The Majesty of the Law

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I've read a lot about prohibition, but I never read about the government's deliberate effort to make industrial alcohol undrinkably poisonous.  Thousands of people seem to have died as a result.

I wish I could say I found it surprising, but it seem to me to be of a piece with too many other brutalities in American law.  We pass a law with the best of intentions, and find it doesn't work, and so we pass new regulations and policies designed to crack down on non-compliance, until we are brutalizing the population all out of proportion to the original good we were pursuing.  Consider the way we have cracked down on pain medications, impeding the effectiveness of pain control for people in chronic agony out of the fear that somewhere, someone might be getting high.  Or the terrifying authority we've handed the IRS, because if anyone gets away with cheating on their taxes, the terrorists will have won, or something.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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