Alcohol Poisoning

Deborah Blum writes about the Federal program to poison alcohol during prohibition:

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

What Blum fails to mention is that the Federal program to poison alcohol continues to this day.  Drinking-alcohol is heavily taxed but ethanol is heavily subsidized so poisoning or denaturing is used to prevent arbitrage.  Even today some people occasionally go blind or die when they try to drink some form of denatured ethanol but this is rare since safe, drinking alcohol is readily available, even if expensive.

(FYI, Tyler and I mention this unusual method of preventing arbitrage in our chapter on price discrimination in Modern Principles.)


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