I spurred a bit of debate in this post below
, which centered on the reliability of the historic alcohol consumption figures. I posted this, with a few more bits added addressing other issues, in the comments section below, but think the meat deserves a wider audience. Substantive debate centered around a) the drop in alcohol consumption before prohibition in 1920 and b) whether the official figures reflected actual alcohol consumption.
A little research into the 1917-19 period indicates that alcohol consumption probably dropped then because of pre-prohibition alcohol control methods: the Reed bone-dry amendment, forbidding interstate shipment of liquor into dry states, the Food Control Law, which closed distilleries, and then breweries, and then wartime prohibition (not used in WWII), which did not take effect until 1919! These measures were obviously integral to the whole alcohol restriction phenomenon and should not really be separated from prohibition itself. There were also many individual state prohibitions. The influenza epidemic also would have stopped a lot of people drinking.
Moreover, as Dr Weevil
pointed out, cirrhosis deaths are a useful proxy for overall alcohol consumption. Cirrhosis deaths dropped from around 13 per 100,000 in the 1900-1917 era to about 7 in the era 1918-1933. They then began a steady rise with an anomalous peak in around 1948 before peaking at almost 16 in the late 70s. There has since been a steady fall to around 9 today.
Exactly the same drop can be seen in states like CA and NY that did not adopt prohibition before 1920.
The data come from this PDF
, whose analysis is flawed because of the artificial separation of the effects of pre-prohibition and state prohibition from US Constitutional prohibition. The three combined clearly had a significant effect on cirrhosis, which the authors admit is a proxy for consumption. Their headline conclusion that Prohibition had an insignificant effect on alcohol consumption is therefore a quibble. I have never been impressed by Miron's work. His analysis of the effect of gun laws, for instance, gave Britain and the US the same scores for restrictiveness.
May I also remind people that the original post was about whether or not prohibition suppresses demand. The rights and wrongs are another matter. Yet it seems clear to me that prohibition does suppress demand.