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March 22, 2012

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Dan Hardie

'Big government and freedom to drink won the day: arguably, making Repeal his first order of business gave Roosevelt unstoppable political momentum. '

No, I studied the New Deal in some detail for Finals, and I really can't think of a major scholar in the field who would argue that. Prohibition was a massive issue in the 1928 election, but in 1932 it really was The Economy, Stupid, more than any election before or since.

I've also not seen anyone argue that the 'Hundred Days' got their momentum from Prohibition- rather it was a combination of the pressure of (rapidly spreading and largely unprecedented) economic chaos; FDR's willingness to try anything once except incest and folk dancing; the presence of lots of eager young reformers in the Administration, and the stunned acquiescence of the more reactionary Congress types (though they soon got their mojo back).

Finally, FDR's first term did, in the opinion of a great many scholars, lose momentum in the later half of 1933 and in 1934, before there was an arguable recovery of purpose in the 'Second New Deal'. For a while he proved all too stoppable.

Dan Hardie

And add to the major factors which gave Roosevelt's 'Hundred Days' their momentum the fact that it took the Supreme Court a lot longer than that to rule various FDR policies unconstitutional.

I think another argument against putting too much emphasis on Repeal as a major- or at any rate enduring- factor in FDR's political success is that, as you and Okrent note, Prohbition was largely popular in rural America, and hated in the cities. The US was a lot more countryfied in 1932-6 than it is now, or than the UK was- around a third of the population could be classed as rural. And yet FDR's success in the 1936 election was emphatically not limited to the cities- he took every single state in the Union bar Maine and Vermont.

That's not to say Repeal didn't increase FDR's initial popularity in the cities and with the non-WASPs, but he would have lost it pretty damn quickly if he had, say, failed to end the banking crisis, or pursued a Brüning-style economic policy.

CMcM

Prohibition was the single greatest public health gain for the United States ever - apart from putting in drains. Discuss.

There's a strong argument that, for all our inherited vision of it leading to mobsters opening violin cases to mow down innocent bystanders, it actually massively reduced a public health problem. To take one factoid at random: deaths caused by cirrhosis of the liver in men dropped to 10.7 men per 100,000 from 29.5 men per 100,000 from 1911 to 1929.

So some have argued that there's a direct trade off between health gains and public order losses in instituting any kind of prohibition over any drug.
The substance is legal to market? Fine, substance users will clog your hospitals and social care facilities in great numbers, and social disorder may well result (cf: closing time in almost any UK city center).

The substance is illegal or otherwise restricted? Fine, you'll get a smaller number of folk needing Hhalth care - but probably needing more intense treatment on average - and a more severe criminality (think Columbia, or the Mexico-US border) associated with supply.

john b

deaths caused by cirrhosis of the liver in men dropped to 10.7 men per 100,000 from 29.5 men per 100,000 from 1911 to 1929.

Statistic falls from "negligibly tiny" to "still negligibly tiny". We should give a shit because?

john b

It is interesting that the prohibition-versus-non-prohibition divide Jamie mentions above is a perfect split, transcending traditional left and right boundaries, between "people who are awful" and "people with whom one might want to spend time".

dsquared

Statistic falls from "negligibly tiny" to "still negligibly tiny". We should give a shit because?

Bit of a STATSFAIL there. At 29.5 per 100k, it would have been a significant cause of early death in the USA. Lung cancer for men in the UK today is a crude mortality rate of 64 per 100k. I would guess it wouldn't be more than 1% of total deaths because they had influenza and diptheria in those days, but just doing the multiplication based on a US population of 100m would suggest that Prohibition saved nearly 10,000 lives a year, which is obviously vastly more than any sensible estimate of the costs of crime.

This is the difference between practical and statistical significance - very few statistics are negligibly tiny when they're going to be multiplied back up again by the US population. Considered as a public health intervention, Prohibition (which did not actually prohibit the drinking of alcohol was a success.

Phil

"Prohibition worked" is supported by Goode's Drugs in American Society. According to Goode American society before Volstead was incredibly boozy, a bit like contemporary stereotypes about Eastern Europe. Another disquieting factoid from the time when I taught this stuff is that the celebrated French "healthy attitude" to alcohol leads to high levels of driving accidents and liver disease - pretty much what you'd expect when a potentially dangerous substance becomes normalised.

