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THE NATURE OF MORAL REGULATION

As Al Capone himself so pointedly remarked:

I make my money by supplying a public demand.

If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am. The only difference between us is that I sell and they buy. Everybody calls me a racketeer. I call myself a business man.

When I sell liquor, it’s bootlegging.
When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lake Shore Drive, it’s hospitality.

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Capone’s remarks underscore the fundamental problem of prohibitory

regulation. Such legislation may influence the price of the illegal good, but it rarely affects the conscience of the customer seeking to purchase it. Like most prohibitory regimes, alcohol prohibition criminalized an activity that many citizens did not regard as criminal, and then proceeded to enforce regulations along class lines. For these reasons, National Prohibition remains the classic case study in the legislation of morals.

Unfortunately, it is not the only one.

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