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261

The Prohibition Era

May 10, 2022
History
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26
minutes

For a 13-year period, the United States of America conducted a "Noble Experiment" where alcohol was made illegal.

It was a bold idea, but it didn't have the results people had hoped for.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Prohibition Era, the thirteen-year period in the early 20th century when alcohol was made illegal in the United States of America.

[00:00:35] It is an amazing period of time, one where a society tried to outlaw a drug that people had been using for thousands of years, with the intention of making modern society into a better place.

[00:00:49] We’ll start by looking at why prohibition was introduced, what actually happened from a practical point of view, how what happened compared to what the authorities thought would happen, when and why prohibition was repealed, how drinking habits have changed since then, and ask ourselves what, if anything, we can take from this.

[00:01:11] Ok then, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:15] As of 2022, there are only 14 countries in the entire world where alcohol is illegal. These tend to be majority-Muslim countries, where alcohol is banned for religious reasons.

[00:01:30] So, for those of us who live in a country where alcohol is legal, which is of course most of the world, a useful exercise might be to imagine if one day all alcohol was banned, and it became a criminal offence to sell alcohol.

[00:01:47] Now, it doesn’t matter whether you personally never drink a drop of alcohol, or you are the sort of person who can frequently be found at your local bar or pub, it’s clear that a ban on alcohol would lead to a very different society.

[00:02:03] It might be better, it might be worse, but you can certainly agree that it would be different.

[00:02:10] In 19th century America, there was a growing movement of people who believed that removing alcohol from society would make life better for everyone, a movement called the “Temperance Movement”.

[00:02:24] This movement was spearheaded, it was led by women, women who had often seen the devastating effects that drinking alcohol had on their husbands and male family members. 

[00:02:37] From domestic abuse to losing their jobs, getting in accidents or fights, there was a growing movement of women who were simply fed up with their husbands’ drinking habits, and started putting pressure on the government to do something about it.

[00:02:54] Especially in the early 19th century, the average American man drank like a fish, he consumed a lot of alcohol. 

[00:03:03] Alcohol was deeply ingrained in society, and heavy drinking was the expectation for male behaviour.

[00:03:12] There’s a great section in a book called “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition”, by Daniel Okrent, where he describes a dinner hosted by the governor of New York for the French Ambassador. 

[00:03:26] During one evening for 120 guests, they drank ‘135 bottles of madeira, 36 bottles of port, 60 bottles of English beer and 30 large cups of rum punch.’

[00:03:41] A lot, right?

[00:03:43] By the 1830s alcohol consumption per capita, per person, reached a whopping 31 litres of pure alcohol every year, which is about 80 bottles of whisky, 260 bottles of wine, or 800 beers every single year. 

[00:04:02] And that’s on average, so let’s not forget that it would be men, not women, that were doing most of the drinking, and, like today, some people would be drinking significantly more than this already very high average.

[00:04:19] Americans were drinking a lot, and as no doubt you don’t need me to say, drinking this amount of alcohol isn’t generally a good idea for leading a healthy and productive life. The women’s complaints were certainly justified.

[00:04:35] One woman in particular took things into her own hands

[00:04:39] Her name was Carrie Nation, and she would later be given the nickname of “Hatchet Granny”.

[00:04:46] A hatchet is a kind of axe, and the reason she was given this nickname was because she would go from bar to bar with this axe and smash everything up, smash up bottles, bars, every sign of alcohol she found.

[00:05:03] She would recite Bible verses as she did this, but her anti-alcohol views were not only religious, they were also personal; she lost her first husband to alcohol-related diseases, a mere one and a half years after they were married, leaving her with no support and a 6-month-old child. 

[00:05:26] But this anti-alcohol sentiment wasn’t just a fringe belief, something felt by women with alcoholic and abusive husbands.

[00:05:36] Moving towards the end of the 19th century, alcohol was increasingly believed, and presented, to be responsible for a large proportion of society’s ills, from health problems to crime.

[00:05:50] If you were a business or factory owner, the message was that alcohol was making your employees less productive. If they didn’t drink so much, they would be able to work more efficiently and you would be able to make more money.

[00:06:04] If you were a factory worker, the message was that alcohol was a tool used by the ruling class to subjugate you, it was a capitalist ploy to stop you from rising up against the ruling class. Das Kapital had been published in 1867, its first English-language translation came out in 1887, and there was a small but growing workers-rights movement.

[00:06:33] From a public safety point of view, the toll that alcohol was taking was clear to see. Bar fights, accidents caused by drunkenness, domestic abuse, and all of the sorts of problems exacerbated by alcohol that still exist today.

[00:06:50] Similarly, from a public health point of view, the health dangers of heavy drinking were similar 150 years ago to what they are today. Drinking heavily causes all sorts of health problems and often takes alcoholics to an early grave.

[00:07:06] Now, picture this, a country barely 100 years old with a growing alcohol problem. A country that was founded as an escape from the old, European ideals, and a country where anything was considered to be possible.

[00:07:22] A country that prided itself on freedom, where literally the first amendment to its constitution guarantees certain freedoms still not given to citizens of every country.

[00:07:34] So, what would happen if this country, in a bold attempt to reshape its trajectory, removed the freedom from its citizens to drink alcohol?

[00:07:46] It would be a radical act, but America was a radical country. 

[00:07:51] Its decision to do so was expedited, or sped up, by the First World War in Europe.

[00:07:58] Firstly, as beer, or lager, was seen as a German drink, it became unpatriotic to drink the national drink of the country that your allies, and later you, were fighting against.

[00:08:12] You might have thought this would have meant that people switched to stronger alcohols, wines and spirits, but in late 1918, in fact after the Armistice, after the end of the war, the US Congress passed an act banning the sale of alcoholic beverages stronger than 1.28%. 

[00:08:34] The objective of this was to conserve grain for food, rather than alcohol.

[00:08:40] In case you need a point of comparison, beer is typically between 4 and 5%, wine is more like 11 to 13% and spirits are around 40%.

[00:08:54] So, essentially only very, very weak alcohol was allowed to be sold.

[00:09:00] This wartime act was followed shortly after, on January 16th of 1919, by a vote to ban the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol, but importantly it did not make drinking alcohol illegal. 

[00:09:17] The importance of this point will become clear soon enough.

[00:09:22] Another important point to note is the definition of alcohol. 

