Government is a pusher, not a killjoy

August 5, 2012 47 Comments
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Before we start, a thought: how many of us change our opinions as a result of what we read on the Internet? Are you prepared to have an open mind for the few minutes it will take to read this?

1. We are conditioned to think that Prohibition in the USA was a government-imposed scheme that failed because of popular demand for alcohol, and thank goodness it ended because it meant no more dangerous concoctions and violent crime. Actually, it was a success (in terms of both health problems and crime statistics) and ended because the US government in 1933 was desperate for revenue. By the way, Prohibition was NOT a ban on making or consuming alcohol! If you want to follow up, here’s a link to an economist (Don Boudreaux) who is generally of the free trade persuasion: Alcohol, Probition and the Revenuers

2. We also hear of the Gin Epidemic of the early to mid 18th century, but perhaps not so often why it happened. The government’s motivation is made clear in the title of Queen Anne’s 1703 Act “… for encouraging the Consumption of malted Corn, and for the better preventing the running of French and foreign Brandy.” This Act (see p.389 here), and it seems a number of others, deregulated the sale of spirits:

Since the 1960s, the British government has progressively relaxed restrictions on access to alcohol, with predictable results. I cannot say to what extent MPs (and in what way) may have been persuaded by commercial lobbying. In 2003 a Labour government extended drinking hours.

3. Tobacco brings in a great deal of revenue (£12 billion a year). James I may have expressed his displeasure in 1604, and the health effects are now (though still disputed) generally better understood. The government makes various gestures, resented by smokers (and non-smokers: I now go inside the pub for fresh air), but it needs the money.

4. The same people-loving New Labour government that relaxed laws on drink, did the same for gambling, and now (e.g. Harriet Harman in the Mail today) is prepared to admit it was wrong. But last year, it earned £1.6 billion in government revenues.

5. A Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee has been hearing evidence bearing on drugs liberalisation this year, notably from comedian and uber-shagger Russell Brand, and there is some concern that the committee may be biased, or at least receiving biased and misleading information and terms of reference. Even if this effort (if it is an effort) fails, I expect it will be repeated: as the IRA told Margaret Thatcher, they only have to be lucky once.

I suspect that governments have learned how to serve their own wretched interests by couching the arguments for addictive products in terms that appeal to our illusions of liberty and personal self-control. Far from being killjoys, they are enablers battening on human weakness.

47 Responses to Government is a pusher, not a killjoy

  1. August 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

    So, your argument is that nobody would choose to gamble/smoke/drink if the government didn’t push it on them and take their filthy revenue from the activities…?

    Even though you say the reason for the ‘Gin Epidemic’ was “preventing the running of French and foreign Brandy.”

    • August 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

      No. But I refer you to what happened during Prohibition: it was permissible to brew and drink alcohol, but not to manufacture and distribute it on a commercial basis. So that cut out businesses and the government, who got together in 1933 to reverse not an Act, but a full-scale Constitutional Amendment.

      Here’s the deal (but of course it will always be a fantasy): let the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and drugs be unregulated and untaxed, but also kept completely private and uncommercial. Grow your own, smoke your own, drink your own, share with friends in your own home or backyard – but not for money or money’s worth.

      Libertarians (rightly, in my view) complain about the power and interference of government – but need to include commercial enterprises in their strictures. As I keep saying (but who listens in the world of the Internet?), Big MD/CEO is no better than Big Brother – especially when they combine, as in this case.

      • August 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

        But I refer you to what happened during Prohibition: it was permissible to brew and drink alcohol, but not to manufacture and distribute it on a commercial basis. So that cut out businesses and the government, who got together in 1933 to reverse not an Act, but a full-scale Constitutional Amendment.

        Because it was clear that the general public didn’t want to brew their own and drink it at home but would prefer to have somebody do it for them and share it in a social environment…? :roll:

        • August 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

          You have to remember what weight of public opinion was necessary to urge and get passed the 18th Amendment in the first place. And, as I understand it, the law still permitted you to have pals over for a glass of home brew.

          I do like a proper pub – and there’s fewer of them every day. Perhaps if the government hadn’t been in the pocket of the supermarkets?

