications


Yes, Prohibition “Worked” — In Terms of Reducing Alcohol Consumption

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:36 pm

I wrote a post this morning about the New York Times editorial favoring marijuana decriminalization. In comments, one commenter asked: “Didn’t alcohol consumption decrease when it was legalised?”

I’m glad you asked. The answer is no.

It’s commonly accepted that “Prohibition did not work.” That’s certainly not an unreasonable view, depending upon one’s view about what Prohibition was intended to accomplish. But the commonly held dogma causes many intelligent people to assume that there was just as much drinking, if not more, during Prohibition. They use this incorrect “fact” to argue that marijuana prohibition actually increases consumption. Their conclusion: when we repeal all the marijuana laws, not only will all sorts of wonderful benefits occur, but in addition (they say) usage will actually go down!

This is not so.

In 1989, Mark H. Moore, a professor of criminal justice at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, published an op-ed in the New York Times that took on the myths:

What everyone ”knows” about Prohibition is that it was a failure. It did not eliminate drinking; it did create a black market. That in turn spawned criminal syndicates and random violence. Corruption and widespread disrespect for law were incubated and, most tellingly, Prohibition was repealed only 14 years after it was enshrined in the Constitution.

The lesson drawn by commentators is that it is fruitless to allow moralists to use criminal law to control intoxicating substances. Many now say it is equally unwise to rely on the law to solve the nation’s drug problem.

But the conventional view of Prohibition is not supported by the facts.

First, the regime created in 1919 by the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, which charged the Treasury Department with enforcement of the new restrictions, was far from all-embracing. The amendment prohibited the commercial manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages; it did not prohibit use, nor production for one’s own consumption. Moreover, the provisions did not take effect until a year after passage -plenty of time for people to stockpile supplies.

Second, alcohol consumption declined dramatically during Prohibition. Cirrhosis death rates for men were 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 and 10.7 in 1929. Admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis declined from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1919 to 4.7 in 1928.

Arrests for public drunkennness and disorderly conduct declined 50 percent between 1916 and 1922. For the population as a whole, the best estimates are that consumption of alcohol declined by 30 percent to 50 percent.

Third, violent crime did not increase dramatically during Prohibition. Homicide rates rose dramatically from 1900 to 1910 but remained roughly constant during Prohibition’s 14 year rule. Organized crime may have become more visible and lurid during Prohibition, but it existed before and after.

Fourth, following the repeal of Prohibition, alcohol consumption increased. Today, alcohol is estimated to be the cause of more than 23,000 motor vehicle deaths and is implicated in more than half of the nation’s 20,000 homicides. In contrast, drugs have not yet been persuasively linked to highway fatalities and are believed to account for 10 percent to 20 percent of homicides.

Moore does not conclude that Prohibition was a good idea (although he clearly does believe in banning substances like cocaine or heroin). Moore says: “A democratic society may decide that recreational drinking is worth the price in traffic fatalities and other consequences.” The point is: we should make these decisions with our eyes wide open, and not pretend that there won’t be more usage and adverse consequences from that usage.

But it won’t do to stop with one source. What is the counterargument? I searched around for pieces that made the opposite case, but found nothing convincing. At Cato, Mark Thornton has a piece titled Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure. Thornton does not dispute the fact that alcohol consumption decreased:

According to its proponents, all the proposed benefits of Prohibition depended on, or were a function of, reducing the quantity of alcohol consumed. At first glance, the evidence seems to suggest that the quantity consumed did indeed decrease. That would be no surprise to an economist: making a product more difficult to supply will increase its price, and the quantity consumed will be less than it would have been otherwise.

