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What prohibition s failure means for the legalisation of cannabis

What prohibition s failure means for the legalisation of cannabis
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Economists have a bit of an image problem. People think we shamelessly massage statistics, overconfidently make terrible predictions, and are no fun at drinks parties.

Perhaps some of the blame for this lies with the man who, a century ago, was probably the most famous economist in the world - Irving Fisher.

It was Fisher who notoriously claimed, in October 1929, the stock market had reached "a permanently high plateau".

Nine days later, came the huge stock market crash that led to the Great Depression.

As for parties, the best that can be said for Fisher was he was a generous host.

As Mark Thornton records in The Economics of Prohibition, one of Fisher s dinner guests wrote: "While I ate right through my succession of delicious courses, [Fisher] dined on a vegetable and a raw egg."

A fitness fanatic, he avoided meat, tea, coffee and chocolate.

He didn t drink alcohol either, and was an enthusiastic supporter of prohibition, America s ill fated attempt to outlaw its manufacture and sale, which began in 1920.

It was a remarkable change - the country s fifth-largest industry was suddenly made illegal.

Fisher predicted it would "go down in history as ushering in a new era in the world, in which accomplishment this nation will take pride forever".

He added he couldn t find a single economist willing to oppose the policy in a debate.

In fact, prohibition turned out about as well as his prediction about the permanently high plateau: historians typically regard it as a farce.

It was so widely flouted alcohol consumption decreased by only about a fifth. It finally ended in 1933, when one of Franklin D Roosevelt s first acts as president was to re-legalise beer, bringing cheering crowds to the White House gates.
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