[00:09:27] To many people, even to those advocating for a ban on alcohol, it came as a surprise that the act included all alcohol, not only spirits, as many had previously assumed

[00:09:41] Many people had thought that beer and wine would still be allowed.

[00:09:46] This was an extreme move, not just a ban on hard liquor, but a ban on all liquor for public consumption.

[00:09:55] The country had chosen to go “dry”, but there was another important point to note: the act wouldn’t come into effect until a year later, giving people plenty of time to get ready and plenty of time to figure out ways to get around the law. 

[00:10:14] It turned out that there would be plenty of loopholes, plenty of ways to get around the law.

[00:10:21] So it was that on January 17th of 1920, Prohibition, otherwise known as the Volstead Act, went into effect.

[00:10:32] The manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol over 0.5% was banned

[00:10:39] Saloons, old-fashioned bars, had to close their doors forever. Distilleries and breweries were closed. Imports of beer, wine and spirits were banned.

[00:10:51] But did the drinking stop? 

[00:10:53] Well, not completely.

[00:10:55] The nature of drinking, and the alcohol industry just changed, and the fact that alcohol was now illegal opened the doors for small and big-time criminals to emerge.

[00:11:09] On a small-time level, as the production of alcohol was now illegal, people who brewed their own beer at home purely for personal consumption were suddenly criminalised, they were outlaws.

[00:11:24] On a more organised level, Prohibition created an environment where the production, transportation and sale of alcohol suddenly became an incredibly profitable activity. 

[00:11:36] The 1920s gave rise to criminals such as Al Capone, whose primary source of income was the bootlegged alcohol trade.

[00:11:46] The loopholes and problems with the Prohibition legislation provided a huge incentive to turn to crime, and turned many people from honest, law-abiding citizens into hardened criminals.

[00:12:02] One particular example of this was a criminal defence lawyer named George Remus. When he saw that his clients had become incredibly wealthy by selling alcohol, he wanted a piece of the action.

[00:12:17] Using his legal background, he studied the Volstead Act, the Prohibition Act, and realised not only that pharmacies were able to sell alcohol for medical purposes, but that there were large amounts of spirits, of hard liquor, sitting in government distilleries

[00:12:37] Remus just needed to figure out a way of getting his hands on this alcohol and selling it to people who wanted to use it for, well let’s just say not technically medical purposes.

[00:12:51] Remus bought up a series of distilleries, but he couldn’t just take the alcohol and sell it. He needed to figure out a way of getting it out legally, or at least make it look like he was still obeying the law.

[00:13:05] So, he also bought pharmacies and transportation companies, and would arrange for his pharmacies to buy alcohol from his distilleries, and the alcohol would be transported by his transportation companies.

[00:13:20] Then, when the alcohol was in transit, when it was being transported, the trucks would be held up, they would be mysteriously robbed, and all the alcohol would disappear.

[00:13:32] The robbers were, of course, Remus’s own men.

[00:13:37] At one point Remus controlled 30% of all of the illegal alcohol in the United States, and over the course of just three years it’s thought that he made $40 million dollars, which is over half a billion dollars in today’s money. 

[00:13:54] People were clearly still drinking alcohol. As you might expect, finding any kind of reliable statistics on alcohol consumption from this period is difficult, but one study suggested that consumption dropped to 30% of its pre-Prohibition levels immediately after prohibition was put into place, but shortly after it returned to between 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels.

[00:14:24] The public saloons might have closed, but they were replaced by things called “speakeasies”, illegal bars where you might have to knock on the door and provide a code word to get in, then you’d be let in and the alcohol would be free flowing.

[00:14:43] Remember, there had been a year’s time between the vote for Prohibition and the act actually coming into effect. This year provided plenty of time for bars and clubs to prepare, and many stockpiled alcohol in advance, they bought huge amounts of alcohol that would last them for several years. 

[00:15:05] The fact that these bars were unlicensed meant that anyone could start one because, well, there were no licences. All you needed to have was a room and someone to sell you alcohol, and as you’ll have gathered by now, there was no shortage of people willing to sell you alcohol.

[00:15:23] And of course, given that they were illegal, it’s hard to get an accurate estimate for the number of these speakeasy bars across the country, but one estimate has there being anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy bars in New York City alone.

[00:15:44] As a point of comparison, now, when alcohol is legal, there are around 25,000 bars in New York city, so even at the lower end of that estimate from Prohibition, there were more places serving alcohol when it was illegal than now, when it is legal.

[00:16:04] One major reason that alcohol continued to be so free flowing was that there were comparatively so few law enforcement officers dedicated to enforcing the Volstead Act, to enforcing Prohibition. 

[00:16:20] At the start, there were only 1,500 police officers assigned to enforcing the Prohibition law - a tiny amount compared to how many people continued to drink alcohol.

[00:16:33] Sure, there were prosecutions for alcohol-related offences, and people were sent to prison. 

[00:16:39] But these cases ended up clogging up, filling up the court system and the jails, filling up the justice system with people who had become criminals simply through doing something that was perfectly legal just a few years before, and to many people wasn’t considered to be a serious crime at all.

[00:17:00] It’s telling, it's revealing, that two of the biggest bootlegging criminals in the entire country, Al Capone and George Remus, never served any prison time for alcohol-related crime. In Capone’s case, he was sent to prison for tax evasion, and in Remus case he murdered his wife in broad daylight.

[00:17:23] Towards the end of the 1920s support for Prohibition had started to dwindle, it had reduced drastically. 

[00:17:32] The promised new society of good health, low crime, reduced poverty and better economic prospects simply hadn’t emerged. And people were clearly still drinking.

[00:17:45] In fact, on an economic level, Prohibition is believed to have made the situation worse. 

[00:17:52] Tax revenues from alcohol previously made up almost 75% of state taxes in places like New York, and given that alcohol was illegal, this went to 0. 

[00:18:05] As a result, it's thought that Prohibition cost the federal government around $11 billion in lost taxes.

[00:18:14] And of course, anyone who previously worked in the sizable alcohol industry was out of a job.

[00:18:21] Then in 1929, the Great Depression hit. Millions were put out of work and tax revenues dipped even more.

[00:18:31] Still, Herbert Hoover, the sitting US president, resisted the suggestions of colleagues and aides to repeal Prohibition, to generate some much needed tax revenue, and give people a distraction from the realities of their grim economic situation.

