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The Birth of the Organized Crime? The American Temperance Movement and Market-Based Violence

Emily Greene Owens

Cornell University

June 15, 2011

Economic theory and anecdotal evidence suggest that the absence of formal contract enforcement increases systemic, or market-based, violence in illegal markets. Lack of substantial variation in market legality has prevented empirical evaluation of the strength of this association. Using a state-level panel of age-specific homicide rates between 1900 and 1940, I demonstrate that criminalization of alcohol markets led to a compression of the age distribution of homicide victims. Specifically, homicide rates for individuals between the ages of 20 and 30 increased relative to homicide rates for individuals under 20 and over 30. The compression of the age distribution of homicide victims was most evident in northern states and in states with large immigrant and urban populations. Using modern homicide data, I show that this age specific change in homicide rates is consistent with an increase in systemic violence, supporting the argument that the temperance movement contributed to the rise of organized crime in the United States. Banning the commercial sale of alcohol appears to have had a protective effect for children and mature adults, but this came at the expense of increasing the rate of violence among young adults.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 43

Keywords: alcohol, organized crime, homicide, illegal markets, prohibition

JEL Classification: K42, N42, I18

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Date posted: June 17, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Owens, Emily Greene, The Birth of the Organized Crime? The American Temperance Movement and Market-Based Violence (June 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1865347 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1865347

Contact Information

Emily Greene Owens (Contact Author)
Cornell University ( email )
120 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
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