Thornton does not argue that alcohol consumption did not decrease; he concedes that it did. Instead, Thornton says that the decrease was not that valuable due to several “qualifications” concerning that decrease. He says the decrease “was not very significant” and that consumption “rose steadily after an initial drop.” Maybe, but it never reached or surpassed the original level until after Prohibition was repealed. The sources cited by Thornton include “Alcohol Consumption During Prohibition” by Jeffrey A. Miron and Jeffrey Zweibel, which states (.pdf):

We find that alcohol consumption fell sharply at the beginning of Prohibition, to approximately 30 percent of its pre-Prohibition level. During the next several years, however, alcohol consumption increased sharply, to about 60-70 percent of its pre-prohibition level. The level of consumption was virtually the same immediately after Prohibition as during the latter part of Prohibition, although consumption increased to approximately its pre-Prohibition level during the subsequent decade.

Thornton also argues that “[h]eightened enforcement did not curtail consumption” as consumption increased in the latter years of Prohibition. Finally, he concludes:

The fourth qualification may actually be the most important: a decrease in the quantity of alcohol consumed did not make Prohibition a success. Even if we agree that society would be better off if less alcohol were consumed, it does not follow that lessening consumption through Prohibition made society better off.

That may be, and the point of this post is not to argue the point. The point of the post is to show that, if you measure Prohibition’s success in terms of alcohol usage, it “worked.”

So: if you want to argue for decriminalization of marijuana, be my guest — but please: be honest about what it will mean. Decriminalizing marijuana will lead to more marijuana usage, and all the negative consequences that follow.

It might be worth it, and it might not. Let’s just be clear about the negatives, rather than wishing them away with a wave of the hand and a declaration that “Prohibition did not work.”

Palestinian Children Died Working On The “Terror Tunnels”. Does Anyone In The West Care?

Filed under: General — Dana @ 6:30 pm

[guest post by Dana]

As Israel defends itself on two fronts – rocket attacks by Hamas and a propaganda war – one wonders if the world even cares that Hamas led 160 Palestinian children to their deaths as their small bodies were used to help build the terror tunnels:

The Institute for Palestine Studies published a detailed report on Gaza’s Tunnel Phenomenon in the summer of 2012. It reported that tunnel construction in Gaza has resulted in a large number of child deaths.

“At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials”

The author, Nicolas Pelham, explains that Hamas uses child laborers to build their terror tunnels because, “much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies”.

Human rights groups operating in Gaza raised concerns about child labor in the tunnels as far back as 2008. Hamas responded by saying it was “considering curbs.” Following Operation Cast Lead in 2009 Hamas softened its position and the Interior Ministry established the Tunnel Affairs Commission (TAC) which, “In response to public concern at a rising toll of tunnel casualties, particularly of child workers…issued guidelines intended to ensure safe working conditions.” No mention is made in the report of the conditions that would result for both Palestinian and Israeli children from building tunnels that would be used to launch terror attacks.

Any concerns expressed were ignored. Per Pelham:

“[N]othing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels.”

They are horrible animals that have somehow managed to make themselves appear as almost-sympathetic in the public square. Horrible animals that use, abuse and discard children for their own sick gain, and continue to do so. And yet, thousands upon thousands will march to protest … Israel’s actions.

With that, Mosab Hassan Yousef, who is the son of Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, was interviewed on CNN. He has rejected Hamas and is now a Christian. In the interview, Yousef bluntly reminds us of what Hamas is really about – and it’s definitely not about the children:

“Hamas does not care about the lives of Palestinians, or the lives of Israelis, or Americans; they don’t care about their own lives,” Yousef said. “They consider dying for their ideology a way of worship.

“Hamas is not seeking coexistence and compromise; Hamas is seeking conquest,” he added.

“The destruction of the state of Israel is not Hamas’ final destination. Hamas’ final destination is building an Islamic caliphate – an Islamic state on the rubble of every other civilization.”

Yousef, who was meant to be the heir to his father’s leadership role in Hamas, said Palestinian children as young as five years old are taught to be willing to take their own lives to achieve Hamas’s goals, as he was taught at a young age. “When I look at the children of Gaza, and I know what they are fed, I know that they have no choice,” he said.