[00:18:50] When the opportunity arose, the then governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or FDR as he was known, decided to run for the US presidency against Hoover on a platform to repeal Prohibition, to legalise alcohol. 

[00:19:08] And in the 1933 election Roosevelt won by a landslide, winning 42 of the 48 states, and 89% of the electoral vote.

[00:19:21] Hoover became the first US president to not win reelection, and by voting in FDR the country had delivered a clear message: we’ve had enough of Prohibition. 

[00:19:34] In one of his first acts after becoming president, Roosevelt overturned Prohibition, and on December 5th of 1933 the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol became legalised on a federal level.

[00:19:50] This 13-year period would become known as The Noble Experiment, a time when an entire country tried to see what would happen if alcohol was made illegal.

[00:20:02] So, like after any experiment, let’s take a look at the hypothesis and the results.

[00:20:09] The hypothesis of this Noble Experiment was that it would have an all-round positive effect on society.

[00:20:16] It was believed that it would lead to a boom in sales of everything from household goods to clothing, as people had more disposable income now they were not spending money on booze, on alcohol. 

[00:20:30] Fruit juice manufacturers, cinema owners, all sorts of business owners anticipated a bumper payday as people switched from alcohol to new forms of entertainment.

[00:20:42] There would be better workers rights, a more moral society, productivity would increase, accidents would decrease, people would be healthier and happier.

[00:20:53] All round, life would be better for everyone.

[00:20:57] An ambitious hypothesis, but unfortunately very little of it happened.

[00:21:03] Anyone who was employed in the alcohol industry was suddenly out of a job, the tax revenues from alcohol evaporated, and people continued to drink alcohol, although now it was the criminal underworld that profited, not the government.

[00:21:20] On a health level, there was some positive news, with one study suggesting that the occurrence of liver cirrhosis, which is a useful proxy for alcoholism, declined by 10-20%. 

[00:21:35] Good news, perhaps, but this reduction was replaced with injuries and deaths from illegally prepared alcohol, so-called “moonshine”.

[00:21:45] What’s more, the deaths and injuries from alcohol-related criminal activity skyrocketed, with violent crime in some states increasing anywhere between 30 and 60%.

[00:21:58] People might not be dying so frequently from alcohol-related illnesses, but they were dying from the bootlegger’s dodgy alcohol and their bullets.

[00:22:08] And on a cultural level related to drinking, the United States didn’t simply return to how it was before Prohibition. Prohibition meant 13 years of a different type of bar, the speakeasy, a place very different from the traditionally macho saloon bar dominated by heavy drinking of spirits.

[00:22:31] Speakeasies were places with music and dancing, places were men and women, and people from different ethnicities and backgrounds could all mix. 

[00:22:42] After the repeal of Prohibition, it became accepted for women to drink alcohol at bars, something that simply wasn’t accepted in pre-Prohibition society.

[00:22:53] In terms of how much people actually drank, after Prohibition was repealed alcohol consumption took a long time to regain its pre-Prohibition levels. 

[00:23:04] Immediately after, the country was still in the middle of the greatest economic downturn in its short history, then it went straight into World War Two, and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that alcohol consumption surpassed, it overtook what it was immediately before Prohibition.

[00:23:25] Purely in terms of changing the country’s attitudes towards alcohol and the amount that people drink, Prohibition itself appears to have done very little to alter the amount that Americans drink.

[00:23:38] And when people look back at Prohibition now, it’s often considered a failure.

[00:23:45] If you take it at face value, and look at what it set out to achieve and what actually happened, yes, it failed to achieve this utopian society which its proponents had hoped for.

[00:23:59] But perhaps it taught the country another, more valuable lesson. 

[00:24:04] That society is a complicated beast, and that it might be simple and convenient to point at one thing in particular, whether that’s alcohol, drugs, or whichever political party is in charge at the moment in time, and identify that thing as the root of all society’s problems.

[00:24:25] Yet as this 13-year Noble Experiment teaches its students, no matter what hypotheses and predictions you might have, good intentions often lead to unexpected outcomes, and there is rarely such a thing as one solution to all society’s problems.

[00:24:45] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Prohibition Era.

[00:24:50] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:24:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:24:58] What do you think would happen in your country if Prohibition was proposed tomorrow?

[00:25:04] How do you think the effects would be different, or would they be exactly the same?

[00:25:09] And can you see a world where Prohibition, where the abolition of alcohol, is put into place again?

[00:25:17] I would love to know your thoughts, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:21] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:30] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:35] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Prohibition Era, the thirteen-year period in the early 20th century when alcohol was made illegal in the United States of America.

[00:00:35] It is an amazing period of time, one where a society tried to outlaw a drug that people had been using for thousands of years, with the intention of making modern society into a better place.

[00:00:49] We’ll start by looking at why prohibition was introduced, what actually happened from a practical point of view, how what happened compared to what the authorities thought would happen, when and why prohibition was repealed, how drinking habits have changed since then, and ask ourselves what, if anything, we can take from this.

[00:01:11] Ok then, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:15] As of 2022, there are only 14 countries in the entire world where alcohol is illegal. These tend to be majority-Muslim countries, where alcohol is banned for religious reasons.

[00:01:30] So, for those of us who live in a country where alcohol is legal, which is of course most of the world, a useful exercise might be to imagine if one day all alcohol was banned, and it became a criminal offence to sell alcohol.

[00:01:47] Now, it doesn’t matter whether you personally never drink a drop of alcohol, or you are the sort of person who can frequently be found at your local bar or pub, it’s clear that a ban on alcohol would lead to a very different society.

[00:02:03] It might be better, it might be worse, but you can certainly agree that it would be different.

[00:02:10] In 19th century America, there was a growing movement of people who believed that removing alcohol from society would make life better for everyone, a movement called the “Temperance Movement”.

[00:02:24] This movement was spearheaded, it was led by women, women who had often seen the devastating effects that drinking alcohol had on their husbands and male family members. 

[00:02:37] From domestic abuse to losing their jobs, getting in accidents or fights, there was a growing movement of women who were simply fed up with their husbands’ drinking habits, and started putting pressure on the government to do something about it.

[00:02:54] Especially in the early 19th century, the average American man drank like a fish, he consumed a lot of alcohol. 

[00:03:03] Alcohol was deeply ingrained in society, and heavy drinking was the expectation for male behaviour.

[00:03:12] There’s a great section in a book called “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition”, by Daniel Okrent, where he describes a dinner hosted by the governor of New York for the French Ambassador. 

