IS PROHIBITION A FAILURE ?
[This article is by a Scottish engineer who lives in one of the Southern States of U.S.A. In a recent article in the Spectator a correspondent stated definitely that Prohibition was a failure, but' the writer of the present article gives his reasons for believing it to be a success.]
TO judge by the interviews which are requested of returning travellers from the United States by newspaper correspondents, Prohibition appears to be al subject of much interest in England. Unfortunately,1 the returning traveller from the United States is usually very much like the members of the Labour Party who have, at various times, visited Russia to study the results of Communism ; he has generally spent only a few weeks or months in his travels and has been able only to skim the surface of things and not to get right down into the life of the ordinary people. The question commonly asked of visitors returning from America- " Is Prohibition a Failure ? "—is, as a rule, answered with " Yes." But the person who says " Yes " is either unwittingly or wilfully saying what is not true.
It must be admitted that there is much smuggling of liquor into the cities along the Atlantic Coast. Thisl liquor, however, is bought and consumed by a certain class of well-to-do people who have been accustomed in the old days to have their cellars full and who are quite • sincere in asserting that they cannot well get along without it. Another class who buy the smuggled brands are the crooks—the men and women who toil not, neither do they spin, but who live by various nefarious means. Whisky is distilled in the secluded outskirts of both large and small cities. It must be admitted also that there is a certain amount of drinking among young people attending high schools and colleges. Some of these have access to their parents' wine-cellars, and others,1 whose parents have no cellars, ape the manners of their, richer fellow-students and buy a vile form of liquor from the bootleggers. Altogether there is enough evidence' to deceive the casual visitor to America into thinking that Prohibition is a failure.
The classes of law breakers to whom I have referred,1 however, are probably not more than 10 per cent. of the total population. No one who was truthful and fair or was not deceived could assert that a law was a failure because 10 per cent. of the people often break it. The remarkable thing is that the Prohibition law is respected as much as it is, especially when one considers the various elements which make up this nation. Many representa- tives of different nationalities who have arrived here recently have been accustomed to alcoholic drink from their childhood and they do not find it easy to give it up. Yet it is firmly believed by many that the third generation will have no appetite for alcohol at all. No one is bold enough to assert that the law will be repealed. A certain number of persons hope that it will be modified so as to allow the sale of light wine and beers, but the solid body of citizens are against even this. The law-abiding citizens who are the backbone of the country and who swing the vote are unalterably opposed to bringing back the drink traffic. Even the men who used to patronise the saloons are as much opposed as the most rabid; Prohibitionists to having the saloons restored. For the last ten years I have lived in a town of 200,0001 inhabitants and in all that time the number -of drunken men seen could be counted on the fingers of both hands. As for women, I have never seen one drunk on the streets in this period. Poverty has been reduced enormously and people are now better fed, better housed and better clothed. One out of every four inhabitants in this city owns a motor-car and the banks are filled with the people's savings. One's feelings are not harried by scenes of misery caused by drunken parents. A scene in a large Scottish city many years ago left an impression on my memory which time cannot eradicate. My attention was drawn to a barefooted woman. Her countenance had lost any semblance of beauty and had become sodden and haggard by drink, although she cannot have been more than about thirty years old. Following her uneven footsteps at a distance of a few yards were two small children. The elder of these was only about seven years old and was carrying a baby. Every few steps the mother would turn round and discharge her drunken rage-upon her children, using the most horrible language known to the human tongue. Surely, the most consistent advocate of an unrestrained liquor traffic would have felt it difficult at that moment to take any pride in the traffic that had brought a young woman from purity to depravity in a few years. Since Prohibition became the law of the land here no such scene is ever presented in an American city. The other day some 20,000 people gathered together to celebrate the opening of a new high- way. In that crowd not one person was under the influence of drink, yet all appeared to be getting to the full the enjoyment they wanted.
Every business man here admits that his employees are more efficient than they were in the days of the saloon. Personally, I believe that if the liquor interests had been careful to take warning and had conducted their business in a reasonable spirit, instead of flouting the attempts of decent people to secure reform, there would have been no Prohibition. As in the case of the trade Trusts that existed some years ago, however, they allowed pride and prosperity to blind their vision until they came to believe that there was no law except themselves. - The inevitable result followed ; public opinion, though it had been slow to move, moved at last with irresistible force and cleared Trusts and liquor traffic out of the way. No doubt the American method of getting rid of liquor without paying compensation was unduly harsh. It might have been better if the trade had received, say, five years' notice. In the meantime, gradual control could have been established. The difficulties which arose from the failure of revenue after the Prohibition law had been passed would have been less acute.
It may not be the wisest course for Great Britain to go to the full extent of the law as it now is in America, but she will inevitably have to curb the traffic of hard liquors. If she does not do so for moral reasons she will have to do it for economic reasons. Otherwise she will be outdistanced in the industrial race. A. P. S.