On August 19 The Wall Street Journal reported that serious organized crime had spread to one of the most affluent, secure business communities in Mexico. Drug gangs blocked streets, murdered individuals, and kidnapped the mayor of Monterrey—who was later found dead.
A similar event occurred in America in February of 1929 – Americans woke to the news that on the morning of Saint Valentine’s Day, bootlegging mobsters had lined up six members of a competing gang along with an innocent garage worker and shot them with rifles and Tommy guns.
What these events share in common is prohibition. In America, the passage of the 18th Amendment was greeted with cheers for its supposed ending of alcohol as a cause of crime, poverty, and family violence. Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “You [alcohol] were God’s worst enemy. You were Hell’s best friend…The reign of tears is over,” while President Herbert Hoover called alcohol prohibition the ‘Noble Experiment.’ Similar statements could be heard from individuals regarding the United States’ prohibition of drugs, which begin as early as 1914 and which now requires enforcement by a permanent Cabinet level position in government.
However, the amount of violence related to drugs and alcohol does not lessen but escalates under prohibition. Alcohol prohibition set off the exponential growth of organized crime. In 1927 alone Al Capone’s gang took in over $60 million and killed hundreds of people. Currently, Honduras—with similar statistics to Mexico—has an estimated 8-10 murders a day, 70% of which are drug related. The Mexican drug cartels have as many as 100,000 active personnel and frequently infiltrate law enforcement departments. Over 70% of U.S. inmates are in state and federal prisons as a result of a drug crime. If prohibition is supposed to make us safer, why are these numbers so high?
The crime regarding the use and sale of drugs increases because prohibition of a substance does not actually make anyone safe. Prohibiting drugs does not erase their demand. It simply bans their production, sales, distribution, and consumption, removing the rule of law from any transactions involving the substance, thus forcing the product onto the black market – a realm with no rules except that of cutthroat anarchy. Contracts are void, markets are governed solely by force, and deals are upheld at the point of a gun. Since anything is permitted outside the law, the blackest criminal wins in a black market – he will be the most ruthless at crushing those who oppose him.
During the months that followed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as the event came to be known, Americans understood the prohibition was not ‘working.’ The problem of organized crime and its violence was finally understood to be the illegality of alcohol. Not that those gangsters would have been upright citizens otherwise, but formerly their activities were limited to crimes like theft and fraud. The prohibition of alcohol gave them a huge new market, by placing alcohol’s production, use, makers, users, and distributors outside the realm of justice – outside the law.
Ending prohibition worked to curtail violence in the 20s because it recognized Americans’ right to buy and sell alcohol, taking the market out of the hands of criminals and placing it back into legal, government-protected transactions. Today, violence from the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol is non-existent. Immediately following the ratification of the 21st Amendment, lawful businessmen again entered the market and mobsters lost their potency. Brewers in St. Louis began production again, putting thousands of people back to work at the Anheuser-Busch plants. Instead of buying alcohol from gangsters, people could again buy alcohol from legitimate businesses. Distributors no longer had to worry about crossing their mobster suppliers and could instead choose between reputable companies who would deal with them without force.
Once again the solution to the current violence in Mexico and the US is to end drug prohibition and restore Americans’ rights to produce and purchase what products they see fit. The markets, transporters, and buyers of alcohol can seek legal protection when a contract is violated, a product is faulty, or they’re threatened with blackmail. Similar to the process of legalization following the 21st amendment, companies like Marlboro might begin production of marijuana cigarettes, employing individuals in honest labor and dealing openly, without violence and under the protection of the law. Only by returning the sale of drugs to the province of legal trade, thus upholding individual rights, can we eliminate the crime inherent in unnecessary black markets.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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