[00:03:26] During one evening for 120 guests, they drank ‘135 bottles of madeira, 36 bottles of port, 60 bottles of English beer and 30 large cups of rum punch.’

[00:03:41] A lot, right?

[00:03:43] By the 1830s alcohol consumption per capita, per person, reached a whopping 31 litres of pure alcohol every year, which is about 80 bottles of whisky, 260 bottles of wine, or 800 beers every single year. 

[00:04:02] And that’s on average, so let’s not forget that it would be men, not women, that were doing most of the drinking, and, like today, some people would be drinking significantly more than this already very high average.

[00:04:19] Americans were drinking a lot, and as no doubt you don’t need me to say, drinking this amount of alcohol isn’t generally a good idea for leading a healthy and productive life. The women’s complaints were certainly justified.

[00:04:35] One woman in particular took things into her own hands

[00:04:39] Her name was Carrie Nation, and she would later be given the nickname of “Hatchet Granny”.

[00:04:46] A hatchet is a kind of axe, and the reason she was given this nickname was because she would go from bar to bar with this axe and smash everything up, smash up bottles, bars, every sign of alcohol she found.

[00:05:03] She would recite Bible verses as she did this, but her anti-alcohol views were not only religious, they were also personal; she lost her first husband to alcohol-related diseases, a mere one and a half years after they were married, leaving her with no support and a 6-month-old child. 

[00:05:26] But this anti-alcohol sentiment wasn’t just a fringe belief, something felt by women with alcoholic and abusive husbands.

[00:05:36] Moving towards the end of the 19th century, alcohol was increasingly believed, and presented, to be responsible for a large proportion of society’s ills, from health problems to crime.

[00:05:50] If you were a business or factory owner, the message was that alcohol was making your employees less productive. If they didn’t drink so much, they would be able to work more efficiently and you would be able to make more money.

[00:06:04] If you were a factory worker, the message was that alcohol was a tool used by the ruling class to subjugate you, it was a capitalist ploy to stop you from rising up against the ruling class. Das Kapital had been published in 1867, its first English-language translation came out in 1887, and there was a small but growing workers-rights movement.

[00:06:33] From a public safety point of view, the toll that alcohol was taking was clear to see. Bar fights, accidents caused by drunkenness, domestic abuse, and all of the sorts of problems exacerbated by alcohol that still exist today.

[00:06:50] Similarly, from a public health point of view, the health dangers of heavy drinking were similar 150 years ago to what they are today. Drinking heavily causes all sorts of health problems and often takes alcoholics to an early grave.

[00:07:06] Now, picture this, a country barely 100 years old with a growing alcohol problem. A country that was founded as an escape from the old, European ideals, and a country where anything was considered to be possible.

[00:07:22] A country that prided itself on freedom, where literally the first amendment to its constitution guarantees certain freedoms still not given to citizens of every country.

[00:07:34] So, what would happen if this country, in a bold attempt to reshape its trajectory, removed the freedom from its citizens to drink alcohol?

[00:07:46] It would be a radical act, but America was a radical country. 

[00:07:51] Its decision to do so was expedited, or sped up, by the First World War in Europe.

[00:07:58] Firstly, as beer, or lager, was seen as a German drink, it became unpatriotic to drink the national drink of the country that your allies, and later you, were fighting against.

[00:08:12] You might have thought this would have meant that people switched to stronger alcohols, wines and spirits, but in late 1918, in fact after the Armistice, after the end of the war, the US Congress passed an act banning the sale of alcoholic beverages stronger than 1.28%. 

[00:08:34] The objective of this was to conserve grain for food, rather than alcohol.

[00:08:40] In case you need a point of comparison, beer is typically between 4 and 5%, wine is more like 11 to 13% and spirits are around 40%.

[00:08:54] So, essentially only very, very weak alcohol was allowed to be sold.

[00:09:00] This wartime act was followed shortly after, on January 16th of 1919, by a vote to ban the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol, but importantly it did not make drinking alcohol illegal. 

[00:09:17] The importance of this point will become clear soon enough.

[00:09:22] Another important point to note is the definition of alcohol. 

[00:09:27] To many people, even to those advocating for a ban on alcohol, it came as a surprise that the act included all alcohol, not only spirits, as many had previously assumed

[00:09:41] Many people had thought that beer and wine would still be allowed.

[00:09:46] This was an extreme move, not just a ban on hard liquor, but a ban on all liquor for public consumption.

[00:09:55] The country had chosen to go “dry”, but there was another important point to note: the act wouldn’t come into effect until a year later, giving people plenty of time to get ready and plenty of time to figure out ways to get around the law. 

[00:10:14] It turned out that there would be plenty of loopholes, plenty of ways to get around the law.

[00:10:21] So it was that on January 17th of 1920, Prohibition, otherwise known as the Volstead Act, went into effect.

[00:10:32] The manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol over 0.5% was banned

[00:10:39] Saloons, old-fashioned bars, had to close their doors forever. Distilleries and breweries were closed. Imports of beer, wine and spirits were banned.

[00:10:51] But did the drinking stop? 

[00:10:53] Well, not completely.

[00:10:55] The nature of drinking, and the alcohol industry just changed, and the fact that alcohol was now illegal opened the doors for small and big-time criminals to emerge.

[00:11:09] On a small-time level, as the production of alcohol was now illegal, people who brewed their own beer at home purely for personal consumption were suddenly criminalised, they were outlaws.

[00:11:24] On a more organised level, Prohibition created an environment where the production, transportation and sale of alcohol suddenly became an incredibly profitable activity. 

[00:11:36] The 1920s gave rise to criminals such as Al Capone, whose primary source of income was the bootlegged alcohol trade.

[00:11:46] The loopholes and problems with the Prohibition legislation provided a huge incentive to turn to crime, and turned many people from honest, law-abiding citizens into hardened criminals.

[00:12:02] One particular example of this was a criminal defence lawyer named George Remus. When he saw that his clients had become incredibly wealthy by selling alcohol, he wanted a piece of the action.

[00:12:17] Using his legal background, he studied the Volstead Act, the Prohibition Act, and realised not only that pharmacies were able to sell alcohol for medical purposes, but that there were large amounts of spirits, of hard liquor, sitting in government distilleries

[00:12:37] Remus just needed to figure out a way of getting his hands on this alcohol and selling it to people who wanted to use it for, well let’s just say not technically medical purposes.

