Ideas, good or bad, lead to consequences

Curtis K. Shelburne

The amazing wordsmith G. K. Chesterton once observed that ideas (presumably, bad ones) can only be conquered by other ideas (presumably better ones), and, alas, “modern politicians have no ideas.”

Ain’t it the truth? And when they do flirt with an idea or two, they seem to latch onto only really bad ones.

I always enjoy the writing of Pulitzer prize-winning columnist George Will. In a recent column, Will pointed his readers to a fascinating book by Daniel Okrent entitled The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

It is ironic that Prohibition, which arose as an over-reaction to excessive and pernicious drinking, would itself be more legislatively excessive and lead to more pernicious consequences than anything it was designed to combat.

According to Okrent (and distilled by Will), among the unforeseen consequences of Prohibition were the income tax (since the federal government lost alcohol taxes which were 30 percent of its revenues), plea bargaining (since there was no way courts could actually try all the newly created criminals), a nationwide crime syndicate (folks as truly thankful as the most devout teetotaller for the new law—since it made organized crime filthy rich), Las Vegas (since once Prohibition was over ex-bootleggers needed “new business opportunities,”) NASCAR (since bootleggers needed hotter cars than the law’s), speedboats (same reason but on the water outrunning the Coast Guard), and a “privacy right” (“the right to be let alone”—“which eventually extended to abortion rights.” Not to mention, wealthy federal “Prohibition agents” who “cherished $1800 jobs because of the bribes that came with them.”

By the way, an interesting point in the book is that until the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), only one other amendment in the Constitution (prohibiting the owning of slaves) was designed to tell citizens what they could not do; all the other amendments told the government what it could not do. Government has not since gotten over the idea that it can do pretty much anything it wishes (even regulate trans fat and salt in restaurant fare!).

Alcohol consumption went down only 30% and freedom was held hostage in ways never envisioned by the many who truly thought Prohibition would go far to save the nation. It certainly went far.

If you think this is a column specifically about Prohibition, or teetotalism versus non-teetotalism, you are badly mistaken. It is a column about ideas and consequences. The former lead to the latter.

May God fill our little minds with good ideas so that into this needy world, good consequences follow to bring a little more peace and a little more joy. If we really want more of “God’s will” done “on earth as in heaven,” I think a very good idea is to trust God, and faith, and freedom, more than any law we might ever write ourselves.