A Perspective on Prohibition

Everyone knows that prohibition “failed” right?


The CATO Institute states that:

Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism.

This means that if we did find a measurable gain in that context, prohibition’s legacy may not be based on flimsy footing.


Because there is confusion on what the legislation did, we must first understand what the state had and did not have control over.

‘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.” –NY Times


While there is no, and couldn’t have been reliable survey numbers on how consuming alcohol declined among Americans, we can look at other figures to see the decline.

“[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.

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.

Prohibition did not end alcohol use. What is remarkable, however, is that a relatively narrow political movement, relying on a relatively weak set of statutes, succeeded in reducing, by one-third, the consumption of a drug that had wide historical and popular sanction.

” -Drug Legalization: For and Against (Rod L. Evans, Irwin M. Berent)

(Also, the information is confirmed here.)

With this noted, the United States had every right to decide their legal destiny (ending prohibition) but it would be incorrect if we were to call the movement a failure if we are measuring success in how much people drank.

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