How Successful Was Prohibition? Essay Sample

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Prohibition, considering the goals it set out to achieve , was largely unsuccessful. However initially it did manage to decrease alcohol consumption , created new jobs needed to enforce prohibition and found in 1934 Alcoholics Anonymous a ,voluntary effort program that succeeded in helping alcoholics. On January 16th, 1920, prohibition was introduced nationally by the 18th amendment which banned the sale, transportation and manufacture of intoxicating liquor with the general purpose of reducing alcohol consumption. It was considered, by mainly protestant groups, that alcohol was the source of social problems, thus by banning it their goals was to reduce crime, corruption, reduce tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses , and improve health and hygiene in America. By the end of the 1920s, with booming illegal trade in alcohol, it was evident that the ‘’noble experiment’’ had largely failed to achieve it goals.

Making alcohol illegal naturally lead to a deficiency in supply and a rise in its price which made it available only to a limited section of society and caused an initial decrease in consumption. However the sudden shift meant that demand still existed –old stock Americans and newly arrived immigrants refused to abandon drinking. As alcohol became a luxury item increasing its appeal and demand to young people. Non-drinkers were also targeted as a means of improving sales due to the obvious profits to be made. This meant that by 1922 consumption began to rise steadily reaching the amount of 1.2 gallons of alcohol per capita 1923, a huge leap compared to the 0.8 gallons consumed in 1919 before prohibition.

Driven by the opportunity to satisfy demand and make a profit a network of illegal bootleggers and speakeasies emerged. A research conducted uncovered twice as many speak easies in Rochester, New York, as saloons closed by Prohibition. In this sense prohibition could have increased demand by increasing the availability of alcohol. Due to the hidden and small nature of speakeasies, authorities lost the legal control over the locations of drinking establishments with which previously they had been able to keep record thanks to local ordinances , taxes and licensing laws and regulations. Prohibition not only eliminated these political tools but wiped a whole industry over night forcing it underground and out of the control of authorities. Hence Prohibition failed to achieve its main goal of preventing the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol.

The ready availability of alcohol meant that buying it was easier. Prohibitionist wanted to eliminate poverty, by preventing people from buying alcohol .Ironically spending on alcohol increased as demand for alcohol spread to other groups other than the traditional drinkers. In addition spending on substitutes for alcohol increased, including drugs such as marijuana, hashish, and narcotics. These products had potentially more harmful effects ,resulting in addiction and health problems. Obtaining these often brought users into contact with dangerous criminal elements and in cases it would bring them to commit crimes in order to procure them. Thus prohibition neither reduced poverty nor improved health, on the contrary it left many jobless pushing them towards crime and it did nothing to improve productivity or reduce absenteeism.

In fact the ‘’noble experiment’’ transformed the vast majority of the population into criminals, while destroying legal jobs and creating a black-market environment that breed violence. Alcohol was now more expensive but people continued to buy it , pushing many to commit thefts and burglaries which increased by 9 %. A study of 30 major U.S cities revealed the number of crimes increased b 24 % between 1920 and 1921. Naturally as consumption increased, arrests for drunkenness and drunk driving also increased by 41% and 81 % respectively. Homicides and incidents of assault and battery increased by 13 %.Prisons were soon flooded to capacity, convicts reached 26,589 by 1932 compared to only 4,000 before prohibition. This created a strain on the legal system, crippled it could not function to enforce the law. This proved not only that the tax burden of prisons and poorhouses increased but also that it failed to reduce crime.

In effect, prohibition led to the organisation of crime. The easy profit and the increased demand for liquor provided an incentive for criminal groups to organise themselves around structure themselves so as to increase supply efficiency and better handle demand. The infamous Al Capone ,a mob boss, is estimated to have made $70 million worth of business. As the illegal businesses expanded, gangs began to encroach on each other’s territory pushing other groups to resort to violence to defend their sale territories, brand names and labour contracts. This resulted in gang violence or ‘turf wars’ , with Capone building an army of 700 gangsters that committed over 300 in Chicago, of which the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 is the most famous. The wealth and power accumulated by gangs allowed them to control politicians, like the Mayor of Chicago ‘Big Bill’ Thompson , so that they could function unmolested in the city. Thus prohibition did not solve the proposed problem but created a new intractable one, with the added failure of increasing corruption.

As the difficulty to effect prohibition increased so did the force necessary to enforce it. The influence and size of government agencies increased as more personnel was employed , between 1920 and 1930 the hiring rate at the Customs Service increased by 45 % and that of the Coast Guard by 188%.This and the establishing of the Bureau Of Prohibition , benefitted many by creating new jobs. On the other hand, the spending and resources dedicated to the enforcement of Prohibition greatly increased . The annual budget of the Bureau of Prohibition went from 4.4 million to 13.4 million during the 1920s.This had to be done without he valuable tax revenue from legal drinking establishments, it resulted in a deficit as more had to be done with less. The fact was the government could not commit sufficient resources to enforce Prohibition.

Indeed Prohibition became a major cause and focus for corruption unintentionally distancing it self from its goals and making it almost impossible to enforce. The Bureau of Prohibition was particularly susceptible to corrupting influences and had to reorganise itself to reduce it. Between 1920 and 1930 , about 10% of Prohibition agents were fined for corruption . Federal agents were not paid enough, an average of $2500 , when bootleggers , moonshiners, crime bosses and speakeasies owners paid them double to look the other way. One Federal agent was said to have made $7 million selling illegal licenses and pardons to bootleggers. Thus Prohibition did not defeat corruption but was a breeding ground for it.

There were serious limitations to the enforcement of prohibition, the geographical size of the U.S made it difficult to track down bootleggers, identify speakeasies and prevent the smuggling of alcohol. Furthermore the demographic size meant that the 2,500 Treasury agents hired were insufficient. The law also contained gaps which bootleggers took advantage of, such as the fact that chemists could still sell alcohol on doctor’s prescriptions .Prohibition’s limited success can be attributed to the unprecedented nature of the law which posed problems and difficulties that authorities were unprepared to tackle.

The evidence shows that Prohibition far from solving social problems, it exacerbated them. It achieved few of the goals it set out to meet, and on the way became a platform for organised crime and corruption . The Assistant Secretary Of the Treasury stated ‘’…conspiracies are nation wide in extent, in great numbers , organised well financed, and cleverly conducted’’ which demonstrates the reasons why prohibition was so difficult to enforce. However it give birth to successful voluntary efforts such as Alcoholic Anonymous and created new jobs , but most importantly it served as a valuable experience. However the damaging effects of prohibition far exceeded the expected benefits of reduced consumption which never materialized anyway. Perhaps the strongest indicator of its failure is the fact that it has been the only constitutional amendment to have been repealed.

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