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Partial prohibition in the Czech Republic

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September 14th, 2012 will be remembered in the Czech Republic as the day when all beverages with an alcoholic content higher than 20% were banned. In only two weeks, the death toll due to methanol intoxication rose to 26 people and many others were hospitalized. Is state intervention justified?
Source: flickr

Between a rock and a hard place – before and after the prohibition

Barbora Slaba | 2013. January 27. 12:45

Given the fact the Czech Republic is a liberal state, it should never impose itself on its people. The Czech political scientist Jiří Pehe expressed his consent with the latter thesis, stating that « in these conditions, the State poses a threat to society ».

A ban on hard liquor sale is not itself illegal, but has the effect of illegal sales increasing, which, in times of crisis like this, will spread quickly. People become more likely to produce their own alcohol and the black market will expand as the presence of alcohol distilled incorrectly will be more present on it. On the other hand, the alcohol legally distributed by official vendors with guaranteed quality and licensed brands will become secondary. A telling sign of the existence of the black market is the obvious increase in crime. When it comes to illegal trade relations, it is impossible to meet all obligations set. Therefore it happens far too frequently that criminal methods such as torture, kidnapping or murder are used to resolve disputes between various sellers on the black market. The Czech prohibition is certainly going to result in the birth of a "new-age Al Capone".

*Alcohol prohibition – a waste of public money

The ban on hard liquor limits the consumers prohibiting them to buy quality alcohol. Yet, the government throws away millions of bottles.

Moreover, the prohibition is ruining whole enterprises. Shopkeepers and hoteliers often already bought alcohol in advance for their business, thus the taxes are already paid, but they are unable to sell it now. The government has in this way reduced their profits too significantly and thus entered their private sphere. Given that most of these establishments live only from the sale of alcohol, the State’s measures can push them to bankruptcy.

 

The prohibition is reducing State incomes even though the budget has been announced, by the current government,to be hugely in deficit. Paradoxically, illegally imported alcohol does not bring any money to the State. As ethanol, alcohol and liquor imports account for about 2 million Czech crowns annually, the prohibition is only another step towards a higher debt.

 

The ‘live and let live’ policy gone wrong

Antonin Sobek | 2013. January 27. 12:45

According to the Czech minister of Health, Leoš Heger, a modern-day alcohol prohibition was the only way to stop the rising number of people falling victims to methanol intoxication. Henceforth, economic interests clash with needs of public safety.

On September 4th, 2012, the Czech society heard about the first case of alcohol poisoning provoked by illegally produced alcohol, containing a high concentration of methanol, which was yet accessible on the market. Over the next short period of time, the number of people who were blinded or deceased because they unwillingly consumed punched alcohol, increased steadily. Thus, in response to the alcohol market's failure to distinguish between legally and illegaly produced bottles, on September 14th the Ministry of Health adopted a measure deemed both bold and necessary. A partial prohibition was established, meaning that the sale of all alcoholic beverages with alcohol content exceeding 20% was banned. After having found the main source of deathly alcohol, this measure was significantly attenuated on September 27th.

*Fighting a corrupted status quo

Obviously, the status quo of the corrupted Czech alcohol market was not created ex nihilo, but it rather rose as a direct or indirect result of public policies. Indeed, ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, the black market continued to grow because of the lax attitude of the authorities controlling customs at the Czech borders. Until now, either because of personal interests or from fear of becoming unpopular, no effort was made to solve the problem from above. That is why we must consider the implementation of the prohibition primarily as an examplary gesture by the Ministry of Health who were determined to end the political passivity surrounding the issue and to impose the necessary corrective measures. Now the authorities have to accept the challenge, for the issue became too important. Their own political survival is at stake.

*A dangerous economic cynicism

Surely, such measures cost the State a great deal since its revenues are negatively affected. The latter argument is popular amongst the opponents of the prohibition, however it is in fact self-contradictory; tax evasion of the black market dealers caused the continuous bleeding of the treasury. Furthermore, this argument is very cynical as it neglects the central motive of the implementation of the prohibition – to ensure public safety. Behind the modern hegemony of economic imperatives stand real-life citizens, whose protection is the purpose of the State. Apparently for some, dozens of innocent victims are not sufficient enough to justify such an intervention. Even worse, the fact that approximately about 15,000 litres of punched alcohol circulate on the market does not seem to persuade the economic demagogues. Should this reflect the ethos of contemporary Czech politics, the foreshadow of the agony of the current system has to be taken seriously.

*In search of a lasting cure

Even if the prohibition is not by itself justified by moral concerns, it surely is through the fulfillment of the State's protective function. Thus, the duty of the State to protect legitimates this intervention, and inversely this function legitimates the existence of the State. However, it should be noted that the prohibition is only palliative of the crisis, without questioning the measure's both necessary and iconic features. Now, under the threat of losing face, the authorities are forced to initiate appropriate reforms which will effectively and permanently solve the crisis situation. Thus a non-intervention policy or ‘laissez-faire’, once enshrined in the field, now seems inconceivable due to the prohibition.

 

This article convinced me.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

This article convinced me.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

The state of votes

66%
34%

Between a rock and a hard place – before and after the prohibition

Barbora Slaba

The ‘live and let live’ policy gone wrong

Antonin Sobek

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