Ethnic, racial and class minorities in the city of New York, as well as middle class and organized crime people enjoyed their fight against Prohibition in an amazing number of locals and nightclubs that summed up to more than thirty thousand. While many restaurant closed down in New York, speakeasies spread across the city. More and more of the middle class and the upper class "embraced the cosmopolitan culture and nightlife that flourished under the restrictions of Prohibition" (Lerner, 2007, p. 3) making this the first bottom-up social reaction in the recent history of the United States.
Prohibition marked the 1920s and 1930s in ways that were not seen by the makers of this law. It had profound effects of issues like work relations and wage policies, xenophobia and living conditions of immigrants, organized crime as well as popular culture. While regulations were set and enforced, a significant number of ordinary people began to change their attitudes towards society, morality and law. Buying, consuming and even producing alcohol began to grow on many Americans and a way of living and later on even created one of the most inaccurate images of American history as it was looked upon as a romantic and adventurous period. Especially in the youth, drinking became the thing to do as to "bootleg was to strike a blow against tyranny [it] became glamorous, chic, even heroic" (Peck, 2009, p 13)
Popular depictions like the "roaring twenties" come in disagreement with the cultural, class and rural-urban conflict that characterized and modeled the identity of the United States further on. Especially in large cities like Detroit or Chicago, and most in New York city, Prohibition failed utterly. The city of New York represented in that period the cultural, financial and social centre of the country and the results of the ban of alcohol had to be positive here as they would be instrumental for the Prohibition movement to close down the deal in the entire United States. An unforeseen mistake in creating such a law, that meant changing decades and even centuries of mentality, was the widespread importance of alcohol as a habit. The measures taken during the 1920s and 1930s around drinking created not only anti-measures of illegal character but also a change in the multicultural societies of the big cities. Prohibition "influenced almost every aspect of daily life, from employment opportunities to law enforcement, and from real estate trends to race relations (…) fostered new forms of urban culture, redefined leisure and amusement in the city and promoted corruption and crime" (Peck, 2009, p 4).
Crimes and criminal activity prospered in the 1920s and 1930s and were becoming more and more influential in local city administrations especially due to the increased corruption in the police, local administration and beyond at government levels, in some cases. As Mark Thornton reminds "bribes were paid to police and elected officials and came in the form of either money or votes" (Thornton, 2007, p. 54). Having at their disposal one of the most important commodities of the time -- liquor, made the organized crime networks even more powerful than before.
The possibility to sell with a triple price a product and monopoly over that product offered the urban Mafia the necessary financial resources to increase their leverage on citizens and officials into making the law by breaking it. Alongside with drinking, or at its expense, organized crime received a huge income from prostitution, gambling and saloons, extortion and blackmail. Another negative effect on economy that the prohibition had was for many of the saloonkeepers that, in order to stay in business had to "disobey the liquor laws and to ally himself with vice and...
It failed in its goals of lowering criminality caused by liquor consumption and increased criminality based on especially the phenomena it was trying to eliminate. The reports of the beginning of the 1930s showed exactly this: "the present regime of corruption in connection with the liquor traffic is operating in a new and larger field and is more extensive" (Thornton, 2007, p 134).
One of the most significant pivotal roles that the Prohibition period had in the market, in general, was the creation of cartels and drugs related organized crime networks that began to flourish in this period. Many of the rules and organizational patterns of conduct were born in the Prohibition period as gangsters like Al Capone and Dutch Schultz created internal laws for their organizations. If a contractor did not fulfill his terms of the deal or if it betrayed the organization the consequences were severe for him, his family or his business. On the basis of the smuggler industry created during the Prohibition period, one of the most important trade mechanism at regional and international level resulted: illicit trade in drugs, affecting not only buyers due to negative health effects, but also nations producing such products like heroine, hashish, marijuana or opium. (Traver and Gaylord, 1992) the black market that appeared as a result of alcohol illicit trade had, therefore, opened the way for other types of illegal trade. With an economy heading towards the Great Depression of the 1930s, the alcohol black market and its consequences, put even more pressure on the formal economy.
Corruption characterized Prohibition since the beginning when the little that was done to enforce the law was proven insufficient. Even President Harding had to admit that "there are conditions relating to enforcement which savor of nation-wide scandal. It is the most demoralizing factor of our public life" (Okrent, 2010, p. 137). The spread of corruption and easy money became popular outside the criminal world, especially in the medicinal liquor. One very good example is that of the Wathen brothers of Louisville that reorganized from whisky producers to the American Medicinal Spirits Company gathering more than fifty additional brands under their umbrella. Others like the Brown-Forman Company or David Schulte had similar operations in providing drug store with fine bourbon under the name of medicinal liquor.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the Prohibition, which has had significant effects after the 1930s was the way in which gangsters like Al Capone or "Bugs" Moran were not seen buy society as necessarily negative characters. Capone paid attention to his public appearance and with the help of trustworthy journalists a large part of the news focused on his charity and helping the poor, a public benefactor and a man of his word. He became the solution to people's problems, and in his words, he gave the public what it needed: "I never had to send out high pressure salesmen. Why, I could never meet the demand" (Okrent, 2010, p. 274). Capone thought his criminal activity was just another business, and the vicious circle went from citizens to organized crime and to politicians. Corruption as a result of Prohibition became institutionalized when Capone provided the money and the necessary votes for the election of William Thompson as Mayor of Chicago, a victory that "brought an even more tolerant attitude to the activities of the organized crime in Chicago" (Streissguth, 2007, p 297) and the failure of the Prohibition laws.
One of the reasons why Prohibition laws failed was that the law had no or little legitimacy for the citizens, especially for those in the urban landscape. As it appeared unnecessary a large part of Americans considered the law should not be applied for them and began to break it, although being law abiding citizens before the Prohibition started. The enforcers of the law were first of all little in number compared to the unforeseen scale of alcohol related offences. Second of all, a large number of the state apparatus was bribed and little trust existed between those that were truly trying to enforce the law and their colleagues who were on the payroll of organized crime. Another significant problem for which the Prohibition laws were almost impossible to enforce was the huge ground that officers had to cover, with an extremely porous border with Mexico and Canada, and with even a more fragile air and sea capabilities to stop significant alcohol transports from abroad.
The Prohibition had lasting effects on the relation between citizens and reforms, enacting a clearer active citizenship. Also, in the promoters of Prohibition camp, it offered the necessary environment for the birth of real gender politics as women began to have higher and more influential roles in society and societal issues. It created through its failure a better system of enforcement and control over criminal organizations.
On the other hand, the Prohibition period triggered a…
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