a huge criminal enterprise that supplied Americans with what they wanted.
children spent entire paychecks at saloons. It was a social problem that seemed to be begging for a sweeping solution.
The least satisfactory of the three solutions was, clearly, the eighteenth amendment. Its supporters didn’t seem to understand they had outlawed something that people had been using since the dawn of recorded history. They didn’t understand that enacting laws to solve a problem that less than 10% of the people had was bad legislative policy. They didn’t give much thought to the idea of prohibition was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, that telling Americans they couldn’t do something was the surest way to get them to do it. While they were, no doubt, well intentioned, church leaders also failed to consider the possibility that their founderin human history. About the only criminal enterprise larger, as Mark Twain’s literary creation, Pudd’nhead Wilson, observed in 1897, was the U.S. Congress. He put it quite eloquently – “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”
One of the enduring lessons of Prohibition is that the road to perdition is sometimes paved with the very best of intentions. Burns seemed to think that the willy-nilly use of constitutional amendments to solve social problems has passed. I’d like to think he’s right, but I think he’s a bit optimistic. Do-gooders, particularly today’s Progressives, find it almost impossible to resist the urge to fix the overwhelming majority of us who aren’t nearly as noble as them. These days, allied with state and local government, Progressives have even taken on Happy Meals, soda pop, pizza, chicken nuggets, and just about anything else that makes living around them tolerable. If they had their way we’d all be spending our days eating nothing but carrots. They just can’t leave well enough alone. If the average American is anything like me, being around a Progressive brings on an instant craving for greasy food.
Why, given the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if a generation or so from now one of Ken Burns’ grandchildren produces a documentary on black market cheeseburgers. I can almost see the footage as I write. “Pssst…Yeah, you buddy….Over here in the alley…I got ‘em loaded down with pickles, grilled onions, mustard, ketchup, and thousands of calories. Just give me ten bucks and this baby will be yours to devour.”