It was 79 years ago today that America repealed one of its biggest mistakes, the prohibition of alcohol. In commemoration of that day, Reason is telling of “The Man in the Green Hat.” He was George Cassiday, and he kept Congress wet even as Congress tried to keep America dry.
The powers that be living to one standard even as they hold the rest of us to another. Some things never really change, do they?
Prohibition is such an important chapter in the history of American politics. It was an attempt by the nation’s policymakers to impose their will on the public at large for the public’s own good. From that effort stems many of America’s other biggest mistakes. The rapid expansion of federal law enforcement power, for one thing. Massive encroachments upon state’s rights. A huge surge in organized crime, and the creation of some questionable statues and jurisprudence to combat it.
The income tax, in fact, was a major part of the effort to prohibit alcohol. Prior to the income tax, much of the federal government’s revenues came, believe it or not, from taxes on booze. Recognizing that the federal government wasn’t going to ban something from which it derived so much revenue, the temperance movement first helped pass the income tax, and then pushed to ban booze. It succeeded, and while we may have corrected the mistake in making alcohol illegal, we’re still living with the income tax mistake.
And we still haven’t figured out that prohibitionism is bad policy. Rarely do the nanny statists push for outright bans any more, but they’re certainly hard at work taxing and regulating things out of existence for our own good. Even as tobacco taxes create black markets for cigarettes, even as our law enforcement officers fight a losing and bloody battle with drug lords (one that hasn’t even put a dent in the availability and use of drugs), the prohibitionists push on because they do so, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “with the approval of their own conscience.”
“This very kindness stings with intolerable insult,” he wrote in God in the Dock. “To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”
In a free country, citizens shouldn’t be treated like domestic animals.