[00:12:51] Remus bought up a series of distilleries, but he couldn’t just take the alcohol and sell it. He needed to figure out a way of getting it out legally, or at least make it look like he was still obeying the law.

[00:13:05] So, he also bought pharmacies and transportation companies, and would arrange for his pharmacies to buy alcohol from his distilleries, and the alcohol would be transported by his transportation companies.

[00:13:20] Then, when the alcohol was in transit, when it was being transported, the trucks would be held up, they would be mysteriously robbed, and all the alcohol would disappear.

[00:13:32] The robbers were, of course, Remus’s own men.

[00:13:37] At one point Remus controlled 30% of all of the illegal alcohol in the United States, and over the course of just three years it’s thought that he made $40 million dollars, which is over half a billion dollars in today’s money. 

[00:13:54] People were clearly still drinking alcohol. As you might expect, finding any kind of reliable statistics on alcohol consumption from this period is difficult, but one study suggested that consumption dropped to 30% of its pre-Prohibition levels immediately after prohibition was put into place, but shortly after it returned to between 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels.

[00:14:24] The public saloons might have closed, but they were replaced by things called “speakeasies”, illegal bars where you might have to knock on the door and provide a code word to get in, then you’d be let in and the alcohol would be free flowing.

[00:14:43] Remember, there had been a year’s time between the vote for Prohibition and the act actually coming into effect. This year provided plenty of time for bars and clubs to prepare, and many stockpiled alcohol in advance, they bought huge amounts of alcohol that would last them for several years. 

[00:15:05] The fact that these bars were unlicensed meant that anyone could start one because, well, there were no licences. All you needed to have was a room and someone to sell you alcohol, and as you’ll have gathered by now, there was no shortage of people willing to sell you alcohol.

[00:15:23] And of course, given that they were illegal, it’s hard to get an accurate estimate for the number of these speakeasy bars across the country, but one estimate has there being anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy bars in New York City alone.

[00:15:44] As a point of comparison, now, when alcohol is legal, there are around 25,000 bars in New York city, so even at the lower end of that estimate from Prohibition, there were more places serving alcohol when it was illegal than now, when it is legal.

[00:16:04] One major reason that alcohol continued to be so free flowing was that there were comparatively so few law enforcement officers dedicated to enforcing the Volstead Act, to enforcing Prohibition. 

[00:16:20] At the start, there were only 1,500 police officers assigned to enforcing the Prohibition law - a tiny amount compared to how many people continued to drink alcohol.

[00:16:33] Sure, there were prosecutions for alcohol-related offences, and people were sent to prison. 

[00:16:39] But these cases ended up clogging up, filling up the court system and the jails, filling up the justice system with people who had become criminals simply through doing something that was perfectly legal just a few years before, and to many people wasn’t considered to be a serious crime at all.

[00:17:00] It’s telling, it's revealing, that two of the biggest bootlegging criminals in the entire country, Al Capone and George Remus, never served any prison time for alcohol-related crime. In Capone’s case, he was sent to prison for tax evasion, and in Remus case he murdered his wife in broad daylight.

[00:17:23] Towards the end of the 1920s support for Prohibition had started to dwindle, it had reduced drastically. 

[00:17:32] The promised new society of good health, low crime, reduced poverty and better economic prospects simply hadn’t emerged. And people were clearly still drinking.

[00:17:45] In fact, on an economic level, Prohibition is believed to have made the situation worse. 

[00:17:52] Tax revenues from alcohol previously made up almost 75% of state taxes in places like New York, and given that alcohol was illegal, this went to 0. 

[00:18:05] As a result, it's thought that Prohibition cost the federal government around $11 billion in lost taxes.

[00:18:14] And of course, anyone who previously worked in the sizable alcohol industry was out of a job.

[00:18:21] Then in 1929, the Great Depression hit. Millions were put out of work and tax revenues dipped even more.

[00:18:31] Still, Herbert Hoover, the sitting US president, resisted the suggestions of colleagues and aides to repeal Prohibition, to generate some much needed tax revenue, and give people a distraction from the realities of their grim economic situation.

[00:18:50] When the opportunity arose, the then governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or FDR as he was known, decided to run for the US presidency against Hoover on a platform to repeal Prohibition, to legalise alcohol. 

[00:19:08] And in the 1933 election Roosevelt won by a landslide, winning 42 of the 48 states, and 89% of the electoral vote.

[00:19:21] Hoover became the first US president to not win reelection, and by voting in FDR the country had delivered a clear message: we’ve had enough of Prohibition. 

[00:19:34] In one of his first acts after becoming president, Roosevelt overturned Prohibition, and on December 5th of 1933 the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol became legalised on a federal level.

[00:19:50] This 13-year period would become known as The Noble Experiment, a time when an entire country tried to see what would happen if alcohol was made illegal.

[00:20:02] So, like after any experiment, let’s take a look at the hypothesis and the results.

[00:20:09] The hypothesis of this Noble Experiment was that it would have an all-round positive effect on society.

[00:20:16] It was believed that it would lead to a boom in sales of everything from household goods to clothing, as people had more disposable income now they were not spending money on booze, on alcohol. 

[00:20:30] Fruit juice manufacturers, cinema owners, all sorts of business owners anticipated a bumper payday as people switched from alcohol to new forms of entertainment.

[00:20:42] There would be better workers rights, a more moral society, productivity would increase, accidents would decrease, people would be healthier and happier.

[00:20:53] All round, life would be better for everyone.

[00:20:57] An ambitious hypothesis, but unfortunately very little of it happened.

[00:21:03] Anyone who was employed in the alcohol industry was suddenly out of a job, the tax revenues from alcohol evaporated, and people continued to drink alcohol, although now it was the criminal underworld that profited, not the government.

[00:21:20] On a health level, there was some positive news, with one study suggesting that the occurrence of liver cirrhosis, which is a useful proxy for alcoholism, declined by 10-20%. 

[00:21:35] Good news, perhaps, but this reduction was replaced with injuries and deaths from illegally prepared alcohol, so-called “moonshine”.

[00:21:45] What’s more, the deaths and injuries from alcohol-related criminal activity skyrocketed, with violent crime in some states increasing anywhere between 30 and 60%.

[00:21:58] People might not be dying so frequently from alcohol-related illnesses, but they were dying from the bootlegger’s dodgy alcohol and their bullets.

