Irving Fisher on Prohibition

Here is one typical passage:

We see from the papers that Prohibition in Norway was given up. Do you know what Prohibition was in Norway? It allowed drinks containing 21 per cent alcohol! The people were so disgusted with the results that they overthrew this “Prohibition.” The heavy drinkers wanted their “personal liberty”; they did not want to stop at 21 per cent. It is easier to stop at one-half of one per cent than at 21. This is the lesson of experience.  The only thing to do is what they did in Kansas – to tighten it up whenever there is an attack on Prohibition. The whole strength of the opposition consists in saying, “It can’t be done; it doesn’t work”; it is not that the object is a bad thing, but that it does not work.  Now the more you tighten it the better it will work, and the more you loosen it up the worse it will work; and therefore the more you will have the very conditions that led to the overthrow of such Prohibition as they had in Norway and Ontario. In Ontario they originally allowed 2.2 per cent beer, then they “loosed up” and allowed 4.4 per cent and now they have loosened up still further.  Experience shows that there is never a stable equilibrium at midway points and never any permanent solution of the liquor problem in a wide-open policy. The only stable equilibrium and permanent solution lies in the utter extermination of the liquor traffic.
The link is here (jstor), with a hint of Albert Hirschman on the rhetoric of reaction of course.  Fisher was perhaps America’s greatest economist and one of the country’s greatest progressives, but on these conclusions I do not agree, preferring to side with what Fischer scornfully refers to as “personal liberty.”


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