LESSONS LEARNED #84: “The bigger and more complex government gets the more unintended the consequences.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 22nd, 2011

Prohibition had Popular Support from Wives, Progressives and Organized Crime

The Progressive movement began changing our lives in the beginning of the 20th century.  Thanks in large part to the American Civil War.  After a generation of American fathers were killed by the ravishes of war a lot of sons grew up without a manly role model in their lives.  They had no father to learn manly chores from.  To go hunting with.  To beat the crap out of them when they misbehaved.  To toughen them up for the real world.  Instead all they got was the loving and nurturing stuff from their mothers.  And when they grew up they wanted to be mothers, too.  And nurture the American people.  For mother knows best.

When these children grew up they changed government.  Instead of it being the limited government of their fathers they wanted an activist one.  To make our lives better.  More fair.  And safer.  Which is why they supported the temperance movement.  And took it to Prohibition.  To save the American family.  To stop drunken husbands from beating their wives.  To prevent poverty by keeping the money in the family.  And out of the saloons.   To stop the epidemic of venereal disease.  Spread by prostitutes who frequented saloons.  Trying to get some of that family paycheck.  Before the saloon owner got it all.  So Prohibition had popular support.  From wives.  Progressives.  And organized crime.

This was an unintended consequence of Prohibition.  For the law prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation” of booze.  But not the drinking of it.  And when there’s a will there’s a way.  There were people who still wanted to drink.  And could without facing any consequences for it if caught by the law.  So they kept drinking.  And there was a booming demand.  And a willing albeit illegal supply network to meet that demand.  So life was good.  For those who liked to indulge in inebriating beverages.  And for those who provided those inebriating beverages.  Especially the providers.  Because when you make anything illegal that is in high demand means only one thing.  High profits.

There’s a Profit Incentive for Criminals because Illegal Stuff Costs More than Legal Stuff

At first everyone laughed as they flaunted the law.  It was, after all, a victimless crime.  People wanted to buy.  And the underworld wanted to sell.  No harm.  No foul.  For awhile.  Until the gang violence spilled over into the public streets.  When innocents saw this violence up close and personal.  Some even dying in the crossfire.  Like in Chicago.  Owned for a time by Al Capone.  King of the bootleggers.  Who killed off the competition.  The Valentine’s Day Massacre being the tipping point.  When the cops started fighting back.

The FBI eventually got Capone.  On tax evasion.  But it didn’t end the violence.  You know what did?  The repeal of the 18th Amendment.  And letting the people drink again.  Which they really needed during the depressing New Deal programs of FDR.

By decriminalizing alcohol they removed the profit incentive for criminals.  Because illegal stuff costs more than legal stuff.  So there’s no market for bootlegged liquor anymore.  So the gangs turned to another illegal substance.  Drugs.  Whose criminalization has far worse unintended consequences than Prohibition ever had.  We can trace most violent crime in the U.S. to drugs.  From theft to support a drug habit.  To Capone style gang warfare to protect turf.  To the unspeakable horrors on and south of the US-Mexican border.

The Decriminalization of Drugs:  Damned if We Do.  And Damned if We Don’t.

So what is one to do?  Decriminalize drugs?  Not quite the same thing as ending prohibition.  Drugs are a little more potent than alcohol.  Especially methamphetamine.  Crystal meth addiction destroys lives.  Which is why it’s such a lucrative drug.  You can manufacture it anywhere from chemicals.  And it’s addictive.  Addiction provides a steady demand.  And its chemistry provides a readily available supply.  That you can hide.  Unlike Coca fieldsPoppy fields.  Or marijuana fields.

Meth has a strong foothold in the drug-taking community.  Despite it being illegal.  One shudders what would happen if we decriminalized drugs.  Like meth.  It’s potent.  Addictive.  And popular with the kids.  It takes a fake ID to buy alcohol when underage.  Because there are few pushers selling cases of beer and wine coolers on the street.  But if an adult can buy it legally it could be hard for a drug dealer to pass up the underage market.  I mean, there are no empty bottles or cans to trace back to a store.  And if you’re caught carrying, hey, it isn’t illegal.

So we’re damned if we do.  And damned if we don’t.  The war on drugs has a devastating cost on society.  But the drugs are so harmful.  And helping users break their addiction also costs society.  Broken families.  Lost jobs and careers.  Children addicts can no longer provide for.  Infectious disease.  Overdose.  Violence.  Criminal activity.  And decriminalizing drugs won’t make any of that better.

The Poorer You are and the More Children You Have the More Money You Get on Your EBT

America has been fighting another war.  A war on poverty.  Which probably has been more destructive than the war on drugs.  Economist Thomas Sowell blames the welfare state for the destruction of the black family.  By subsidizing failure.  Providing incentives not to succeed.  A disincentive to be responsible.  The very programs to help the poor have destroyed the poor.  With unintended consequences that have destroyed generations.

This video was from 1980.  Fast forward to today and you can see this put in another way.  Perhaps a little less elegantly.  But it reinforces Dr. Sowell’s argument.  There’s a video on YouTube that praises the EBT card in California.  A program to help poor single people with children.  Depending on the number of children and your circumstances, the government loads a dollar amount on the EBT card.  You then use it like a debit card.  At any store that accepts EBT.  The government then reimburses the store owners.

So the poorer you are and the more children you have the more money you get on your EBT card.  As Dr. Sowell pointed out, this may be a disincentive to be responsible.  And the YouTube video shows this.  We should note, though, that the rapper who made this video said that “it was meant to be satirical and poke fun at a real issue.”  Some have called it inappropriate.  You can judge for yourself after you watch the video.  (NOTE:  If you’re at work or are in a public place you probably should wait until you get home to watch this video.  It contains very graphic language (as in the ‘f’ word).  And may be racially insensitive.  Please exercise due discretion when viewing It’s Free, Swipe Yo EBT.)

Government may have Meant Well but the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

Prohibition made it harder to manufacture and distribute alcohol.  But people still drank.  Because it wasn’t illegal to drink.  At first it was just a game.  Imbibing at the speakeasy.  Then buildings exploded.  And bodies littered the street.  Much like they are in Mexico today.  And along the US-Mexican border.  Because well organized enterprises are trying to meet a lucrative demand north of the border.  That our drug policies made lucrative.  Just like Prohibition made bootlegging a lucrative business.

Unintended consequences are a bitch.  And whenever government tries to fix something we often get something worse.  Prohibition and our war on drugs have given us organized crime to deal with.  And our war on poverty has destroyed poor families.  By incentivizing irresponsible behavior.   And making generations dependent on government.

At every time, though, government meant well.  They always say that they had nothing but good intentions.  But we should remember what they say about good intentions.  That the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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