Global Recession, Alcohol Consumption, and the Moments That Neo-Prohibitionists Crave

This from today’s New York Times.

As I noted here and here, context and historical perspective alter the picture. But it’s worth contemplating the preachy subtext of the editorial piece in the Times: Hard times = propensity to drink to excess. People who enjoy alcohol, and the right to drink, ought to worry about that subtext.

Historically, prohibitionist sentiment flourishes during periods of economic, social, and cultural turmoil. A century ago, for example, Americans were adjusting to the upheaval that accompanied the birth of the industrial economy, and the emergence of technologies like electricity and the telephone.

Prohibitionists had little trouble persuading a troubled, frightened nation that alcohol made life worse, and that eliminating it would make life better.

We’re living through an even more tumultuous era now, as digitization and the internet force us to re-imagine media, education, and the economy, and as globalization and terrorism rattle our psyches. Neo-prohibitionists will seize the moment, and prey on Americans’ insecurities. They’re already working to build a dry America one step at a time: A new local tax here, a more strict licensing regulation there; elsewhere programs designed to teach children to demonize, rather than respect, alcohol.

As the recession deepens, and turns to depression, we can expect new “scientific” studies demonstrating the dangers of turning to drink during hard times. Drys will blame alcohol for upswings in, say, crime or domestic violence, whose rates typically rise when societies are in turmoil.

As global demand for food increases, and food prices soar, drys may argue (as did their counterparts a century ago) that valuable crop land ought not be “wasted” on hops or barley; that corn should not be “wasted” on beer.

In short, in hard times, prohibitionists argue for restrictions on drink — for a more intrusive nanny state — on grounds that those hard times lead adults to drink. Drinkers: beware.


Good source of information for all things alcohol: Alcohol Problems and Solutions

3 thoughts on “Global Recession, Alcohol Consumption, and the Moments That Neo-Prohibitionists Crave

  1. Didn’t Prohibition get eliminated because of bad economic times and the government’s need for the revenue generated by the alcohol excise tax? The worse our deficit gets, the more our government will need to seek out new sources of revenue – and that beats out the moral scolds nine times out of ten.Seems to me that the longer we’re in a budget hole, the less likely we are to pass laws that limit consumption of legal drugs, and the more likely we are to legalize drugs that are taxable and currently illicit (such as marijuana)…

  2. I hope you’re right! Especially on the legalizing drugs thing. I’ve advocated that for thirty years (not, of course, that The Important People ever listen to me. . . )And, yes, prohibition ended in part for economic reasons, but also because of the way it had eroded the constitution, etc.But yes, FDR wanted the 21st to move quickly in part for revenue reasons.Still, what worries me about the neo-prohibs is how under-the-radar they are. Very few people notice their many moves, which almost all happen at the local level, but which could start adding up to serious restraints on the freedom to drink.

  3. This is interesting stuff, and I can see it starting to happen all over the place. This morning, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced he is raising sin taxes on alcohol and other ‘foods’ that were previously exempt from state sales tax. I commented on it on my blog, if you are interested (I added the link inline).


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