David R. Henderson  

Prohibition for Thee but Not for Me

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OK, then I'll turn into a "thee"

But the competitors figure out how to adjust.

Among the provisions of the Raines [John Raines was a New York State politician] Law, as it became known, was a Sunday closing rule aimed at the saloons--a particularly potent measure because Sunday, when workers controlled their own time, had always been the saloonkeeper's best day. Conveniently, the law exempted many of its advocates from its strictures: because the preferred weekend dining and drinking places of the well-to-do were hotel restaurants, Raines crafted the measure to exclude any establishment that served meals and had at least ten bedrooms. As in the south, it was prohibition for the other guy, not for me.

But Raines failed to anticipate the resourcefulness of his law's targets. Instead of being weakened, the measure strengthened the saloon business immeasurably. In Brooklyn alone, where there had been thirteen hotels before the Raines Law, there were soon more than two thousand--virtually all of them saloons whose back rooms or upstairs spaces had been subdivided by the addition of flimsy walls, made accommodating by the provision of threadbare cots, and turned profitable by the new business they immediately attracted: prostitution. The requirement that these "hotels" offer food was solved with the invention of the "Raines sandwich," described by Jacob Riis [one of the 20th century's most annoying busybodies] as "consisting of two pieces of bread with a brick between . . . set out on the counter, in derision of the state law which forbids the serving of drinks without 'meals.'"


This is from the excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Daublin writes:

It's especially funny if you compare it to the minimum wage. For that matter, you can compare it to the mandate for employer-provided health care.

Why are these cases common? Simple. In all three cases, a business must provide a certain minimum service in order to continue operating. Some of them provided the higher minimum, while others drop out of the market.

The intent of the legislation does not matter. The alcohol laws were intended to drop certain businesses out of the market, but some of them responded by supporting the higher minimum requirements. The employer mandate is intended to cause businesses to provide higher compensation, but many businesses are just cutting those jobs entirely.

Tom writes:

Ah but the law gave us the famous Buffalo NY sandwich "Beef on Weck". Now people seek out the places with the beef on weck and no booze!

Jeff writes:

Russ Roberts did an Econtalk podcast with the author a while back that was quite good. Anyone who is, like me, interested in the topic but too lazy to read the book should check it out.

arthur_500 writes:

When we take over the world the first thing we need to find out is who "They" are; then we can be they.


Communism (Progressives, liberals, et al) sounds great on paper as everyone is equally treated. In reality it fails because someone needs to lead. Of course, Stalinism was the name given to the communistic situation wherein the leader had mythical status. (today we have Obama)

None of the proponents of the communist system actually feel it applies to themselves. Obviously I am better due to my intelligence, skill, money, good looks or being left-handed which is why those rules shouldn't apply to me. Stalin kept this in check by killing off even his friends occasionally.

When the Heller decision came out the Mayor of DC, surrounded by bodyguards, said that no one in DC needed a firearm. Then he jumped in his armored car and took off with his security detail.

Give me a law and I will find how to get around it in my favor. Then we make another law because the first one didn't accomplish what I wanted. Eventually we get so many laws no one really knows what they all are and most people ignore a lot of them.

Mark Brophy writes:

Last Call is one of the funniest books ever written. In the quote below, Okrent discusses Grape Juice Diplomacy.

For his part, Bryan, who was loyally mindful of Wilson’s noncombatant stance in the liquor wars, generally soft-pedaled his anti-alcohol position once he joined the administration; in 1914 he even opposed the Hobson Amendment, considering it a futile distraction from more pressing issues. But when Bryan’s official duties ran up against his personal dedication to abstinence, a lifetime of teetotalism could not be suppressed. This became apparent barely 6 weeks into his tenure as Secretary of State. The occasion was Bryan’s first formal diplomatic function, a luncheon in the Presidential Suite of the Willard Hotel honoring James Bryce, who was about to return to London after six years as British ambassador to the United States. The guests, largely other ambassadors and their wives, had just taken their seats at the brightly decorated tables when Bryan rose to speak. His welcome contained a message that would have been no less surprising at a diplomatic event had it been delivered in pig latin: there would be no wine served at the luncheon. The deep ruby liquid in the glasses was grape juice.


Not since he’d strapped the Cross of Gold to his back in 1896 had Bryan given such ripe material to his detractors. His guests were politely accepting; the Russian ambassador, who told his luncheon companion that he “had not tasted water for years,” managed to survive the meal because he had been forewarned by Bryan and “had taken his claret before he came.” But the press shredded Bryan, and some northeastern Republicans began to disparage the Wilson-Bryan foreign policy as “grape juice diplomacy.” Although Bryan did get some support, it was likely to invite derision – for instance, George Bernard Shaw offered his approval of the alcohol-free policy and earnestly suggested that the Bryans introduce vegetarianism to the diplomatic circuit as well.

Sam Haysom writes:

Ah yes the derision that greeted the cross of gold speech. Who among us have suffered the indignity of catapulting ourselves into our party's nomination for president. Not since Lincoln tripped on the mystic chords of memory did a speech have such a resoundingly negative response.

I'll take Prohibitionist any day over people who can't make it through a luncheon without drinking.

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