          • August 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm

            Have you read The Art of Suppression?

            It is a while since I have done so but from (my poor) memory it was a relatively small number of puritan campaigners that got the amendment introduced by effectively blackmailing senators.

            I wish Chris Snowdon was here to give a definitive answer…

            Anyway, my point remains valid. People still wanted to gather together and socialise as a group even if it meant breaking the law and drinking (sometimes lethal) bootleg booze.

            • August 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

              A of S: interesting, must look it up. The blackmail aspect is a new one on me.

              People do like to congregate – but they can do it chewing a betel nut or anything. A mate of mine used to make very good wine at home, always something bubbling in the cipboard under the stairs.

              Who Chris Snowdon, pardon my ignorance?

              • August 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm

                … oh, found him. Titles suggest he’s an advocate rather than impartial judge, to use the court analogy. Anybody able to quote relevant facts from him or do I really have to buy the book?

              • David C
                August 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm

                I would certainly recommend buying Chris’ book. Which doesn’t, by the way, discuss the detail of the effects of prohibition.
                I would particulary recommend visiting Chris’ blog as it repeatedly lays bare the lies, misinformation and abuse of statistics churned out by professional prohibitionists.
                link to velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.co.uk

              • August 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm

                @ 5:43… this gets more complex. One issue is the supposed denefits/disbenefits of Prohibition, another what might happen if it were tried again today, a third the dirty tricks employed. As to the last, how many laws are passed fair and square on their merits? I begin to depair of the political system – I’m currently trying to get my MP to stand up for savers and he seems to have “gone native” with the Coalition.

          • David A. Evans
            August 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm

            My little tin-foil hat theory.

            The government want pubs shut to stop people meeting and discussing things over a pint. Similar reasoning to their desire for www censorship.

            DaveE.

            • August 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm

              That I could believe, in my darker moments. There are very few spy-free fora left. I think much of the progress towards Liberty in England in the last two or three centuries had its sources in nonconformist churches and in taverns.

              • David A. Evans
                August 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm

                It was that line of thinking that led me to my bit of tin-foil hattery.

                When government in general is so unpopular, the last thing they want is people actually talking about it.

                The worrying thing for me is that my line of reasoning can now go in that direction so far as to believe it possible.

                DaveE.

  2. David A. Evans
    August 5, 2012 at 9:34 am

    You may be able to go into a pub now but my local’s shut now due to a combination of reasons.

    1) Supermarkets selling below cost.

    2) Punitive regulation of pubs.

    3) The smoking ban, more drinkers are smokers than non-smokers.

    DaveE.

    • August 5, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Supermarkets have been selling booze at, well supermarket prices for as long as I can remember…

      The smoking ban though has clearly ripped the heart out of the pub trade.

      • David A. Evans
        August 5, 2012 at 11:20 am

        My memory obviously goes back further than yours.

        Every pub had an off door and there were a few off licences. Woolworths was the nearest thing to a supermarket although there were department stores, they didn’t sell booze.

        Even going back 20 years, supermarkets weren’t selling ridiculously cheaply as they are now.

        DaveE.

        • August 5, 2012 at 11:58 am

          Okay,

          In reality I too remember the off licence… :oops:

          But you could buy booze outside a pub cheaper than in waaaay back before the smoking ban was introduced.

          • August 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm

            It has always been commercially necessary for off sales to be cheaper than on sales, as I understand it.

            Off licences sell a stand alone product; cans of beer or a bottle of wine etc.
            Pubs sell an experience that goes with the beer. They sell an evening out.

            • August 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm

              This thing about “please drink responsibly”… responsible to whom? The old landlord of the Little Lark at Studley had a notice up: “Please drink harder and faster.”

      • Mudplugger
        August 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm

        Barman is right. Britain’s pubs have survived wars, pestilence, recessions, depressions, competition from TV, drink-driving laws etc. over the centuries.
        What they couldn’t survive was a huge slice of their regular paying customers being told they were no longer welcome. Smokers have always been the ‘banker’ for pubs, regular profitable trade, in good times and bad, winter and summer, weekdays and weekends. The myth that ‘happy family’ trade would cover the gap was always nonsense.

