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The Liquor Traffic and City Government

Professor of Political Science, Western Reserve University

It is doubtful if the history of government reveals a more persistent, pervasive or intricate problem than that arising from the use of intoxicating drink. Apparently as old as organized society there is no government in the civilized world today which does not feel called upon to give it earnest consideration. persistence alone is strong proof of its difficulty. If further evidence is required even a superficial examination is sufficient to show that it involves such a multiplicity of elements, economic, social, political and moral, that it is easy to cast at least some doubt upon any solution which may be offered. And yet it is a question which, from its very nature, cannot be permitted to rest until some solution has been found measurably satisfactory to a majority of the people of each nation concerned.

At the very outset one is impressed with the fact that an impartial consideration of the liquor question is beset with special difficulties. The positive conviction with Difficulties of which the champions of the two extremes advoImpartial cate their theories leaves little room for the Consideration findings of the scientific investigator. If his conclusions lean toward suppression of the traffic he is a puritan and hostile to individual liberty; should he incline toward a less rigorous policy he is a creature of the rum power and an enemy of mankind; if he finds himself obliged to take some middle ground he receives aspersions impartially from both sides. The investigation of the liquor traffic shares this difficulty in common with all other questions into which the so-called moral considerations enter. The very intensity of feeling which keeps the question alive becomes one of the chief obstacles to a wise solution.

While it would not be safe to say that the comparative rareness of impartial scientific investigations of the liquor traffic is due to the condition just described it does happen that, considering the importance of the question, the amount of literature of solid value concerning it is exceedingly small. It is also true that those investigations which rest upon the soundest bases are apparently the least quoted in the battle of argument which is constantly raging.

Another difficulty in the path of any comprehensive investigation of the liquor traffic is found in the wide scope which the inquiry must take. The subjects range from individual liberty to the conditions of labor, from taxation to the causes of insanity, from local autonomy to social psychology. A multitude of factors demand consideration and no view is complete without taking them all into account. Even when that is done conclusions may differ in proportion as superior weight is given to this, that or the other element.

One final difficulty remains to be noticed. The problem of the liquor traffic involves, as has just been indicated, a wide range of social phenomena. It need not be said that social facts are always hard to weigh, analyze and classify even when the most perfect system of observation and tabulation has been worked out. Even with a comprehensive plan it is never absolutely certain that the same standard of judgment is employed by all those who contribute to the work. For this reason social statistics have always a considerable element of uncertainty. Moreover students of social questions in the United States have not even the advantage of a compilation of facts worked out according to a comprehensive plan. Within the boundaries of the individual state a uniform system of collecting data may be employed. However these systems are only too often carelessly or inadequately carried out and the range of facts covered is usually entirely too limited. The tables of the Federal Government are in most cases based upon the reports of state officials. Hence comparative studies of various states are likely to be untrustworthy and the figures so glibly quoted by opposing sides in the liquor controversy are often unreliable or at least open to serious question.

In the face of these difficulties, and partly because of them, the problem of the liquor traffic stands more in need of an impartial and comprehensive investigation today than ever before. The very progress of the antiliquor movement through the media of state prohibition and local option has increased rather than lessened the need for more light. A solid basis of fact upon which to rest further procedure should be welcomed by every person who desires to settle this great problem in a manner most conducive to the public good. And yet since the work of the Committee of Fifty, ten years ago, no general study of the question has been attempted in America. There has been published since that time, one valuable monograph upon the central administration of liquor laws and from time to time numerous magazine articles have appeared. But, in the main, the facts and figures currently quoted have emanated either from those interested in the liquor trade or from the party committed irrevocably to complete and immediate suppression. Aside from these convinced advocates of conflicting solutions there is not, so far as the writer knows, a single American investigator who is contributing steadily to our knowledge of this most difficult and intricate problem. Indeed the largest mass of accurate information regarding American conditions which has appeared since the reports of the Committee of Fifty is to be found in the joint work of two English authorities.1 If the outcome of this present discussion should be a systematic and exhaustive investigation of the liquor traffic as it affects the government of cities in the United States the National Municipal League would have made a contribution of inestimable value toward the solution of a great problem. After all the liquor question is largely a problem in city government. In the country districts it presents Liquor no special difficulties. Outside the large centers Question of population several methods of treatment Essentially have been found to work fairly well. No plan a City One has given uniform satisfaction when applied under urban conditions. The most obvious reason for this