Yousef said that Hamas targets civilians “as a tool of war” and that they were prepared for this from the age of 5 years old.


Eric Cantor: Cautionary Tale

Filed under: General — Dana @ 5:00 pm

[guest post by Dana]

As Congress weighs out the president’s border funding request, Sen. Jeff Sessions reminded his colleagues of the cautionary tale that is Eric Cantor:

“The results of recent primary elections show the American people are being roused to action, and once activated, their power will be felt — they will not be mocked,” Session said on the Senate floor on Monday. “They have begged, and pleaded for our nation’s immigration laws to be enforced for 30 or 40 years, and the politicians have refused.”

Sessions is, of course, referring to the stunning loss by Cantor to Tea-Party backed economics professor Dave Brat, who toppled him in a surprise victory.

Most observers believe that Cantor’s refusal to reject any immigration reform that included some form of amnesty contributed greatly to his loss.

In light of the likelihood that President Obama, through executive order, will grant legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants, Sessions implored his colleagues “to not support any supplemental funding requests without including provisions that would limit his ability to take such actions.”

“No member in either party — Republican or Democrat — should support any border legislation that moves through this Senate that does not expressly prohibit these planned executive actions by the president,” he said. “All this is grim talk, but the situation is stark: Congressional action this week to bar unilateral, imperial action by the president is surely the best course to head off what could be a constitutional crisis.”


Georgia Democrats Assemble Their Coalition: Where Do You Fit In?

Filed under: General — JVW @ 4:51 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Eliana Johnson has quickly become one of the best young investigative reporters in the conservative movement. From chronicling the serial exaggerations and fictional buddies of Newark mayor (and now U.S. Senator) Cory Booker to the EPA’s curious (and potentially illegal) use of fake email accounts by fictitious employees to the amazing work she has done in piecing together the lies and illegalities of Lois Lerner’s IRS (way too many articles to mention; check out her author archive on NRO for the full list).

So today Ms. Johnson reports on a fascinating discovery from the campaign of Michelle Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who is seeking her father’s former Senate seat. Last December the Nunn campaign briefly and probably accidentally posted a campaign strategy memo detailing Ms. Nunn’s strengths and especially her potential weaknesses as a candidate. Ms. Johnson’s article goes into fairly interesting detail about Ms. Nunn’s history heading up the Points of Light Foundation and some of the more interesting characters who managed to secure funding during her tenure. But what really caught my eye was the cynical treatment that various interest groups in the Democrat coalition – Jews, gays, African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos in this case – receive from the party’s consultants. The document in question is titled “Constituency Outreach Goals & Objectives” and is linked at the NRO piece. At the risk of opening myself to accusations that I am cherry-picking pieces from it, I want to provide some direct quotes from this document regarding how the campaign views these interest groups (all added emphasis is mine):

African Americans [sic] Community

This constituency group is critical as the campaign must secure a very
high percentage of the African American vote and drive a large number of voters who do not typically turn out in an off election year to the polls. . . .

Primary Target as a constituency – validators, volunteers and voters.

Latino/as Community

While the campaign has identified a core group of volunteers, these individuals have not been connected to the elected officials and other leaders in the community. This community has not been appropriately engaged and needs to be fleshed out. . . .

Primary Target as a constituency – validators through all forms of media and volunteer recruitment targeted to Spanish speaking voters

Asian-American Community

While this community isn’t as large as Latino/as, it is very tight, works to become citizens quickly and has higher voter participation than many other ethnic constituencies. This is a community more likely to be a fundraising base than some of the others. . . .

Primary Target as a constituency – fundraising, validators and volunteering in community

Jewish Community

[. . . ]

Primary Target as a constituency – fundraising and volunteers

LGBT [sic]

[. . .]

Primary Target as a constituency – fundraising and volunteers for the campaign.

