Prohibition: Why America Changed Its Mind Essay Examples
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Alcoholism, Prohibition, Alcohol, Criminal Justice, Law, Social Issues, United States, Economics
With the country struggling with heavy alcohol use and the resultant crime, corruption, unemployment, child abuse and other social-economic problems, Congress approved the 18th Amendment to prohibit the manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages. Despite its radical and experimental nature, the bill sailed through Congress largely because of the change in the country’s national mood against drinking following World War I, coupled with the desire to encourage the growth of other industries in the economy. Additionally, the religious conservatives’ opposition to drinking and influence on Washington played a role. However, by the close of 1929, it was clear, according to the Wickersham Commission that the experiment was a failure. This paper argues that Americans changed their minds because the prohibition not only failed to achieve its set goals, but also bred multiple unintended consequences that were further worsened the initial problems.
While the prohibition was expected to boost growth in other sectors of the economy, including real estate, household goods, clothing, theatre, and soft beverages, the improvements never happened. In fact, reduced alcohol consumption at the beginning of the ban also resulted in a slump in the entertainment and amusement industries. Restaurants collapsed due to the loss of liquor sales, real estate prices remained low, and unemployment increased. The federal and state governments lost valuable liquor tax income, with the federal government said to have lost upwards of $11 billion in taxes from the industry. These losses were worsened by the fact it required upwards of $300 million to enforce the ban. Effectively, the economic effects of the prohibition (especially at the beginning) were largely negative.
The country’s vast size and porous borders opened up opportunities for the emergence of black markets and organized criminal rings. The mafia made millions, smuggling and running illegal alcohol manufacture and distribution businesses, taking advantage of the ready demand, high prices and the failure of the criminal justice system to keep up. Leading mafia bosses such Al Capone became millionaires. In addition, the fact that the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act did not actually outlaw possession of alcohol, home brewers, pharmacies and individuals took over the manufacture and sale of alcohol (Prohibition: Why Did America Change Its Mind? 1; Thornton 6). This ensured that the goal, of creating a sober nation, was thwarted.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the success of the prohibition was its actual enforcement. The country had very few prohibition agents and a stretched criminal justice system. The agents were prone to corruption, and the backlog of prohibition-related cases rendered the judiciary ineffective in punishing offenders. The vast size of the country and inability to police the borders allowed smuggling and a black market alcohol economy to emerge, which could not be reined in by the criminal justice system because of its ability to compromise law enforcement officers (Thornton 8).
It is evident that the unintended consequences of the prohibition outweighed the noble motivations behind the ban, leading to the abandonment of the law. Instead of creating a sober nation, the prohibition gave rise to an informal alcohol manufacture and distribution industry, and an actual increase in alcohol consumption. The government lost revenues that went to organized criminal rings and black market operators, while the social ills that the ban was meant to remedy went unabated. America changed its mind because the prohibition failed to achieve its original goals, and instead bred even more complex problems for the society and the country. It failed because of enforcement difficulties, exploitation by organized crime, corruption and failure to turn around the social problems that led to the ban on alcohol.
Lerner, Michael. The Unintended Consequences. 2 June 2010. Web. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/unintended-consequences/. 23 Jan 2015.
"Prohibition: Why Did America Change Its Mind? ." n.d.
Thornton, Mark. Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure. Washington, DC: Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 157, 1991.