Imperative Need of Investigation

1 Rowntree and Sherwell: The Temperance Problem and Social Reform, 9th ed., 1901; Taxation of the Liquor trade, vol. i, 1906.

difference is that intoxicating drink is chiefly sold in cities. This is due to the fact that the trade follows the same course economically as any other business and locates itself at the point where the profit is greatest. In fact it is even more irresistibly drawn to the urban centers than trade of other descriptions, for not being a necessity of life, it would lose the greater part of its custom unless situated where men habitually come together for other purposes.

Furthermore the very nature of city life creates a disposition more favorable to the saloon than is to be found in the country districts. The close contact, highly diversified interests and greater excitement incident to a massed population are productive of liberality of view not to say of a free and easy attitude toward life. This manifests itself in a more tolerant spirit and in a disposition to give the other man his way in matters personal. The causes lying back of this tendency in urban populations is beyond the province of this paper to discuss. The purpose here is to point out that it is responsible for granting the saloon a right to be so long as there is any considerable demand for it and for a certain amount of blindness to its undesirable features. The presence in many of our American cities of large numbers of persons of foreign birth who have always been accustomed to the use of intoxicants only serves still further to accentuate this universal tendency of urban life.

There is another aspect of city life not so often considered in this connection which renders the question of intoxicating drink peculiarly one of municipal government. The strain and stress of the present industrial organization falls largely upon those in the cities. They are the ones most directly affected by our machine-made age. The so-called industrial classes are largely city dwellers. From one extreme of life to the other the principle of division of labor has deprived the urban inhabitant of the recreation which comes from variety in work. Especially among the shop and factory workers has the division of labor been carried to its utmost limit. When there is added to the dulling monotony of performing a single small part of an industrial process, the tension under which labor


Classes and

is performed, the din and jar of machinery, and, only too often, the smoke and grime of unattractive and unsanitary surroundings, it is not strange that men released from labor under such conditions should seek relief in some manner from the strain of their daily toil. The search for something with an inhibitory effect, to employ the term used recently by Professor Münsterberg, leads directly to the use of alcoholic stimulants. The evil results of alcohol appear most frequently among this class of our population. Our industrial organization demands the highest degree of self-control from the very persons whom it deprives of that virtue. The free life of the country with its good air, its quiet and its variety of labor, if not proof against the ravages of alcoholism, at least does not produce an abnormal condition which tends to seek relief in artificial stimulants.

The ease with which laws regulating the liquor traffic may be evaded in cities adds another purely municipal attribute to the problem. The strain of enforcing such provisions, especially if opposed by public sentiment, is more than even a conscientious city administration can stand. The exclusion of the traffic from neighboring small towns and from the country round about often renders the position of a city more difficult. In uch cases the city government has to bear the burden of enforcement against the efforts of its own people reinforced by the drinking portion of the tributary country districts.

Thus briefly an attempt has been made to show to what an extent the problem of the liquor traffic is predominately a question of city government. The purpose has not been to minimize the seriousness of the situation but to make it clear that any solution which is offered must be based largely on urban conditions.

What then are the fundamental facts regarding the relations of the liquor traffic to city government? The trade is charged with being in politics and the charge is unquestionably true. Wherever the traffic exists it is a force politically, varying in degree from a moderate influence to tremendous power. But why is the liquor traffic in politics? An answer to the latter question is necessary in order to get the situation clearly in mind. as well as a preliminary to the suggestion of remedies.

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