“After the first few years, alcohol consumption dropped only 30 percent. Soon smugglers were outrunning the Coast Guard ships in advanced speedboats, and courts inundated by violations of Prohibition began to resort to plea bargains to speed ‘enforcement’ of laws so unenforceable that Detroit became known as the City on a Still.
“Prohibition agents cherished $1,800 jobs because of the bribes that came with them. Fiorello La Guardia taunted the government that it would need another ‘150,000 agents to watch the first 150,000.’ Exemptions from Prohibition for church wine and medicinal alcohol became ludicrously large — and lucrative — loopholes.
“After 13 years, Prohibition, by then reduced to an alliance between evangelical Christians and criminals, was washed away by ‘social nullification’ — a tide of alcohol — and by the exertions of wealthy people, such as Pierre S. du Pont, who hoped that the return of liquor taxes would be accompanied by lower income taxes. (They were.)
“Ex-bootleggers found new business opportunities in the southern Nevada desert. And in the Second World War, draft boards exempted brewery workers as essential to the war effort.”
America’s thirteen-year experiment with alcohol prohibition was abandoned more than three-quarters of a century ago, yet its legacy of organized crime remains to this day.
The Washington Post’s George Will reviews Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Another Round of Prohibition, Anyone?