28 Nov 2013 Six lessons eight decades after Prohibition
Lesson 1: The public wants alcohol
The reason that period between 1920 and 1933 holds such a mythical place in popular culture is because it not only was the heyday for modern organised crime—always a ticket-seller at the movies—but it spawned many cocktails that are still popular today. At the time they were concocted mostly to mask the taste of some pretty questionable spirits.
The clandestine nature of drinking in those days also birthed the concept of the cocktail party—folks entertained at home more because drinking in public just wasn’t happening. And when it was happening, it was in the speakeasy, an establishment that is enjoying a sort of legal renaissance today, further romanticising the era.
The key take-away from all this is that people want to drink and they’ll find a way to do it. It’s better that it’s done legally, in a regulated market.
“The key lesson is you can’t keep people from getting something they want; if they want it badly enough, they will find a way to get it,” says Daniel Okrent, author of the book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
“And a super structure of manufacture, distribution and delivery will be built up to satisfy the need. And the very prohibition of the substance will only guarantee that those satisfying the need will be making great, untaxable fortunes. Legislation that prohibits does not stop people from doing what they want to do.”
Lesson 2: People want choice.
It goes without saying that companies involved in the alcohol business owe their very existence to the 21st Amendment, which created the state-by-state regulatory system that many have come to take for granted. But those who owe a particular debt of gratitude to it are in the craft segments.
Many would argue that the fact that there are nearly 2,500 craft brewers in the US is a direct—albeit gradual—result of Repeal. Sure, obviously the fact that there are any breweries at all is thanks to Repeal, but it is unlikely that the breadth of choice in craft beer, as well as craft spirits and cider, would be a reality if it hadn’t been for the three-tier system.
The old tied-house system that put too much power into the hands of the largest players of the top tier is one of the abuses that contributed to Prohibition and one of the practices that the 21st Amendment forbids, for the most part.
Lesson 6: There will always be those who wish Repeal never happened.
The IRS, and state and local tax agencies might be more interested in money grabs than passing judgment on adult beverages, but there always will exist individuals and groups that will constantly have alcohol in their crosshairs.
The industry, DISCUS’ Cressy advises, should remain vigilant about those. “I don’t want to impugn their motivation,” he says, “but it’s very hard to tell what’s driving them. Many of them are sort of pseudo-scientific and they deal with surveys and research that is not held to the highest standards to create headlines. They end up arguing for all sorts of population-based controls.”
The three most common population-based controls are restrictions on advertising, excessively raising taxes and excessively restricting access.
“The problem with these population-based controls is that they simply don’t work,” continues Cressy. “It’s misguided of certain public health types who think you can solve the problems of the harmful use of alcohol by inoculation in the same way you’d be able to solve the problem of a communicable disease. These aren’t communicable diseases. These are individual problems and the focus needs to be on the individual.”….