Unintended Consequences of Prohibition

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“The law of unintended consequences is what happens when a simple system tries to regulate a complex system. The political system is simple; it operates with limited information (rational ignorance), short time horizons, low feedback, and poor and misaligned incentives. Society in contrast is a complex, evolving, high-feedback, incentive-driven system. When a simple system tries to regulate a complex system you often get unintended consequences.” (1)

Before the prohibition of alcohol existed in the United States people freely drank alcohol, mainly beer, some responsibly and some irresponsibly. The government was able to collect quite a substantial amount of tax revenue for the manufacture, transportation, sales, and consumption of alcohol. In the years leading up to the prohibition of alcohol the rates of serious crime and alcohol consumption were steadily dropping, they rose during the mid – latter years of prohibition. There were relatively small numbers of prisoners throughout the United States, especially in federal prisons, which wasn’t much of a tax burden on the public. People generally drank responsibly, but there was a growing puritanical movement in the United States that found drinking alcohol for the purpose of intoxication morally reprehensible. Alcohol was outlawed to attempt to decrease deviant social behavior as well as criminal behavior. Many people believed that alcohol was the root of most social problems and criminal behavior so they figured it they got rid of alcohol there would be less crime, less dependence on addictive substances, less prisoners and less of a tax burden. The Eighteenth Amendment was certified January 29, 1919 and thus began the years of the alcohol prohibition.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress. (4)

It should also be noted that Amendment 18 is the only constitutional amendment to be repealed.
There are many unintended consequences related to the prohibition of alcohol, they can be broken down into two different categories; the exact opposite of what the amendment was supposed to do, and also unforeseen consequences.

While the crime rate was generally decreasing going into the prohibition it began to steadily rise during prohibition, common crimes stayed even or somewhat decreased, but serious crimes were much more prevalent. “The homicide rate in large cities increased from 5.6 per 100,000 population during the first decade of the century to 8.4 during the second decade when the Harrison Narcotics Act, a wave of state alcohol prohibitions, and World War I alcohol restrictions were enacted. The homicide rate increased to 10 per 100,000 population during the 1920s, a 78 percent increase over the pre-Prohibition period.” “The Volstead Act, passed to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, had an immediate impact on crime. According to a study of 30 major U.S. cities, the number of crimes increased 24 percent between 1920 and 1921.” “Arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increased 41 percent, and arrests of drunken drivers increased 81 percent. Among crimes with victims, thefts and burglaries increased 9 percent, while homicides and incidents of assault and battery increased 13 percent” (2) The prohibition of alcohol also led to a new breed of very organized crime syndicates. They...
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