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From 1930 to 1931, income-tax revenues fell by 15 percent.
In 1932 they fell another 37 percent; 1932 income-tax revenues were 46 percent lower than just two years earlier. And by 1933 they were fully 60 percent lower than in 1930.
With no end of the Depression in sight, Washington got anxious for a substitute source of revenue.
That source was liquor sales.
Jouett Shouse, president of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, was a powerful figure in the Democratic Party that had just nominated Franklin Roosevelt as its candidate for the White House. Shouse emphasized that ending Prohibition would boost government revenue.
And a House leader of Congress' successful attempt to propose the Prohibition-ending 21st Amendment said in 1934 that "if (anti-prohibitionists) had not had the opportunity of using that argument, that repeal meant needed revenue for our government, we would not have had repeal for at least 10 years."
There's no doubt that widespread understanding of Prohibition's futility and of its ugly, unintended side-effects made it easier for Congress to repeal the 18th Amendment. But these public sentiments were insufficient, by themselves, to end the war on alcohol.
Ending it required a gargantuan revenue shock -- to the U.S. Treasury.
So, if the history of alcohol prohibition is a guide, drug prohibition will not end merely because there are many sound, sensible and humane reasons to end it. Instead, it will end only if and when Congress gets desperate for another revenue source.
That's the sorry logic of politics and Prohibition.
Don Boudreaux is chairman of the economics department at George Mason University. This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.