        But the licensed trade did not act together to resist – in fact, they sold their soul to the government devil when they gave in to the smoking ban in exchange for 24-hour opening a couple of years earlier – bad deal, for which they’re paying the price now.
        I have not spent a penny in any local pub or restaurant since July 2007 – that’s a loss of at least £5,000 a year turnover from me alone. Is it any wonder they’re finished.

        The supermarkets are just opportunistically leaping on the bandwagon, making their own hay while the pubs’ sun fades – the cynical brewers win either way, they still shift the product without all the extra cost of supplying lots of small pubs.

        • David A. Evans
          August 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm

          There are so many reasons.

          1) Pubcos such as Punch & Enterprise elevating the costs to pubs through the tied model.

          2) Supermarkets selling below cost.

          3) Over-regulation of pubs including tariffs for late night policing.

          4) Smoking ban.

          City centre pubs are being hit for bad behaviour caused by 2). Youths go out primed for the night on cheap booze and the pubs pay for it.

          The duty escalator doesn’t seem to affect supermarkets much, pubs most definitely. (See tin-foil hat theory above.)

          DaveE.

          • August 6, 2012 at 9:30 am

            Yes, what was so bad about snugs?

      • August 7, 2012 at 2:39 am

        “smoking ban though has clearly ripped the heart out of the pub trade”, that was always part of the plan; fascists who don’t like smokers don’t like social drinkers either,

    • Greg Tingey
      August 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Rubbish
      about 20% of the population are nicotine addicts
      Aout 80% of the population drink alchohol.
      DOES NOT FOLLOW

      • David A. Evans
        August 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm

        As you obviously don’t get it I’ll rephrase.

        Most pub-goers are smokers. Depending on the area, between 60% & 90%

        DaveE.

  3. August 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    A of S: interesting, must look it up. The blackmail aspect is a new one on me.

    Here: -

    link to velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com

    The book is excellent – well worth a read – as is velvet Glove Iron Fist. :grin:

  4. August 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    “Actually, it was a success (in terms of both health problems and crime statistics)”

    Did the murder rate in say Chicago climb or fall during prohibition?

    Please quote the stats you seem to rely on.

    • August 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      At the time I wrote my article the computer or Blogger was buggering about with links, which is a shame because I haven’t the mental energy to do it all over again. The rate, as I am sure you would expect, was the national rate, not the local one in Chicago.

  5. LJH
    August 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I do not regret abstaining from freely available drugs in my youth, but now I fear old age and think that when the time is right I should be able to purchase the hemlock of my choice and go out on a high…

    • David A. Evans
      August 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      Can’t lay claim to total abstinence but apart from the odd drag on a joint, me too.

      I don’t fear death but dying is different. I want it quick and painless, if that means that when I reach a stage where I can no longer cope that I have to choose the method, I too would like it freely available.

      EDIT: don’t take freely to mean necessarily free.

      DaveE.

      • August 6, 2012 at 9:36 am

        I think we can take a different veiw for the old and the terminally ill. In traditional societies (I think e.g. of Lawrence Durrell’s “Bitter Lemons” account of the Tree of Idleness in Kyrenia, Cyprus) those who were past work could puff away quietly. I think those societies would deal differently with young men who got stoned instead of pruning their olive trees, clearing ditches etc.

        Trouble is, we in this country have eroded internal personal and social controls and now there’s an ideological attack on external legal and law enforcement controls – but so strange, government is trying to become lax on some issues and incredibly oppressive on so many others. Perhaps it’s what black co-workers said to me more than once, the drugs trade is a way of keeping their kind down.

  6. Greg Tingey
    August 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

    You have forgotten the purity / quality control argument.
    The problem with home distillation, for instance is the OTHER alchohols (esp Methanol) in the final “brew”.
    Ditto drugs.

    Hence the idea of leagalise, tax, and regulate.
    Rather than just try to suppress.

    • August 6, 2012 at 9:29 am

      Accepted, though the experience of 1919-1933 appears to be that overall there were fewer deaths from alcohol poisoning.