On the other hand, (a) huge social costs; (b) legacy of a highly neurotic attitude to booze, extending (as you know Bob) to enthusiasts; and (c) reduction of a third. Plus (d) the temperance movement was a big social force before 1919 - the act wouldn't have got passed otherwise - and we can't know what would have happened to American culture & alcohol consumption under their pressure over the next fourteen years absent Prohibition.

The big natural experiment in Britain for this one is mephedrone (meow meow) - and anecdotal evidence does suggest that some people started using when it was legal on the basis that it was therefore safe, unlike that dangerous ecstasy stuff. (If anything it's the other way round.) Others - including dealers - didn't really care.

I've met a few drugs workers over the years, and never known anyone advocate prohibition of drugs; mostly they say everything should be legal (although there are some who say everything should be legal except alcohol and tobacco).

CMcM

Mephedone: much bigger over here than in the States, according to this. But it's alcohol which is the overwhelmingly most popular drug of choice on both sides of the Atlantic.

Of course one of the biggest problem about any kind of substance misuse statistics is that people routinely lie about their consumption levels. I tend to take all stats around any kind of sexual behavior with a similarly large does of salt.

Charlie W

In my utilitarian calculus, a thousand thousand evenings endured by a thousand thousand law abiding, scrabble playing, tea sipping, cirrhosis-free people weighs awful heavy in the balance.

Actually, I think I go a bit Tory on this one. The alcoholics need better attitudes towards alcohol: I don't need to be made to give up my moderate, sensible, regular boozing.

Charlie W

That's the ideal Tory of my imagination, obviously. Real Tories don't want me to give up anything; they just want the poor people to be be forced to renounce booze.

Richard J

I have to say that not wanting poor people to drink is one of the few political viewpoints that seems to genuinely stand outside the left/right divide.

Phil

I say it's managerialism and I say the hell with it.

Barry Freed

I'll drink to that!

*ducks*

Igor Belanov

Remember, they don't like poorer people eating either:

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2119142/Greggs-sees-30m-wiped-share-value-Pie-tax-puts-VAT-hot-away-food.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

chjh

"For the population as a whole, the best estimates are that consumption of alcohol declined by 30 percent to 50 percent." That's an interesting definition of 'working' - either a lot of people turned to home brewing, or a lot of extra-legal entrepreneurs stayed outside the purview of those enforcing the law.

Phil

Or is that an estimate of post-Prohibition consumption levels? Everything I've seen on this suggests that alcohol use didn't bounce back to anywhere near the level it was at before.

ejh

What would be figures for states (e.g. the UK) where Prohibition did not occur?

Also, have we done this subject before? It seems familiar...

Cian

It was the making of the Scottish whisky industry in the US. Up to then people had drunk Irish whiskey, but the Irish whisky's reputation got tainted by the bootlegged/smuggled stuff, which reused their labels.

Or at least that's the story I was told in Ireland.

john b

Justin wins a ZING. UK alcohol consumption fell (PDF) from 11 litres a head in 1900 down to 5 by the mid-1920s, without anyone going blind from moonshine or being shot by gangsters.

(to my great dismay, the referenced study on that page showing alcohol consumption pre-1900 is by Plant & Plant, not - as I saw it on the first six readings - Page & Plant).

ejh

On the other hand, British licensing laws were drastically tightened during the Great War.

dsquared

without anyone going blind from moonshine or being shot by gangsters.

but with a massive increase in tax, and yes people did (and do) go blind from moonshine in the UK. As with tobacco, the dangerous bit about alcohol is when it's used correctly.

Phil

As with tobacco, the dangerous bit about alcohol is when it's used correctly.

Depends what you mean by correctly. Health outcomes for long-term moderate alcohol use are pretty good, as it goes.

CMcM

UK alcohol consumption fell (PDF) from 11 litres a head in 1900 down to 5 by the mid-1920s, without anyone going blind from moonshine or being shot by gangsters.

