Banning booze has failed in Iran, where you can be whipped for drinking. So why does anyone in the U.S. still think it’s a good idea?
The neo-Prohibitionists, arguing for stiffer laws and higher taxes to stop us from drinking, need to widen their world view. If Prohibition hasn’t worked in Iran, where drinking is punished with floggings and even death, why does anyone think it will work in countries with less repressive governments?
Because, as the New York Times reported (in one of those stories that reminds us how good the best reporting can be), the Iranians realize that almost 40 years of Prohibition has failed. By some estimates, “drinking [among the urban middle class] has become as normal as it is in the West. The Iranian news media have reported that those Iranians who do drink tend to do so more heavily than people even in heavy-drinking countries like Russia and Germany.” In addition, “alcohol is relatively easy to procure. There are alcohol suppliers anyone can call, and they will deliver whatever you want to your doorstep. Dealers receive their goods through a vast illegal distribution network that serves millions with alcohol brought in from neighboring Iraq.”
In other words, Prohibition in Iran ran into the same obstacles that it did in the U.S. – bootlegging and corruption on the supply side, and increased demand that led to excessive drinking and even abuse. Drunkenness has become so widespread, in fact, that the government now permits Alcoholics Anonymous chapters – a stunning reversal of policy in a country where officials always insisted no booze meant no alcoholism.
Said one AA group leader: “These days there is so much alcohol available, simply punishing everybody and using force is no longer working. Drinking and bootlegging used to be viewed as equal crimes, and people would be lashed for being abusers. Now, security officials, the municipality, they all view alcoholics not as criminals, but as patients who need treatment.”
In other words, the key to reducing alcohol abuse is education, not tougher laws like Utah’s two-drink limit. What puzzles me about the neo-Prohibitionist trend in the U.S. is that we’ve seen education work – fewer drunk driving deaths and less underage drinking, and especially over the past 20 years. Yet that hasn’t seemed to make an impression with the Neos.
Hopefully, it will. Otherwise, they’re going to waste time and money on something that they can’t fix. If the Iranians can figure this out, why can’t we?
Images courtesy of the BBC, using a Creative Commons license