Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act

I will explain these “Winnies” in the coming weeks from bottom to top:

The Volstead Act was, you will recall, the act of Congress which implemented the amendment to the Constitution which was unique in that it removed a liberty from the people.  The only other negative amendment in terms of freedom was the 16th, which established an income tax, not a right or its removal but the placing of an obligation.  The 18th amendment was also the only one ever repealed.

I have been binge watching Boardwalk Empire for the past two weeks.  That show has made it clear to me that organized crime metamorphosed from a localized, specialized, urban phenomenon to a national, and perforce international, scourge – and the same could be said for corruption in government, overzealousness in government, and rampant growth of the federal government.

Some may argue that prohibition demonstrates that anarchy evolves into chaos, because the government was not made strong enough to deal effectively with the upsurge in crime.  My response is that such will always be the case.  The legislative process makes it impossible to either foresee or to respond to errors in planning.  This is a feature, not a flaw, in the American public life system.  One of the reasons for this dynamic is that no politician will be forthright about the costs of any program that he or she supports.  Another reason is that politicians are never really serious about the window dressing they inflict upon us.  They created prohibition to quiet an extremely noisy part of the electorate – to them prohibition was just another case of “giving the voters what they wanted,” but then letting it slip into the cracks.  It is clear that politicians everywhere regarded prohibition as a vast money making opportunity.

And make no mistake; American prohibition was of world wide scope.  The economic ripples circled and re-circled the globe.  But I cite the Volstead Act as a major calamity not just because of its short term economic effects, but because of its role in establishing a cynicism in American politics and public administration that has grown malignantly and enormously to this day.

I will work my way up the list in future weeks.

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