A history of horrors – government and alcohol

Editor’s Note: Nathan and all the folks at The Price of Liberty are tee-totalers: we don’t drink alcohol. But everyone believes that is a PERSONAL choice and is not to be imposed on someone else.

Can we trust anything that is associated with that arch-statist and prince of wokeness, Bill Gates? The study seems to echo others: there is no benefit to younger people drinking grain alcohol in any form, and very minor benefits to older people drinking in EXTREME moderation. None between the ages of 15 and 39! “There is strong evidence to support recommendations on alcohol consumption varying by age and location. Stronger interventions, particularly those tailored towards younger individuals, are needed to reduce the substantial global health loss attributable to alcohol.”

Indeed, some have speculated that this is only a step in the direction of more government control and even reintroducing forms of Prohibition: yet another way in which government power is increased at the expense of our liberties.

We think that is NOT the case. Why?

First, let us look at the data and history.

It is interesting to see how per-capita alcohol consumption seems to have changed very little here in the States over the centuries – and especially recent decades. At the same time, it is staggering: 2.45 gallons per year of the pure quill – on average.

Now, there are many people that will blame the end of Prohibition – almost 90 years ago now – for that high amount of guzzling beer, wine, and various forms of booze. But there is more: government policy overall actually has promoted drinking? The history seems to be pretty clear. Read some details at Priconomics.com, hardly a libertarian website.

A quick summary (keeping in mind that data is scarce and often conflicting – and of poor quality to boot):

1830 – average 3.9 gallons per capita per annum. This was apparently a significant rise in consumption in the 50 years before that, but by 1850 that had declined to just 2.1. (I’ve been unable to find any earlier data.) In the last half of the 19th Century, the Temperance movement pushed very hard and got State after State and locality after locality to ban the stuff. Even so, in the first decade of the 20th Century, drinking was back up to 2.39 gallons per capita per year.

By 1920 when Prohibition was passed (as a constitutional amendment!) people were drinking 1.9 gallons/person/year, but in 1921, consumption dropped to just 0.4 gallons! Prohibition was a success!

Except that it wasn’t. By 1929, sources say drinking was up to 1.3 gallons/person/year. And since many States did not end Prohibition when the Feds did, by 1940, was only about 1.6. It steadily climbed for the next 40 years, peaking in 1980 at 2.67 gallons per capita per year, dropped a little bit (to 2.2 or so) at the turn of the century, and has slowly increased in the last two decades to 2.45 gallons for 2021.

Slowly, over the past 90 years, prohibition was rolled back, State by State, and even county and town by county and town. At the same time, regulations have been expanded: the most well-known being the national prohibition on age 20 and under buying (and drinking) beer, along with a similar ban on tobacco and now on cannabis. Taxes have skyrocketed, as most taxes have. Enforcement – primarily against the retailers of booze – has gotten tougher. Definitions of DUI have been sharpened.

And the effects of drinking are also growing, according to many sources. For example, concerns about MORE people drinking MORE often, and enjoying binge drinking, seem to be supported by data available. According to the NHTSA (a Fed agency), 32 people per day are killed in DUI accidents: 11,600+ in 2021, up 19 percent in just two years.

So, did government have anything to do with this? We here at The Price of Liberty think so. Why?

Governments PROFIT from beverage alcohol sales. According to one website, the FedGov gets $1.80/gallon of beer, $1.07-$3.40/gallon for wine (depending on alcohol content), and $13.50/gallon of “spirits.” Add to that sales taxes (yes, states and localities collect sales taxes ON excise taxes), licensing fees, state excise taxes (as high as $2.50/gallon, in Alaska, for example), and clearly, booze is worth billions to government – directly. As with gasoline, governments profit far more from sales of booze than the actual producers, distributors, and retailers do, individually.

As with cannabis, a significant justification for ending local prohibitions on alcohol has been the increased revenue to government from all these things.

Indirectly? alcohol provided the “reason” for the massive expansion of the federal prison system during Prohibition – but this did NOT slow down after repeal: added to the war on some drugs, the control of alcohol at the federal level justifies additional billions of dollars in other tax money funding the police apparat and prison system – AND the ever-growing “addiction treatment” system of Medicaid, Medicare, and related programs.

Yes, this is despite costs of alcoholism, DUI deaths, and disease and premature deaths due to drinking alcohol. Some of this is paid by “government funds” (taxes stolen by government) but much is paid for by private insurance and other sources.

But, as with Prohibition and the continuing war on some drugs, controlling production, distribution, sales, and consumption of alcohol is a popular excuse for increased government powers and control of the population. From ID checks to DUI checkpoints and more, there are dozens of ways in which alcohol is valuable to government.

Including numbing the population. As Russia has shown for a century-plus, if “religion is the opium of the masses” it is second fiddle to alcohol to dull the senses and make people better tolerate intolerable conditions.

In modern America, booze is GOOD for government – even if not for humans. Government is NOT going to outlaw a cash cow like this. So we don’t worry about a new Prohibition. BUT… expect more regulations, more control, and more taxes and fees!

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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2 Responses to A history of horrors – government and alcohol

  1. Mike-SMO says:

    Maybe enforcement would cut down the body count. If I drink, I don’t drive. The taxes are nasty but I have a weakness for Pinot Noir. I sat with a friend who lost two long-term friends to a 5X convicted drunk who borrowed a car. If you can’t control it, or yourself, you should be quarantined (in prison) for the safety of others. If my taxes paid for that, it wouldn’t be so bad. In my friend’s case, the perp couldn’t start his drunk-locked car so he got one from a family member who knew his history. Quarantine them all! I can write off the taxes. It is an infrequent thing. The body count matters.

    As for individuals, one neighbor died of liver failure, another is on the way. They know the costs. No sympathy. At least neither drives.


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Proper enforcement WOULD make a difference. Perhaps Heinlein had the right idea? Public flogging and/or stocks, with a large explanation sign? And perhaps with the punishment administered by a family member? And no ability to plea bargain or divert? And for the sake of “modern” sensibilities, couple with counseling? Before, during, and after…
      Of course, the liver failure IS a punishment, isn’t it? Just not necessarily timely enough?


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