[00:22:08] And on a cultural level related to drinking, the United States didn’t simply return to how it was before Prohibition. Prohibition meant 13 years of a different type of bar, the speakeasy, a place very different from the traditionally macho saloon bar dominated by heavy drinking of spirits.

[00:22:31] Speakeasies were places with music and dancing, places were men and women, and people from different ethnicities and backgrounds could all mix. 

[00:22:42] After the repeal of Prohibition, it became accepted for women to drink alcohol at bars, something that simply wasn’t accepted in pre-Prohibition society.

[00:22:53] In terms of how much people actually drank, after Prohibition was repealed alcohol consumption took a long time to regain its pre-Prohibition levels. 

[00:23:04] Immediately after, the country was still in the middle of the greatest economic downturn in its short history, then it went straight into World War Two, and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that alcohol consumption surpassed, it overtook what it was immediately before Prohibition.

[00:23:25] Purely in terms of changing the country’s attitudes towards alcohol and the amount that people drink, Prohibition itself appears to have done very little to alter the amount that Americans drink.

[00:23:38] And when people look back at Prohibition now, it’s often considered a failure.

[00:23:45] If you take it at face value, and look at what it set out to achieve and what actually happened, yes, it failed to achieve this utopian society which its proponents had hoped for.

[00:23:59] But perhaps it taught the country another, more valuable lesson. 

[00:24:04] That society is a complicated beast, and that it might be simple and convenient to point at one thing in particular, whether that’s alcohol, drugs, or whichever political party is in charge at the moment in time, and identify that thing as the root of all society’s problems.

[00:24:25] Yet as this 13-year Noble Experiment teaches its students, no matter what hypotheses and predictions you might have, good intentions often lead to unexpected outcomes, and there is rarely such a thing as one solution to all society’s problems.

[00:24:45] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Prohibition Era.

[00:24:50] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:24:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:24:58] What do you think would happen in your country if Prohibition was proposed tomorrow?

[00:25:04] How do you think the effects would be different, or would they be exactly the same?

[00:25:09] And can you see a world where Prohibition, where the abolition of alcohol, is put into place again?

[00:25:17] I would love to know your thoughts, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:21] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:30] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:35] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Prohibition Era, the thirteen-year period in the early 20th century when alcohol was made illegal in the United States of America.

[00:00:35] It is an amazing period of time, one where a society tried to outlaw a drug that people had been using for thousands of years, with the intention of making modern society into a better place.

[00:00:49] We’ll start by looking at why prohibition was introduced, what actually happened from a practical point of view, how what happened compared to what the authorities thought would happen, when and why prohibition was repealed, how drinking habits have changed since then, and ask ourselves what, if anything, we can take from this.

[00:01:11] Ok then, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:15] As of 2022, there are only 14 countries in the entire world where alcohol is illegal. These tend to be majority-Muslim countries, where alcohol is banned for religious reasons.

[00:01:30] So, for those of us who live in a country where alcohol is legal, which is of course most of the world, a useful exercise might be to imagine if one day all alcohol was banned, and it became a criminal offence to sell alcohol.

[00:01:47] Now, it doesn’t matter whether you personally never drink a drop of alcohol, or you are the sort of person who can frequently be found at your local bar or pub, it’s clear that a ban on alcohol would lead to a very different society.

[00:02:03] It might be better, it might be worse, but you can certainly agree that it would be different.

[00:02:10] In 19th century America, there was a growing movement of people who believed that removing alcohol from society would make life better for everyone, a movement called the “Temperance Movement”.

[00:02:24] This movement was spearheaded, it was led by women, women who had often seen the devastating effects that drinking alcohol had on their husbands and male family members. 

[00:02:37] From domestic abuse to losing their jobs, getting in accidents or fights, there was a growing movement of women who were simply fed up with their husbands’ drinking habits, and started putting pressure on the government to do something about it.

[00:02:54] Especially in the early 19th century, the average American man drank like a fish, he consumed a lot of alcohol. 

[00:03:03] Alcohol was deeply ingrained in society, and heavy drinking was the expectation for male behaviour.

[00:03:12] There’s a great section in a book called “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition”, by Daniel Okrent, where he describes a dinner hosted by the governor of New York for the French Ambassador. 

[00:03:26] During one evening for 120 guests, they drank ‘135 bottles of madeira, 36 bottles of port, 60 bottles of English beer and 30 large cups of rum punch.’

[00:03:41] A lot, right?

[00:03:43] By the 1830s alcohol consumption per capita, per person, reached a whopping 31 litres of pure alcohol every year, which is about 80 bottles of whisky, 260 bottles of wine, or 800 beers every single year. 

[00:04:02] And that’s on average, so let’s not forget that it would be men, not women, that were doing most of the drinking, and, like today, some people would be drinking significantly more than this already very high average.

[00:04:19] Americans were drinking a lot, and as no doubt you don’t need me to say, drinking this amount of alcohol isn’t generally a good idea for leading a healthy and productive life. The women’s complaints were certainly justified.

[00:04:35] One woman in particular took things into her own hands

[00:04:39] Her name was Carrie Nation, and she would later be given the nickname of “Hatchet Granny”.

[00:04:46] A hatchet is a kind of axe, and the reason she was given this nickname was because she would go from bar to bar with this axe and smash everything up, smash up bottles, bars, every sign of alcohol she found.

[00:05:03] She would recite Bible verses as she did this, but her anti-alcohol views were not only religious, they were also personal; she lost her first husband to alcohol-related diseases, a mere one and a half years after they were married, leaving her with no support and a 6-month-old child. 

[00:05:26] But this anti-alcohol sentiment wasn’t just a fringe belief, something felt by women with alcoholic and abusive husbands.

[00:05:36] Moving towards the end of the 19th century, alcohol was increasingly believed, and presented, to be responsible for a large proportion of society’s ills, from health problems to crime.

[00:05:50] If you were a business or factory owner, the message was that alcohol was making your employees less productive. If they didn’t drink so much, they would be able to work more efficiently and you would be able to make more money.

[00:06:04] If you were a factory worker, the message was that alcohol was a tool used by the ruling class to subjugate you, it was a capitalist ploy to stop you from rising up against the ruling class. Das Kapital had been published in 1867, its first English-language translation came out in 1887, and there was a small but growing workers-rights movement.

