In Defense of Moonshiners

You might say that I come from a long line of men who enjoy the drink, so if anyone were to be helped by the paternalistic ban on booze, it would be me.  Unfortunately, it is incongruent with human nature to think that anyone can be protected from themselves.

It's been rumored that my grandfather made moonshine.  He was coal miner in southern West Virginia, so as far as I can tell, the story checks out.  Regardless, let's take a moment to think about who might be hurt from his alleged business.

First, let's consider the case in which he makes a good and safe product.  The most obvious victim is the consumer who cannot control his actions under the influence of alcohol let alone curtail his own consumption of it.  Everyone is familiar with the story of the drunk who, during the brief period during which he keeps his job, goes home and beats his family after a long day at the mill.  Doubtless he and his family would be better off without access to alcohol.  So fine, let's make a law banning the production, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages.  Wait a minute, didn't we try that?  What happened?  People kept drinking spirits, which were purchased on a black market.  Black market purchases, as always, were accompanied by violence and products of inferior and practically unverifiable quality.  So the drunk either, in the best case, went blind from drinking methanol, got caught up in gang violence and was killed or, in the worst case, continued to beat his wife and kids.  An organized and ruthless system of crime developed around this black market, leading to a loss of safety and security for the masses, the dissolution of the seemingly well-intended law, and providing fodder for the greatest films of the 20th century.  So much for protecting the first class of victim of this otherwise safe and reputable product.  It turns out there were a great number of unforeseen victims ignored by the well-meaning legislators, as is usually the case.

Second, you may say, "There is no guarantee that his product is safe and reliable.  He could really hurt some people by selling wood alcohol or blowing up his home and still."  Fine, let's regulate the production and distribution of alcoholic beverages.  This should sound perfectly reasonable and familiar to everyone.  But to whom do we grant these licenses and for what cost?  How do we separate ourselves from the organized crime bosses, who after all merely sought to bring order to the unruly anarchy before them and who employ the same tactic that we propose - physical force?   You may say that we elect officials to conduct our raids and protect our made men at our chosen distilleries, but this is merely different in magnitude, not in kind.  Had Capone's business been more popular in the eye's of the public, would any among us have considered them just?  Those of us who wish to govern must understand that proclaiming the power to license inexorably weakens our armor to corruption as those who have purchased our favor will certainly pay to keep their neighbors out.  So, by assuming rights we do not have, we will have disrupted what integrity remains of our government all in the name of an alleged good which can never be measured at cost which can never be known.

Let the moonshiner's reputation govern the safety and quality of his product.  Let him engage in peaceful transaction with his benefactors in the sanitizing light of day.  Let freedom ring; and let's have another drink!

A whore should be judged by the same criteria as other professionals offering services for pay—such as dentists, lawyers, hairdressers, physicians, plumbers, etc. Is she professionally competent? Does she give good measure? Is she honest with her clients? It is possible that the percentage of honest and competent whores is higher than that of plumbers and much higher than that of lawyers. And enormously higher than that of professors.  -- Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
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