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36 Ariz. L. Rev. 1 (1994)
The Price of Prohibition

handle is hein.journals/arz36 and id is 11 raw text is: Essay

Donald J. Boudreaux* & A. C. Pritchard**
The standard account of alcohol prohibition in America focuses
exclusively on ideology. Specifically, the story goes, vast numbers of citizens
were so overcome with Progressive hubris that they set forth on a futile quest
to mandate morality by banning the manufacture and sale of liquor. Within a
few years, the folly of such moral legislation became transparent. Chastened by
their experience, the American people abandoned their noble experiment in
social engineering.1
Public-choice theory offers a different vantage point from which to
evaluate this standard account. Public-choice theory, consistent with other
economic disciplines, focuses on self-interest--especially pecuniary self-
interest-as the driving force behind political behavior and outcomes. Ideology
carries little weight in typical public-choice analysis of legislation or
regulation2 Thus, a traditional public-choice explanation of prohibition and its
Department of Legal Studies, Clemson University. M.A. New York University,
Ph.D. Auburn University, J.D. University of Virginia.
**    Office of the Solicitor General, United States Department of Justice. M.A. University
of Chicago, J.D. University of Virginia. We thank Karol Ceplo, Nathan Forrester, Randy
Holcombe, Richard Posner, George Selgin, Mark Thornton, and Bruce Yandle for helpful
suggestions. The Institute for Humane Studies and the Olin Foundation provided much
appreciated professional and financial assistance. The views expressed here are ours alone, and
do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Justice.
(1993); Norman H. Clark, Prohibition and Temperance, in THE READER'S COMPANION TO
AMERICAN HISTORY 871 (Eric Foner & John A. Garraty eds., 1991); LAWRENCE M.
FRIEDMAN, AMERICAN LAW 162 (1984). Judge Posner suggests that prohibition was repealed
because Congress was unwilling to invest the resources necessary to make it work. RICHARD A.
POSNER, ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF LAW 533 (4th ed. 1992). We argue below, however, that
this unwillingness to adequately enforce prohibition is insufficient to explain why the Twenty-
first Amendment was ratified. See infra text accompanying note 16. FLETCHER DOBYNS, THE
AMAZING STORY OF REPEAL 349 (1940), attributes the noble experiment' phrase to Herbert
LEGISLATION, ANDTHEECONOMY (1981). The failure of public-choice scholars to account for
the role of ideology in determining political outcomes is now being corrected. See generally
Symposium, Empirical Studies of Ideology and Representation in American Politics, 76 PUB.
CHOICE 1 (1993) (an entire issue of the journal Public Choice devoted to empirical studies of
ideology and representation in American politics); see also William R. Dougan & Michael C.
Munger, The Rationality of Ideology, 32 J. L. ECON. 119 (1989); Michael E. DeBow & Dwight
R. Lee, Understanding (and Misunderstanding) Public Choice: A Response to Farber and
Frickey, 66 TEX. L. REV. 993 (1988); Joseph P. Kalt & Mark A. Zupan, Capture and Ideology

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