[00:06:33] From a public safety point of view, the toll that alcohol was taking was clear to see. Bar fights, accidents caused by drunkenness, domestic abuse, and all of the sorts of problems exacerbated by alcohol that still exist today.

[00:06:50] Similarly, from a public health point of view, the health dangers of heavy drinking were similar 150 years ago to what they are today. Drinking heavily causes all sorts of health problems and often takes alcoholics to an early grave.

[00:07:06] Now, picture this, a country barely 100 years old with a growing alcohol problem. A country that was founded as an escape from the old, European ideals, and a country where anything was considered to be possible.

[00:07:22] A country that prided itself on freedom, where literally the first amendment to its constitution guarantees certain freedoms still not given to citizens of every country.

[00:07:34] So, what would happen if this country, in a bold attempt to reshape its trajectory, removed the freedom from its citizens to drink alcohol?

[00:07:46] It would be a radical act, but America was a radical country. 

[00:07:51] Its decision to do so was expedited, or sped up, by the First World War in Europe.

[00:07:58] Firstly, as beer, or lager, was seen as a German drink, it became unpatriotic to drink the national drink of the country that your allies, and later you, were fighting against.

[00:08:12] You might have thought this would have meant that people switched to stronger alcohols, wines and spirits, but in late 1918, in fact after the Armistice, after the end of the war, the US Congress passed an act banning the sale of alcoholic beverages stronger than 1.28%. 

[00:08:34] The objective of this was to conserve grain for food, rather than alcohol.

[00:08:40] In case you need a point of comparison, beer is typically between 4 and 5%, wine is more like 11 to 13% and spirits are around 40%.

[00:08:54] So, essentially only very, very weak alcohol was allowed to be sold.

[00:09:00] This wartime act was followed shortly after, on January 16th of 1919, by a vote to ban the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol, but importantly it did not make drinking alcohol illegal. 

[00:09:17] The importance of this point will become clear soon enough.

[00:09:22] Another important point to note is the definition of alcohol. 

[00:09:27] To many people, even to those advocating for a ban on alcohol, it came as a surprise that the act included all alcohol, not only spirits, as many had previously assumed

[00:09:41] Many people had thought that beer and wine would still be allowed.

[00:09:46] This was an extreme move, not just a ban on hard liquor, but a ban on all liquor for public consumption.

[00:09:55] The country had chosen to go “dry”, but there was another important point to note: the act wouldn’t come into effect until a year later, giving people plenty of time to get ready and plenty of time to figure out ways to get around the law. 

[00:10:14] It turned out that there would be plenty of loopholes, plenty of ways to get around the law.

[00:10:21] So it was that on January 17th of 1920, Prohibition, otherwise known as the Volstead Act, went into effect.

[00:10:32] The manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol over 0.5% was banned

[00:10:39] Saloons, old-fashioned bars, had to close their doors forever. Distilleries and breweries were closed. Imports of beer, wine and spirits were banned.

[00:10:51] But did the drinking stop? 

[00:10:53] Well, not completely.

[00:10:55] The nature of drinking, and the alcohol industry just changed, and the fact that alcohol was now illegal opened the doors for small and big-time criminals to emerge.

[00:11:09] On a small-time level, as the production of alcohol was now illegal, people who brewed their own beer at home purely for personal consumption were suddenly criminalised, they were outlaws.

[00:11:24] On a more organised level, Prohibition created an environment where the production, transportation and sale of alcohol suddenly became an incredibly profitable activity. 

[00:11:36] The 1920s gave rise to criminals such as Al Capone, whose primary source of income was the bootlegged alcohol trade.

[00:11:46] The loopholes and problems with the Prohibition legislation provided a huge incentive to turn to crime, and turned many people from honest, law-abiding citizens into hardened criminals.

[00:12:02] One particular example of this was a criminal defence lawyer named George Remus. When he saw that his clients had become incredibly wealthy by selling alcohol, he wanted a piece of the action.

[00:12:17] Using his legal background, he studied the Volstead Act, the Prohibition Act, and realised not only that pharmacies were able to sell alcohol for medical purposes, but that there were large amounts of spirits, of hard liquor, sitting in government distilleries

[00:12:37] Remus just needed to figure out a way of getting his hands on this alcohol and selling it to people who wanted to use it for, well let’s just say not technically medical purposes.

[00:12:51] Remus bought up a series of distilleries, but he couldn’t just take the alcohol and sell it. He needed to figure out a way of getting it out legally, or at least make it look like he was still obeying the law.

[00:13:05] So, he also bought pharmacies and transportation companies, and would arrange for his pharmacies to buy alcohol from his distilleries, and the alcohol would be transported by his transportation companies.

[00:13:20] Then, when the alcohol was in transit, when it was being transported, the trucks would be held up, they would be mysteriously robbed, and all the alcohol would disappear.

[00:13:32] The robbers were, of course, Remus’s own men.

[00:13:37] At one point Remus controlled 30% of all of the illegal alcohol in the United States, and over the course of just three years it’s thought that he made $40 million dollars, which is over half a billion dollars in today’s money. 

[00:13:54] People were clearly still drinking alcohol. As you might expect, finding any kind of reliable statistics on alcohol consumption from this period is difficult, but one study suggested that consumption dropped to 30% of its pre-Prohibition levels immediately after prohibition was put into place, but shortly after it returned to between 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels.

[00:14:24] The public saloons might have closed, but they were replaced by things called “speakeasies”, illegal bars where you might have to knock on the door and provide a code word to get in, then you’d be let in and the alcohol would be free flowing.

[00:14:43] Remember, there had been a year’s time between the vote for Prohibition and the act actually coming into effect. This year provided plenty of time for bars and clubs to prepare, and many stockpiled alcohol in advance, they bought huge amounts of alcohol that would last them for several years. 

[00:15:05] The fact that these bars were unlicensed meant that anyone could start one because, well, there were no licences. All you needed to have was a room and someone to sell you alcohol, and as you’ll have gathered by now, there was no shortage of people willing to sell you alcohol.

[00:15:23] And of course, given that they were illegal, it’s hard to get an accurate estimate for the number of these speakeasy bars across the country, but one estimate has there being anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy bars in New York City alone.

[00:15:44] As a point of comparison, now, when alcohol is legal, there are around 25,000 bars in New York city, so even at the lower end of that estimate from Prohibition, there were more places serving alcohol when it was illegal than now, when it is legal.

