Photo courtesy of Connor W. Davis

A guide to predicting corruption:

For years, I’ve always wondered why I can die for my country at the age of 18, but prohibited to drink alcohol until the age of 21. In middle school classes, we were all taught the failure of the 1920s alcohol prohibition policy and how it actually gave birth to bootlegging, speakeasies and an increase of alcohol consumption. So why have a policy similar to a 13 year failure? Could it be that alcohol companies intentionally want the age limit higher than normal countries in order to influence the youth to drink more? It fits in line with a forbidden fruit type of psychological effect: wanting more because you’re not allowed to have it.

Over the course of these past 4 years, I have noticed a pattern with some policies and laws that don’t seem to make a lot of sense as to why they are still in place. It seems to me that laws or policies that leaves you scratching your head as to why they exist, are left in place because of underlying financial gains benefiting certain people who have a significant influence with the lawmakers.

For example, in Romania on Jan. 31, 2017, a new law was passed that made official misconduct a prisonable offense only if the financial damage is greater than 200,000 lei (about $47,000). This seems like an odd law to pass. Why so specific with the amount of money and why even allow official misconduct at all. If someone steals $46,999 from me, I would want that person reprimanded to discourage others from stealing and get my money back. Romanian Government officials have claimed the reasoning for this law was to decrease the overcrowded prisons; however, it turns out that certain government officials can benefit from this new law. The leader of the governing Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, currently faces charges of abuse of power that includes financial damages up to 24,000 euros, (approximately $25,800). Coincidently less than the $47,000 minimum amount that you can be prosecuted for. It is pretty evident to me that the real reason for this new law in Romania is not because of overcrowded prisons, but to protect a high government official from corruptions charges. Most Romanian citizens agree with me, as there were massive protest in the streets with the protesters shouting “Thieves! Thieves! Thieves!” In this case, the level of corruption is so evident that it seems unnecessary to follow my guideline: if it doesn’t make sense, someone is probably making money off of it. So let’s use another example.

Going back to the alcohol age limit, why can I die for my country at the age of 18 but forbidden to purchase alcohol until I’m 21? It has never made sense in my eyes and despite the epidemic of youth binge drinking in America, it’s still in place. Before I delve into why I think it remains, it’s important to understand the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Some of the policies and laws that I’m talking about start out as good intentioned, but if a large corporation or influential figures happen to make money on it, the policy will remain regardless if it actually works or not.

In the 1920s, alcohol prohibition was proposed in order to reduce crime and corruption, improve the health of Americans and lessen the amount of alcoholics in households. All of which are noble intentions, but in reality, what ended up happening was the genesis of organized crime. Because of the ban, it increased the desire to consume alcohol even more. It falls in line with the forbidden fruit psychological effect of wanting something more than would you have simply due to the fact that you can’t have it. For example, if a child wants to play with a certain toy, his desire to play with that toy would increase if an authority figure tells him he’s forbidden to. It can stem from a person’s now heightened attention to the desire, perceived scarcity and the psychological reaction of emotion when being controlled. Corrupt people took advantage of that and it became a profitable business. Bootlegging increased, speakeasies were invented, arrest for drunk driving increased 81%, the homicide rate went up, prison incarceration rate went up and arrest for drunkenness and disorderly conduct went up by 41%. This was mainly all due to fact that organized crime was making money off of policy that didn’t work and was largely ignored. Eventually after 13 years, the government decided to abolish prohibition and America learned a great lesson.

Unfortunately history is destined to repeat itself. Once again, in 1984, with good intentions by MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving), the Federal government ordered all 50 states to raise the drinking age to 21 or risk losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds. Yet just like with prohibition, the alcohol policy is largely ignored by the youth of America and if anything because of the age limit, alcohol is viewed as a positive social aesthetic in American youth culture. Everybody and their mother knows what goes on in the majority college campuses and high school parties, and nobody really cares because it was allowed and seen as socially acceptable before 1984. This even extends to the enforcement of underage drinking, where one study showed that only 2 out of every 1000 cases of underage drinking results in citation or arrest. Paralleling prohibition, the drinking age creates an increased desire for people to drink who aren’t allowed to. To be clear, it’s not that the age limit creates a desire for more people to drink, but rather a desire for people to drink more. According to the Center of Alcohol marketing and Youth, 96% of alcohol drunk is consumed when the drinker is having 5 or more drinks at a time. A nonprofit organization known as Choose Responsibility (CR) argues the current age limit has pushed underaged drinking underground and into dangerous territory. Alcoholism is the leading cause of preventable death in America and in 2014 the alcohol death rate reached a 35 year high. According to the Annual Review of Public Health, alcohol annually has contributed to 1700 deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault on college campus.  There are fewer drunk driving traffic accidents and fatalities in many countries with a minimum drinking age of 18. However the most alarming statistics is that underage drinking occurs more often as binge drinking than in any other group and the alcohol industry knows it.