Just a shot in the dark here with no research to back it up but, given that young men are disproportionately the major consumers of alcohol, can anyone think of anything other than tax changes that happened between 1914 & 1918 that might have altered the population as a whole's propensity to drink alcohol?

ajay

yes people did (and do) go blind from moonshine in the UK. As with tobacco, the dangerous bit about alcohol is when it's used correctly.

The reason you go blind from moonshine is not the alcohol, or rather not the ethanol, but the methanol - which you don't or shouldn't find in legal booze.

CMcM: not by that much, surely. The Great War killed 900,000 British men, but that's out of a population of 40 million or so. And if family anecdote is typical, it left the rest of them drinking rather more than previously.

ajay

Additional to that, the ideal way to answer that question would be to do a comparison with another European country that didn't fight in WW1. Anyone got figures for Spain or the Scandinavian nations?

CMcM

Ajay,
Yes, but young men between 18 & 30 are the heaviest drinkers by far - or at least they are today and I'm just guessing that things haven't altered that much in the last century. So your 900,000 out of 40 million or c2.3% (I haven't checked your numbers but they feel about right) isn't really a fair comparison. Let's say half the population was male and, of those, half were in their 'prime drinking years' . That would give a reduction of c9% in the core group of heavy drinkers.

*Sits back & waits for someone to do better numbers*

ajay

Hmm, fair point CMcM.
There's also Justin's other point about tax changes etc - opening hours got tightened dramatically during the war, ostensibly because they didn't want munitions workers going back to work after a pint or two at lunch, and somehow they never got round to loosening them again after the peace.

Another reason why the Attlee government were heroes - after the war was over, they looked at the restrictive Defence of the Realm stuff that had been brought in and said "well, we don't need these laws now the war's over, let's get rid of them". This doesn't normally happen.

ajay

Aha. A bit of googling finds:

"In Denmark alcohol consumption was radically reduced from about ten litres per
capita (ages 15+) in the years preceding the First World War to two litres in 1918, a
reduction primarily caused by considerable increases in the prices of alcoholic beverages
and legal restrictions motivated by the wartime crisis. The consumption level
then stabilised on a level of three to four litres per capita and year during the following
decades with a permanent policy of high alcohol prices. The simultaneous
fall in excess male mortality in Danish towns was attributed to the declining alcohol
consumption."
http://www.ep.liu.se/ej/hygiea/ra/008/paper.pdf

Figure 3 in the same paper shows Sweden, which saw a similar drop.
Conclusion: if you make it more difficult and expensive to buy booze, people will drink less. And they'll keep on drinking less even if you make it easier and cheaper again. And, basically, due largely to the War, it became difficult and expensive to buy booze everywhere in Europe between 1914 and 1918.
But, probably, not in the US, which was not nearly as badly affected by the War - so Prohibition worked, and as a public health measure was certainly superior than the alternative, which was world war.

Chris Williams

If only there were a large country in North America which also took part in WW1! Then we could compare. Ideally, it'd be one which had different liquor laws - ranging from prohibition to laissez faire via state monopoly - in each of its different 'provinces'.

ajay

Chris: but, as dsquared will happily explain to you given half a chance, no such country exists.

Phil

they'll keep on drinking less even if you make it easier and cheaper again.

?

The consumption level then stabilised on a level of three to four litres per capita and year during the following decades with a permanent policy of high alcohol prices

ajay

Phil: that inference born from the US experience, not from that paper...

dsquared

no such country exists.

it really doesn't. I need to do a proper post on this.

Phil

'Sall incentives innit, but I think "more expensive" is significantly different from "illegal". If there's anywhere where the price of alcohol has gone up steeply and then come down, I'd expect consumption to be a lot more elastic than in the case of prohibition and legalisation.

Barry Freed

no such country exists.

it really doesn't.

And here I thought that sort of thing was only generally known among Americans.

ejh

I also think I read somewhere that the strength of beer in British pubs fell drastically over the last century. If this is right, it might also be a factor.

Phil

That's probably true-ish, but the story is so convoluted that it's hard to be more definite. Basically nothing in pubs and brewing seems ever to have stayed put for more than a decade or so, and the things that change go much wider than the strength of the beer. So you'll get "there used to be more really strong beers", but then "people used to drink in halves, not pints"; "standard bitter used to be 5-6%" but then "most people used to drink mild or porter"; "people used to drink beer all day" but then "ah but that was small beer"; and so on.

ejh

Anyway in my day you really did get change from a pound.

dsquared

And here I thought that sort of thing was only generally known among Americans.

