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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dostie and Dupre on 1898 prohibition referendum

New in Explorations in Economic History (Vol. 49 Issue 4) an article, '"The people's will": Canadians and the 1898 referendum on alcohol prohibition' by economists Benoit Dostie and Ruth Dupré.

Here's the abstract, the last line of which made me laugh out loud. Economists, what can you say? But as an empircally based case study on a referendum, this seems as though it could be quite useful to legal historians interested in law reform and/or alcohol regulation or the role of religion in law making.

The 1920s American alcohol prohibition is notorious but not unique. Quite a few countries went through a vigorous struggle. But it is in Canada in 1898 that the very first national referendum on prohibition in the world took place. In this article, we focus on this rare and neglected event in Canadian history, in which the government came close but finally did not impose prohibition. In our empirical analysis, we use census district-level data to investigate how the shares of Yes, No and Abstentions vary according to four sets of factors: religious, demographic, social and economic. Our results confirm the literature on temperance and prohibition with religion [Evangelicals against Catholics and Anglicans] as the key explanatory variable, followed by the heterogeneity of the population, measured by the proportion of foreign-born. Urbanization has also the expected (although small) impact. Results for wealth are mixed. The economic interest rationale is not confirmed but that can be explained by the historical context.

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