My point is that considering the failure of 1920’s prohibition and all the negative effects the age limit has on potential binge drinkers, it doesn’t seem to make much sense that I can die for country at 18 but can’t drink until 21? Is someone making money off of it? Yes. Underage drinking is an extremely profitable industry which accounts for $23 billion. The alcohol industry has had rhetoric of responsible drinking but for them to make a profit, people need to overdrink. According to National Liquor News, 70% of the alcohol companies business comes from 10% of their customers. They rely on binge drinkers to bring in the majority of their profit, and unfortunately 96.8% of all adult drinkers with alcohol abuse and dependence began drinking before the age of 21. The alcohol industry is financially motivated to encourage underage age drinking. Even their marketing tells us that, where alcohol advertisements in magazines exposes youth ages 12-20 years old to 45% more beer advertisements and 27% more ads for distilled spirits than 21 year old adults. My theory is that while the age limit law started out with good intentions by MAAD, the continuing negative effects the age limit has on youth binge drinking combined with the fact that most people ignore the limit and history has shown us that prohibition doesn’t work, makes it clear to me that the alcohol industry is financially motivated to keep a policy that doesn’t work.

The same process of thinking can be attributed to the new cigarette age limit in California. Most people now know that smoking causes cancer, so the cigarette usage is at a record low and dropping; going from 42.4% in 1964 to 17.8% in 2014. This is a problem for cigarette companies who want a boost in their consumptions. Conveniently a new law show ups in California restricting the youth from smoking until 21 years old. The law appears seemly out of nowhere and completely unneeded considering the already record breaking declining smoking rate in America. It doesn’t make sense to fix a problem that is already being fixed. This new law serves no purpose other than to emulate the alcohol industry’s ingenious method of using prohibition type policy to stimulate more consumption.

The NFL is by far the most popular sport in America and the money shows it. In 2015, the NFL made a total $7.24 billion and the numbers are only rising. $1.4 billion will come from the NFL’s corporate sponsorship with the #1 beer company, Bud Light. The irony of this, is that the NFL has banned medical Marijuana and suspended players for the violation. Considering the amount of media scrutiny the NFL has underwent for their players being involved in domestic abuse and drunk driving, it doesn’t make much sense why they would promote alcohol consumption with their ads and policies yet ban medical marijuana. Are they making money off of the policy? Yes.

Despite the negative connotation, there are beneficial effects to Medical Marijuana that athletes have used for actual muscle recovery and pain management. Because of the marijuana ban, football players are forced to use highly addictive painkillers (that the NFL allows) which have surprising consequences. Athletes including Brett Favre, Jim McMahon, Kyle Turley, Nick Kaczur, Kevin Ellison and many others have all suffered from the addicting effects of painkillers during and after their career. The athletes are pressured to play through injury, numb the pain with painkillers, and All Pro Receiver Calvin Johnson has even stated “the doctors, the team doctors and trainers, they were giving them[painkillers]out like candy, you know?” Knowing the harmful side effects of painkillers and alcohol combined with the increasing research and legality of medical marijuana, why would the NFL seem to pick and choose which substance they deem appropriate for their league? 2x Super Bowl Champion Jim McMahon believes that the “They[NFL] want you taking their pills…I think they’re in cahoots with big pharma. My whole career they were pushing pills on me. For whatever ailment you had, they had a pill for it and that’s the reason they’re demonizing this plant they way they are.” I believe him. In fact, the league has been sued by former players, accusing the NFL of irresponsible distribution of painkillers, causing long-term harm. The NFL would currently not earn a penny if their players used marijuana. I think they purposely ignore the harmful effects of the painkillers and hypocrisy of alcohol consumption because of the revenue incentives it brings to Bud Light and pharmaceuticals which in terms benefits the NFL.

This is not the first time, the NFL has ignored harmful effects involving their sport. Similar situations are currently going on now with the concussion crisis. According to the New York Times, the NFL has been withholding concussion research since 1996 where they manipulated their data and excluded over 100 cases of concussions in their 13 page paper. That paper stood as the backbone to their claim that football does not cause brain damage or the concussion induced disease known as C.T.E. The New York Times goes on to state that the NFL’s tactics are similar to that of the cigarette companies who denied the correlation between smoking and Cancer. While the League has denied this and stated “The NFL is not the tobacco industry; it had no connection to the tobacco industry….perhaps the most odious industry in American history.” the NFL went as far as hiring the same lobbyist, lawyers, and consultants as the tobacco industry. The NFL also ironically included their personal correspondence in dinner invites and requested lobbying advice from them. The connection seems pretty clear to me. Considering how much harmful influence the tobacco industry had in America with their clever claims, ads, and manipulation of research, it’s a safe bet that the NFL has similar types of corruption for financial gain.

Continuing off of the NFL, have you ever wondered why some forms of gambling like fantasy football or sports betting is allowed but other forms of gambling are outlawed? This doesn’t really make sense, is someone making money off of it? Well given the history of my previous examples, you can probably guess the answer. I can honestly write a book about all the times a law or policy didn’t make sense why it remained, and after enough research, it turns out that some entity had financial incentives for it to remain. This can be a guide to predicting corruption, because you can assume that the corporate entity financially benefitting from the odd law or policy, has some government influence and look into who’s job it is for the law to remain.

Are there policies that you can think don’t make sense? Maybe it’s because someone is making money off of it. Feel free to send me your ideas on policies that don’t make sense and who could be profiting from it and I will be happy to review them and possibly share with our readers.