Exactly. Canada was invented in 1940 by Franklin Roosevelt, as a way of getting round the intransigence of Congress when it came to providing help to the Alied side in the second world war. It therefore of course became obsolete two years later, but by that point of course there were so many "Canadians" that it was political suicide to get rid of their special privileges. It's a classic example of an entrenched lobby group.

ajay

Nice one dsquared. A sort of equivalent of the Chinese Volunteer Forces in the Korean War.

Phil

I'm just glad I'm not old enough to remember getting change from a ten bob note. I have got glowing and doubtless idealised memories of the original King Cone, which was probably Lyons Maid's first crack at the adult market; it was priced way out of the reach of kids like me, at one shilling.

dsquared

Canada's actually been growing with every Democratic administration since, by the way, as part of a Fabian strategy aimed at extending a health service and social welfare to the whole population of the USA. Most recently, Bill Clinton annexed most of Washington and Montana to "Canada", although frankly I think the name he came up with (combining the names of two foreign countries as if to double-demonstrate that this Wasn't Part Of America) was laying it on a bit thick. My understanding is that they're just waiting for Sarah Palin's fifteen minutes to time out and then they can clear up the anomaly of Alaska (or "Royal Ireland", as we will soon remember it has always been called).

ajay

dsquared: Especially since we all remember that the real British Colombia is Manchester.

Richard J

Actually, d^2, I'm going to have to quibble with you here. If you read Railroaded (as I've been urging people here to do for ages now), it's apparent that Canada dates back earlier, to the 1870s, as a legal fiction to allow the construction of the Candadian Pacific railroad. I mean, naming it 'Peaceful place' is about as close as you can get to 'Utopia' without blowing the gaff.

(Incidentally, suppose, at short notice, a commentator found himself going to CREFCE's spring meeting tomorrow. What should he say to avoid sounding like a complete idiot thrown in only because all our partners were booked up?)

dsquared

(Incidentally, suppose, at short notice, a commentator found himself going to CREFCE's spring meeting tomorrow. What should he say to avoid sounding like a complete idiot thrown in only because all our partners were booked up?)

I would try "I don't really see much sign of all this alledged LTRO money flowing through to the front line", alternating with "in practice, developers want five year loans with liquidity, so the life insurance companies are never going to be more than niche players". In the evening and in a more unbuttoned environment, you can expand on the second one of those to say that the specific niche of property investors who always want the 15-20 year liability-matched loans that the insurers want to hand out are concentrated in a particular corner of LB Barnet.

ajay

I am rather liking the idea of Canada being a sort of positive equivalent of a CIA front organisation - it's there to deniably do all the nice stuff that the US would be politically incapable of doing under its own name. When Senator Bilbo Hogwallow (R-LA) starts raising a fuss about the US participating in peacekeeping operations or promoting disarmament or funding the teaching of French in schools, the White House simply replies "oh, no, that wasn't us, that was Canada."

Richard J

Is that a Stamford Hill reference?

But what about RE opportunistic funds managed by the fund management arms of the insurance cos? I'm seeing them getting interested in providing first-tier debt rather than the mezz stuff I've usually seen them do in practice.

dsquared

Is that a Stamford Hill reference?

yup.

But what about RE opportunistic funds managed by the fund management arms of the insurance cos?

Lots of talk, much less action as far as I am aware so far, but it would be interesting if they were interested in really getting involved. See, you're coming across as an expert already.

Richard J

TBH, what bluffing capability I do have comes from meeting and speaking to your sort of colleague, IIRC, P____ D_____...

(real reading for most of this weekend: The Tiger Who Came To Tea. My daughter loses attention in any other book half way through.)

Richard J

(Which sort of ties back into this post. Every time the tiger drinks all daddy's beer, I feel both rage at the tiger's selfishness, and also wondering where Sophie's mummy hid the gin. I bet the tiger wouldn't be thanking them for the nice tea after polishing that bottle off.)

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