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Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Recommendation: Daniel Okrent LAST CALL: The Rise And Fall Of Prohibition. New York, Scribner, 2010 (468 pages).

This is an excellent, detailed study of the Prohibition era in America. The book’s early focus is on the brilliant political tactics used by the Anti-Saloon League which resulted in the rewriting of the Constitution in 1919 to ban the manufacture, sale and transport of ‘intoxicating liquors’. It provides rich portraits of the key figures involved- both wet and dry.

More fascinating for me were the huge loopholes bored into the 18th Amendment- how effortless it was to get a drink, how various government’s scrimped on law enforcement and how rift corruption became on all levels. With the onset of the Great Depression it is interesting how decades of intense opposition to grog just fell away. Within months of the repeal,  hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the Treasury from the excise tax on alcohol (approximately 30% of total Federal government revenues) and organised crime immediately felt a sledge hammer to its influence.

There is an important lesson to be learnt here by Western democracies but Okrent makes only one passing reference to the decades old 'war' on illicit drugs.

A useful summary of the book’s contents can be found in this NY Times review:

Daniel Okrent is extensively interviewed (68 minutes) by EconTalk’s host Russ Roberts here: