Prohibition works almost as well as socialism!

While I don't think it would be fair to speculate over how he feels about revenuers, Glenn Reynolds linked a particularly amusing post by Don Surber, who notes an ominous new trend -- high taxes on beer:

....Reuters Health news service reported earlier this week that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "is campaigning for tighter rules on the taxation of beer and on its availability, especially late at night and early in the morning." In its September 2003 report, the federally funded Institute of Medicine recommended raising alcohol excise taxes, stating that "top priority should be given to raising beer taxes."

The increased taxes could, after all, help subsidize future beachside conferences for nanny state bureaucrats.

Says Surber,
Tis the return of the temperance movement. Except instead of using hatchets to smash taverns, these Carrie Nations are just going to tax the hell out of adult beverages.
Yes, they are. And once again, I don't think they care whether the policies are doomed to fail. I'm reminded of what John Stossel said recently about Russia:
The fall of the Soviet Union deprived us of the biggest example of how socialism works. We need laboratories of failure to demonstrate what socialism is like.
How fast we forget history! And I'm not just talking about the failure only of Russian socialism and American prohibition. Shortly before socialism collapsed, Gorbachev attempted the famous 1985 crackdown on alcohol consumption.
The first rules restricting access to alcohol came into effect on 1 June 1985. These were important, as they included a series of actions that could be enforced at once and where the impact of enforcement was highly visible, such as banning drinking of alcohol at all workplaces, including formerly legal bars, such as those in higher education establishments; banning sales before 2 p.m.; restricting alcohol sales to off-licences; and banning sales on trains (including dining-cars) and similar establishments.

In August 1985 prices increased by 25%, with another increase in August 1986. Subsequently there was a series of further measures to restrict access, with cuts in production leading to massive shortages.

Unfortunately for the government, higher liquor prices translated into a dramatic decrease in revenue. Reason? People made their own!
....perhaps the most convincing evidence of its effectiveness was what ultimately led to its demise, its impact on public finances. The figures published at that time for spending on alcohol from official outlets fell in 1985 by 5 billion roubles from that in 1984 (note that the campaign only began in May 1985, so this is consistent with other evidence that consumption was falling before the campaign began), but by 1986 it had fallen further, by 15.8 billion roubles and by 1987 by a further 16.3 billion. The consequences for government revenues, together with the loss of power by Ligachev and Solomentsev, who had played an important part in the genesis of the campaign, are thought to have played a major part in its abandonment in 1988.

The effect of the campaign was short-lived, because of the rapid substitution of illicit production. (Emphasis added.)

Not only did the crackdown create a shortfall in government revenue, as the Mises Institute notes, it also created a severe sugar shortage:
Gorbachev's attempt to raise the level of sobriety in the country was a disaster. It brought a severe sugar shortage, as ordinary people rushed to produce their own vodka, privately. These consumers were the lucky ones.
(Yeah, they didn't die from drinking poisoned brews made from anti-freeze and other toxins.)

Like the Americans, the Russians have a long tradition of making their own:

With his political reforms during the 1980s, former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev introduced a nationwide crackdown on alcohol, but that didn't stop people from brewing their own.

"We paid no attention. We kept on going, quietly. We can't live without alcohol, and we can't afford vodka," she explained.

Her samogon sells for about 70 cents for a half-liter, compared with about $1.25 for the cheapest commercial vodka available there.

Oh, and here's the recipe:
Take an old Russian washing machine, toss in a few ounces of yeast, a 22-pound sack of sugar, a gallon of fresh milk and 10 gallons of water, churn the brew for two hours and distill.
That's a pretty crude method, but the principle is just getting the yeast to do its job and convert the sugar into the maximum percentage of alcohol (the point at which the yeast becomes pickled and stops working).

Distilling isn't all that complicated; a modified hot water heater (details here) will work beautifully. Or you can buy whatever you might need here, here, or any number of places. You could even use a modified water distiller like this, although regular water purification distillers are not calibrated to the right temperatures for distilling alcohol.

I haven't researched the law but this web site advises contacting the BATF if you intend to distill alcohol:

In the United States, those wishing to distill alcohol must contact their local BATF office to obtain an appropriate licensing prior to performing home distillation. It is the sole responsibility of the distiller to know and abide by all applicable laws.
It's worth noting that distillation does not constitute the manufacture of alcohol. That's accomplished by the initial fermentation. Distillation only concentrates the existing alcohol.

monsterplus_m.jpgDrinkable alcohol, by the way, is ethanol. Whether that means that there will eventually be a showdown between the greenie weenies and the neo-Prohibitionists I do not know. But the fact is, ethanol has become such a big deal that making it is now encouraged -- a fact which has not gone unnoticed by Mile Hi Distilling -- your "one stop source for all of your home distilling needs." Their web site helpfully provides the BATF's standard Form Fuel Application, which can be downloaded in pdf. Be sure to check out Mile Hi's models too! Typical still life on the left!

Obviously, ethanol is good for drinking or driving, but not both.

Anyway, I would never advise anyone to break the law here, and this blog post is only offered as a history lesson and a historical warning. People are too quick to forget the past.

My digression into distillation aside, as Don Surber notes, the current bureaucratic discussion involves raising taxes on beer, which is legal, easy, and cheap for almost any adult to make.

Numerous web sites like this will tell you how:

The basic homebrewing equipment is not all that expensive - you can probably get everything you need to start for $100 - $150 - and we'll be glad to direct you to it online in our related products section. Of course, you could also choose to ruin our fun and buy it from some local brewing supplies store. In order to start brewing, you will need the following items:

1. Brewpot
2. Primary fermenter
3. Airlock and stopper
4. Plastic hose
5. Bottling bucket
6. Bottles
7. Bottle brush
8. Bottle capper (if glass bottles are used)
9. Stick-on thermometer
10. Household items

Now we will explain what these items are and give you a basic idea of what you do with them, although the more detailed brewing instructions come in steps 2, 3, and 4.

Home brewing is already a fairly major industry, and if these people are serious about raising beer taxes (as they appear to be), it might be a good time to "get in on the ground floor" as the saying goes.

Who knows? If they're stupid enough to raise the beer taxes, they might be stupid enough to raise them even higher when the projected revenues don't pan out. Then home brewing would skyrocket, and then they'd really have to raise the taxes. (This process is called static analysis, and it's typical of the bureaucratic mindset.)

As far as the bureaucrats are concerned, this history lecture is probably a waste of time. Like the people who know that socialism doesn't work, these people also know that prohibition (even in the form of high taxes on alcohol) will not work.

But hey, if the program doesn't work, it's back to the drawing board for more meetings and more programs. And hiring new people to figure out how to "improve" on the old program.

If it failed before, and it fails again, we'll just have to keep getting it wrong so we can keep fixing it again.

If you don't like it, drink!

posted by Eric on 08.10.07 at 03:23 PM


I have several excellent homebrew recipes if anyone is interested. One of them is good for 11% ABV.

Heffalump   ·  August 10, 2007 3:45 PM

Ah, glorious zymurgy.

The standard Bible of homebrewing, Charlie Papazian's "New Complete Joy of Homebrewing" is widely available at local libraries (and many garage sales), not to mention on Amazon for as low as $4.00 shipped. It may have been written in 1991, but beer-making doesn't need to be a high-tech adventure. If you can boil water and keep things clean it's a no-brainer.

Captain Ned   ·  August 10, 2007 3:55 PM

I sometimes wonder if much of the positive benefit of Prohibition (roughly a 50% reduction in cirrhosis of the liver death rates a few years after it started--and a similar increase a few years after it ended) might have been accomplished by prohibiting distilled alcohol, and concentrating on discouraging but not prohibiting beer and wine. I'm sure it is possible to get violently drunk on 3.2 beer, but I suspect that you have to work a bit harder at it.

Clayton E. Cramer   ·  August 10, 2007 4:44 PM

There is a simpler method than taxation or prohibition to reduce alcohol consumption. When I was in college and the dormitory corridors were cloudy with marijuana smoke, you never even heard of binge drinking.

triticale   ·  August 10, 2007 7:07 PM

During one of the Brezhnev-era anti-alcohol campaigns, there were stories in the newspapers about anti-alcohol planning meetings which turned into drunken brawls. I also remember the ill-concealed admiration in one national newspaper about one man who made a still out of a vacuum cleaner.
Take a look at one of the English translations of Venedikt Erofeev's "Moskva-Petushki," a cheerful alcoholic's eye-view of the USSR.

Bleepless   ·  August 10, 2007 9:20 PM

As somebody who home brews and double pinky swears he's never distilled his own alcohol for consumption, if you avoid pectin containing sugar sources it's easier to separate out the ethanol from the foreshots and the tails of the process and you won't wake up the morning after a session wondering if something went horribly wrong and blinded you and if people were jabbing ice picks in your eyes.

You can use regular sugar or corn sugar, but corn sugar product seems cleaner and tastes better. Regular sugar makes it hard to lose a slight sweetness that really bugs me. Corn sugar product, if you don't over sugar the mash, comes out the cleanest.

16lbs of corn sugar to 25L of warm water and some Turbo_Yeast works mighty fine.

Remember, you were only tasting it to make sure it was good enough to run in your non-road vehicles that are exempt from road related fuel taxations.

With the above recipe and a very simple pot still you will average a very clean 65% product. Charcoal filtering helps, though.


T   ·  August 11, 2007 2:15 AM

Forgot to mention. Figure on 3.5-4L of product from the above with a couple afternoons invested, one to start the ferment and one to distill, and about 10-15USD of materials. If you capture more distillate the quality rapidly degrades and you need a lot more charcoal to remove the fusel oils. Considering Luksusowa prices, it's rather a bargain. When's the last time you bought a fifth of top shelf anything for under 5 bucks?

T   ·  August 11, 2007 2:22 AM
If they're stupid enough to raise the beer taxes, they might be stupid enough to raise them even higher when the projected revenues don't pan out.
No they won't. They will simply try to ban or restrict home brewing, not realizing how much fecal matter is poised above the rotary air impeller in that area.
Brian Epps   ·  August 11, 2007 3:55 AM

So punitive taxation is wrong? (I agree.)

Where were you guys when the governments established the sanctimonious precedent against tobacco users?

Almost no one has defended the rights of that third of the country, simply because tobacco users (not smoking!) are today's scapegoat.

Brett   ·  August 11, 2007 8:52 AM

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