Why Prohibition Was a Failure


During the first half of the 20th century, America had a long history of widespread drinking and alcohol abuse. The Prohibition movement was a response to this problem. It was a political battle between those who wanted to see alcohol consumed in moderation and those who opposed the idea.

The Temperance Movement

Many people in the temperance movement argued that alcohol was an unnatural product and had a harmful effect on society. They viewed it as a destabilizing force that negatively affected families, marriages, and the health of citizens. Temperance groups fought to ban the production, sale, and import of alcohol in the United States, eventually leading to the establishment of federal prohibition.

The Implementation of Prohibition

In 1920, the Volstead Act was passed and Prohibition went into effect. Its supporters claimed that the law would help create a better society by ridding the nation of drunkenness and violence. They hoped that it would also promote women's rights and improve the economy by creating jobs.

The Failures of Prohibition

But the truth is that prohibition failed to achieve these goals, although its effects were far-reaching. For starters, it deprived the government of much-needed tax revenue and a significant source of income for citizens.

Second, it was a failure because it did not curtail alcohol consumption. The alcoholic beverage industry collapsed as a result of the law, which forced thousands of people out of their jobs and into poverty. The loss of a key source of income to the economy meant that the government had less money to pay for social programs and infrastructure improvements.

Third, it created an environment in which organized crime was able to thrive and flourish. These criminals exploited the law and made a fortune selling cheap alcohol, which was often tainted with toxic chemicals. This led to a rise in crime and gang activity, including murder.

Fourth, it strained the court and prison systems to breaking point. These resources were diverted from social development and legitimate economic opportunities to the enforcement of Prohibition laws.

Pre-Prohibition Criminal Activity

The criminal activity involved in the booming alcohol industry was not unique to prohibition but rather reflected the fact that crime had always been a significant issue in America. Gambling, loan sharking, racketeering, and prostitution were all common activities in the years before prohibition.

Economic Implications

Moreover, the government grew increasingly dependent on the profits of breweries and distilleries, which produced over 40 million barrels of beer in 1920. When Prohibition came into effect, these breweries lost over 70 percent of their annual revenue. The government's spending on Prohibition went up to the point that it surpassed its budget for World War I and was nearly as large as the Coast Guard's. The increased expenditures did not appear to reduce alcohol consumption, and the resulting increase in public drunkenness was one of the most serious problems associated with prohibition.

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