Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mongolian Prohibition

I read this story about Mongolia yesterday and thought I would pass it on.

"Just before New Year's Eve, a factory outside of Ulaanbaatar made some vodka using the wrong type of ingredients. Unfortunately, as a result somewhere between 11-14 people (exact numbers are difficult to find) died from poisoning with another 200 hospitalized. In response, whether as a safety measure or in respect for those affected, the Mongolian government has banned the sale of any kind of alcohol almost everywhere in Mongolia. It has been reported that crime is down between 30 percent and 50 percent and the police are getting bored with nothing to do. As this has coincided with a cold snap in the weather, the police have opened up the now empty "drunk tanks" [where drunkards are taken] for street people to sleep in. No one knows when the ban will be lifted, but many are hoping it will last as long as possible. All these events are visible proof of how alcohol affects this country."

I don't know how cultural differences would change outcomes from what happened in Mongolia, but it is interesting to think about. Generally I'm not someone who want lots more laws. But the results of this short term alcohol ban are certainly attention getting.

Obviously voluntary abstention from alcohol would not make a difference. Surely those who are ending up in 'drunk tanks' or who are committing crimes under the influence would not choose these things. So the question is about whether we limit the freedom of those who can control their drinking in order to make a place safer and to provide outside controls for those who don't have inner control. If law enforcement would cost 30-60 percent less, is that enough of a reason to legislate alcohol?

A variable that can't really be measured is the fact that this legislation is seen as temporary. If it were like prohibition, my assumption is that eventually crime would again increase, and would included black market liquor and all that goes with it. Is this working because the whole country is sobered by the deaths of those few? Is is working because people are afraid of drinking other tainted alcohol? If a ban on alcohol would be legislated without a precipitating tragedy would the results be the same?

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