So what it sounds like here is that if you are a Democrat in Georgia (and let’s face it: this strategy is probably replicated nation-wide to one degree or another), you have certain responsibilities within the party. If you are black or brown you are wanted for your get-out-the-vote abilities. If you are Jewish or gay or Asian, the party is really mostly interested in your money. Know your role, lefty.

P.S. – I also found it interesting to read what the memo had to say about Teachers. Here it is:


This community continues to be large and hold sway in many areas, however, their position as a validator needs to be examined given the continued assault teachers are undergoing. . . . Teachers are a great way to disseminate information about volunteer opportunities for students. Additionally, many schools have Election Day off – making teachers fantastic volunteers for Election Day.

Primary Target as a constituency – volunteers and voters with the possibility of fundraising and validators

Interesting that Ms. Nunn, who is after all trying to run as a moderate, is being forewarned to avoid looking like a suck-up to the teacher’s unions and instead focusing her efforts on recruiting individual “beloved teachers.” I think even Democrats are starting to realize that associating themselves with the failed education establishment is an express ticket to Nowheresville. There’s also some good stuff about labor (the campaign wants their money and volunteers) and gun owners (the campaign wants them to talk up Ms. Nunn as a Second Amendment advocate in the media). We don’t always get to see what’s behind the curtain, so it’s nice to have most of our suspicions confirmed.


NYT: End “Prohibition” on Marijuana

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:45 am

The New York Times editorial board has editorialized in favor of eliminating federal criminal laws against marijuana:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

Part of me doesn’t want to highlight this, because the members of the editorial board a) aren’t that bright (certainly not as bright as they think they are) and b) have an outsized view of their own importance. That said, the editorial is reflective of the way public opinion seems to have shifted on this issue.

Let’s first dispose of a silly argument:

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

First of all, I don’t understand how a “result” can be “racist.” Racism has to do with a state of mind. A result might disproportionately affect minorities, but that is not the same as “racism” — and I think the subtle attempt to equate the two is deliberate and deserves pushback. Moreover, I couldn’t find anywhere in the FBI figures anything about a racial breakdown of arrests for marijuana — just drugs in general. Feel free to point me to the table or tables to which the editorial writers are referring.

That silliness aside, the underlying issue is, I have always thought, more complicated than it is portrayed by either side.

Those who favor decriminalization often underemphasize the inevitable increase in usage that follows from decriminalization. Also, those who favor decriminalization fall into two camps: people who hold that view on principle, and people who just want to smoke a lot of pot. (Yes, there is overlap.) And I’ll admit: people in the latter group irritate me. There’s a reason that the stereotype of a habitual pot smoker is a lazy, shiftless couch potato munching on a bag of potato chips, with crumbs festooning his T-shirt. People who habitually smoke pot often lack a certain drive and ambition. In a way, though, it’s perfect for a society that increasingly expects to do nothing and have the government take care of everything.

Usage of drugs is not unrelated to violence, either — although that includes alcohol. My best guess is that most people who commit murder are under the influence of some combination of intoxicating drugs, often alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and/or cocaine.

Putting that concern aside, be realistic: once you decriminalize pot, the legalizers will move on to advocating decriminalization for more drugs, and don’t assume otherwise.

Those who insist on laws remaining the same, however, have their own problems. They give short shrift to the idea that people own their own bodies. They support a system of laws in which participants in the criminal justice system spend far too much time on addicts — although, in California, this is less so when it comes to marijuana. At least in California, marijuana is largely decriminalized; nobody goes to jail or prison for possessing a small amount of marijuana, and penalties for dealing it are generally quite low. But a lot of court time is spent on people addicted to methamphetamine and cocaine, and I don’t get the sense that the system does much for these people; if you get cured, it’s because you yourself have decided to be cured.

I’d like to say that the NYT editorial raises some interesting questions, but really, it doesn’t. Because it’s the NYT. But the topic is an interesting one, and I do sense that public opinion is shifting.

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