      • David A. Evans
        August 6, 2012 at 10:14 am

        A few more cases of chronic lead poisoning though.

        Seriously, the costs of trying to prevent drug abuse exceed those of regulating legal use/abuse.

        DaveE.

        • August 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm

          Same argument for crime in general. But I think this leads to the core problem, which is regulation by external agencies vs regulation by social norms, leges v mores.

  7. August 6, 2012 at 11:57 am

    uber-shagger Russell Brand

    Why any female could bear to be within a metre of that creep is a wonder of modern life.

  8. David C
    August 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    “Actually, it was a success (in terms of both health problems and crime statistics) and ended because the US government in 1933 was desperate for revenue”

    If you want us to think there is any substance to that statement, you need to provide the evidence.

    • August 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      I’ve already explained above, if you trawl around you’ll find it I hope. I’ll have a quick look myself but can’t promise.

      • August 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm

        This writer seems to have looked at the same data I saw, shame he doen’t give the source either:

        “…while there was a black market for the product, alcohol consumption did decrease—a lot: Prohibition resulted in startling reductions in alcohol consumption (over 50 percent), need for treatment for cirrhosis of the liver (63 percent), admissions to mental health clinics for alcohol psychosis (60 percent), and arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct (50 percent). It’s fine to say that you disagree with the principles of prohibition, but don’t just blatantly ignore the fact that it achieved its goal.”

        link to concordy.com

  9. David C
    August 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I did have a trawl round. This is what I found.
    link to history.howstuffworks.com
    link to patheos.com
    link to pbs.org
    link to eh.net
    The pieces don’t seem to support your hypothesis. The summary seems to be, alcohol consumption down, cirrosis rates down, but correlation not good; big rise in poison alcohol deaths; big rise in homicide, which ties in with the big rise in homicide during the drug crackdown in 1970-1990; big rise in organised crime capability.
    I don’t argue with the proposition that it was the need for revenue which ended prohibition, but that doesn’t mean that prohibition itself was a good thing does it?
    And if we’re looking at costs of prohibition, perhaps we should think about the 47000 drug war deaths in Mexico over the past five years.
    link to bbc.co.uk

    • August 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      That’s funny, what I read said homicide did not increase. Looks like we need a scholarly article to decide. And today’s situation is different, because Mexico is not Canada, so that’s worth a rethink.

      Now, anybody confident about the results when drugs are legalised?

      • August 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm

        Yes, less organised crime, less death.

        • August 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm

          Maybe yes to the first and no to the second. Look at the ravages of alcohol.

          • David C
            August 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

            Facts seem to be hard come by in this debate, but you could try these on the ‘ravages of alcohol’. :
            link to thecommentator.com
            link to publications.parliament.uk
            link to velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.co.uk
            link to velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.co.uk

            • August 7, 2012 at 7:53 am

              Thanks, David. As you say, we do need to establish the facts, especially when the debate (in society generally) is so divided and heated.

              Not that I’m necessarily doubting his stats, but of the links you give here the first site is openly dependent on information from Chris Snowdon (with Dick Puddlecote), the second is Parliamentary evidence given by Snowdon and the other two are posts by Snowdon. How many other independent sources can we look at?

  10. Phil
    August 6, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    done a quick trawl around, as far as I can tell the home production of booze during prohibition was limited to weak wine and cider, not beer or distilled stuff. Also nobody can say how much drinking declined in the US during this period as muck was consumed under the radar. There were anything from 30,000 to 1000,000 speakeasys in New York alone, nobody is sure on that one. Couldn’t find overall homicide rates but gun related stuff rose all through the 20′s and started to decline after about 33. Temperance seemed to be stronger amongst women of the US rather than men and the amendment to the constitution that followd prohibition was one giving women the vote, any connection?

    • August 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

      You think it was a push by women? They are often the victims of boozers, as “Theodore Dalrymple” amply demonstrates.

      • Phil
        August 7, 2012 at 11:08 am

        Not so much a push by women but a push by male politicians who wanted their vote

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