Volume 85, Number 5

November 2010

Globalization of the U.S. Black Market: Prohibition, the War on Drugs, and the Case of Mexico

Seth Harp

Prohibition of alcohol from 1919 to 1933 is a paradigmatic case of sumptuary legislation gone awry. Instead of removing alcohol from the market, Prohibition increased alcohol’s potency and decreased its quality, resulting in a spike in drunkenness and accidental deaths while black market corruption and violence abounded. The same criticisms are often leveled at the War on Drugs. However, this Note explores the most important difference between the two, namely, that in spite of their symmetrical failures, Prohibition was met with a decisive backlash and repeal while the War on Drugs retains popular support despite having created incomparably greater violence. This is dramatically illustrated by the war in Mexico, which is currently the most violent conflict in the world. The causes and implications of this divergence in public choice are explored below.