Prohibition

From a friend of a friend:

I am presently reading the book, “Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control,” by Philip J. Cook, Professor for Public Policy at Duke University. The book, just published by Princeton University Press, is excellent. It examines in detail the problem of alcohol consumption and abuse in the United States from the colonial era to the present. It is even handed, beautifully and clearly written, even in the presentation of knotty statistical data, meticulously researched, and heftily footnoted (25 pages of references.) It is simply the best overview of alcohol abuse I have ever read.

It punctures some myths and some favorite ideas:

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT PROHIBITION DIDN’T WORK
Prohibition was a failure in the sense that it lost popular support, but it was associated with a sharp reduction in alcohol consumption, alcoholism, incidences of domestic abuse due to alcohol, drunken driving, and especially cirrhosis of the liver (which fell by 50%). These facts are indisputably documented in the book.

DISTILLERS WOULD BE OH SO HAPPY IF EVERYONE “DRANK RESPONSIBLY.”
If that happened, they would go out of business. 80% of alcohol is consumed by 20% of the drinking population. Most alcohol is consumed by alcohol abusers. This 80/20 rule, which holds for other consumer products as well, was discovered in France, and seems to hold for alcohol consumption in all countries.

A LARGE PROPORTION OF THE AVERAGE HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS SPENT ON ALCOHOL
Alcohol sales in the US for the year 2001 amount to 128 billion dollars. That amounts to less than 2% of personal consumption expenditures that year.

EVERYONE DRINKS
We hear this from AA newcomers, and it is completely false. Over 50% of the population in the US consume so little alcohol (less than one drink per month at the most) that they may be called nondrinkers. 35% of the US population did not have even a single drink of alcohol in 2000! Again, this fact is convincingly documented.

ALCOHOL ABUSE IS MOST PREVALENT IN LOWER INCOME AND UNDEREDUCATED FAMILIES
Most alcohol is consumed by families earning $80 000 a year or more. Most is consumed by those with some college education. Black Americans consume much much less alcohol than Hispanics (50% less) who drink less than Caucasians.

GET HIM OR HER INTO THE RIGHT PROGRAM, AND THE DRINKING PROBLEM IS SOLVED
The author discusses the many different treatment modalities for alcohol abusers, and is very bullish on AA. However, for most alcohol abusers, nothing seems to work. If you are sober in AA, you should be effusive in your gratitude.

MOST ALCOHOL PROBLEMS ARE CAUSED BY ALCOHOLICS
This, strangely, does not seem to be true. To quote the author: “The reason is the ‘preventive paradox’ —- while problems are concentrated among long-time heavy drinkers who are in enough trouble that they might be persuaded (or coerced) into seeking treatment, the bulk of alcohol related problems are diffused among the much larger group.”

GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO CONTROL CONSUMPTION WILL INEVITABLY FAIL
The clear conclusion is that even modest government efforts to limit supply can reduce alcohol consumption. Prohibition drastically limited consumption in the lower classes (while not making a dent in the drinking habits of the affluent, who felt entitled.)

What is the author’s personal investment in this issue? Well, he holds his cards close to his vest (as he should, this being a scholarly study) but his dropping occasionally adages like, “Denial is not a river in Egypt,” will cause the cognoscenti to nod.