The Prohibition Party Returns to New York, Thanks to Andrew Cuomo

The New York Prohibition Party has re-emerged to oppose Cuomo's subsidies for brewers and distillers. They're right to be upset, even if they have a misguided solution.


||| World History Archive/Newscom

If alcohol is the only way you're coping with 2018, I've got some bad news. But it's 2018, so you're probably used to that by now.

Prohibition is back. At least it's back in a small way in New York State, where three residents have banded together to relaunch the New York Prohibition Party, which had been dormant since the early 1940s. The party's stated goal, reports, is "to establish a lasting prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol, to abolish the alcohol industry, and to establish a teetotal culture."

Party re-founders Russell Hallock, Robert A. Emery, Jonathan Makeley argue that booze is bad for New Yorkers' health and morality. They're also unhappy that New York now boasts more than 1,000 breweries, distilleries, and wineries—twice as many as the state had as recently as 2012. And they really don't like that New York's explosion in alcohol manufacturing can be traced in part to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support for tax credits and economic development schemes aimed at boosting booze businesses.

"His support for the alcohol industry is unethical and has harmed the people of New York," the party says, calling Cuomo the "worst governor on alcohol issues" since Prohibition ended.

In addition to directly subsidizing breweries and the like, the state has also spent money to help produce a TV show, Brewed in New York, that airs on PBS stations and promotes the state's beer industry, reports.

Libertarians don't have much in common with Prohibitionists, but at least we can all agree that Cuomo is terrible. And the Prohibition Party is right to be upset that state taxpayers have been forced to subsidize breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Such subsidies almost never make sense for any industry, but they are particularly foolish at a time when craft alcohol is booming on its own. (Not all the changes Cuomo has instituted are bad. He has also streamlined the licensing process for craft brewers and signed a bill allowing breweries to have on-site tasting rooms.)

As admirable as pushing back against foolish economic development policy is, the Prohibition Party overshoots the mark a little—OK, a lot—in calling for the total abolition of alcohol.

In the pantheon of truly terrible ideas from American political history, the decade-plus of Prohibition isn't at the very top. Slavery, Japanese internment, the Sedition Act, and a few other things rank higher. But there are few better examples of a policy that Americans have considered, tried, and then thoroughly rejected.

Fortunately, it seems unlikely that voters will suddenly embrace prohibitionism again, particularly as New York State finally moves towards unwinding a modern-day form of prohibition by ending the war on marijuana. The New York Prohibition Party deserves a chance to have its voice heard. It also deserves to be roundly crushed by public opinion.