[00:16:04] One major reason that alcohol continued to be so free flowing was that there were comparatively so few law enforcement officers dedicated to enforcing the Volstead Act, to enforcing Prohibition. 

[00:16:20] At the start, there were only 1,500 police officers assigned to enforcing the Prohibition law - a tiny amount compared to how many people continued to drink alcohol.

[00:16:33] Sure, there were prosecutions for alcohol-related offences, and people were sent to prison. 

[00:16:39] But these cases ended up clogging up, filling up the court system and the jails, filling up the justice system with people who had become criminals simply through doing something that was perfectly legal just a few years before, and to many people wasn’t considered to be a serious crime at all.

[00:17:00] It’s telling, it's revealing, that two of the biggest bootlegging criminals in the entire country, Al Capone and George Remus, never served any prison time for alcohol-related crime. In Capone’s case, he was sent to prison for tax evasion, and in Remus case he murdered his wife in broad daylight.

[00:17:23] Towards the end of the 1920s support for Prohibition had started to dwindle, it had reduced drastically. 

[00:17:32] The promised new society of good health, low crime, reduced poverty and better economic prospects simply hadn’t emerged. And people were clearly still drinking.

[00:17:45] In fact, on an economic level, Prohibition is believed to have made the situation worse. 

[00:17:52] Tax revenues from alcohol previously made up almost 75% of state taxes in places like New York, and given that alcohol was illegal, this went to 0. 

[00:18:05] As a result, it's thought that Prohibition cost the federal government around $11 billion in lost taxes.

[00:18:14] And of course, anyone who previously worked in the sizable alcohol industry was out of a job.

[00:18:21] Then in 1929, the Great Depression hit. Millions were put out of work and tax revenues dipped even more.

[00:18:31] Still, Herbert Hoover, the sitting US president, resisted the suggestions of colleagues and aides to repeal Prohibition, to generate some much needed tax revenue, and give people a distraction from the realities of their grim economic situation.

[00:18:50] When the opportunity arose, the then governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or FDR as he was known, decided to run for the US presidency against Hoover on a platform to repeal Prohibition, to legalise alcohol. 

[00:19:08] And in the 1933 election Roosevelt won by a landslide, winning 42 of the 48 states, and 89% of the electoral vote.

[00:19:21] Hoover became the first US president to not win reelection, and by voting in FDR the country had delivered a clear message: we’ve had enough of Prohibition. 

[00:19:34] In one of his first acts after becoming president, Roosevelt overturned Prohibition, and on December 5th of 1933 the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol became legalised on a federal level.

[00:19:50] This 13-year period would become known as The Noble Experiment, a time when an entire country tried to see what would happen if alcohol was made illegal.

[00:20:02] So, like after any experiment, let’s take a look at the hypothesis and the results.

[00:20:09] The hypothesis of this Noble Experiment was that it would have an all-round positive effect on society.

[00:20:16] It was believed that it would lead to a boom in sales of everything from household goods to clothing, as people had more disposable income now they were not spending money on booze, on alcohol. 

[00:20:30] Fruit juice manufacturers, cinema owners, all sorts of business owners anticipated a bumper payday as people switched from alcohol to new forms of entertainment.

[00:20:42] There would be better workers rights, a more moral society, productivity would increase, accidents would decrease, people would be healthier and happier.

[00:20:53] All round, life would be better for everyone.

[00:20:57] An ambitious hypothesis, but unfortunately very little of it happened.

[00:21:03] Anyone who was employed in the alcohol industry was suddenly out of a job, the tax revenues from alcohol evaporated, and people continued to drink alcohol, although now it was the criminal underworld that profited, not the government.

[00:21:20] On a health level, there was some positive news, with one study suggesting that the occurrence of liver cirrhosis, which is a useful proxy for alcoholism, declined by 10-20%. 

[00:21:35] Good news, perhaps, but this reduction was replaced with injuries and deaths from illegally prepared alcohol, so-called “moonshine”.

[00:21:45] What’s more, the deaths and injuries from alcohol-related criminal activity skyrocketed, with violent crime in some states increasing anywhere between 30 and 60%.

[00:21:58] People might not be dying so frequently from alcohol-related illnesses, but they were dying from the bootlegger’s dodgy alcohol and their bullets.

[00:22:08] And on a cultural level related to drinking, the United States didn’t simply return to how it was before Prohibition. Prohibition meant 13 years of a different type of bar, the speakeasy, a place very different from the traditionally macho saloon bar dominated by heavy drinking of spirits.

[00:22:31] Speakeasies were places with music and dancing, places were men and women, and people from different ethnicities and backgrounds could all mix. 

[00:22:42] After the repeal of Prohibition, it became accepted for women to drink alcohol at bars, something that simply wasn’t accepted in pre-Prohibition society.

[00:22:53] In terms of how much people actually drank, after Prohibition was repealed alcohol consumption took a long time to regain its pre-Prohibition levels. 

[00:23:04] Immediately after, the country was still in the middle of the greatest economic downturn in its short history, then it went straight into World War Two, and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that alcohol consumption surpassed, it overtook what it was immediately before Prohibition.

[00:23:25] Purely in terms of changing the country’s attitudes towards alcohol and the amount that people drink, Prohibition itself appears to have done very little to alter the amount that Americans drink.

[00:23:38] And when people look back at Prohibition now, it’s often considered a failure.

[00:23:45] If you take it at face value, and look at what it set out to achieve and what actually happened, yes, it failed to achieve this utopian society which its proponents had hoped for.

[00:23:59] But perhaps it taught the country another, more valuable lesson. 

[00:24:04] That society is a complicated beast, and that it might be simple and convenient to point at one thing in particular, whether that’s alcohol, drugs, or whichever political party is in charge at the moment in time, and identify that thing as the root of all society’s problems.

[00:24:25] Yet as this 13-year Noble Experiment teaches its students, no matter what hypotheses and predictions you might have, good intentions often lead to unexpected outcomes, and there is rarely such a thing as one solution to all society’s problems.

[00:24:45] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Prohibition Era.

[00:24:50] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:24:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:24:58] What do you think would happen in your country if Prohibition was proposed tomorrow?

[00:25:04] How do you think the effects would be different, or would they be exactly the same?

[00:25:09] And can you see a world where Prohibition, where the abolition of alcohol, is put into place again?

[00:25:17] I would love to know your thoughts, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:21] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:30] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:35] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]