This week PBS will air the premier of Ken Burns’ new documentary, Prohibition, which looks at the history of the rise and fall of the 18th Amendment. NRO readers might therefore be interested in a new article on prohibition by my colleague Michelle Minton. Not the 1920s variety, but its modern-day successor. We still have moralizing leaders, bootleggers, and political corruption in the business of booze — and we still criminalize ordinary citizens for enjoying alcohol.
While Burns’ documentary may accomplish the important goal of examining the political and social elements that led to the 18th Amendment, it’s important we understand those elements were not erased with the passage of the 21st Amendment. Neo-prohibitionists and the modern temperance movement have simply learned to be less overt in their attempts to restrict access to alcohol. The good news is that there are many local and state-based groups working hard to truly bring Prohibition to an end.
Readers might also enjoy Bruce Yandle’s classic insights on bootleggers and baptists. In the way it worked, prohibition was the granddaddy of all modern regulatory offensives. Until we learn how to break that unholy alliance, we will continue to have stifling regulations imposed on us by a combination of insufferable know-it-alls, tin-pot busybodies, and profiteering rent-seekers. I write more about the way this works in Stealing You Blind: How Government Fatcats Are Getting Rich Off of You (now available at some incredibly reasonable prices!).