Coin That Phrase: Bootleggers and Baptists


“Bootleggers and Baptists.” When I first heard this phrase, I thought that it must be some expression that refers to a dull topic that only middle-aged adults would understand. But as I conducted more research, I soon discovered that the phrase is actually a storied saying with a fascinating origin!

According to a number of sources, “Bootleggers and Baptists” is a catchphrase that was first created by economist Bruce Yandle. It refers to how two different groups of people can both profit from the same situation, but for drastically different reasons. Here, “Baptists” are people who uphold laws for the ‘right’ reasons and take the moral high ground. “Bootleggers,” on the other hand, here represent those who support laws for underhanded reasons.

Many examples of “Bootleggers and Baptists” can be observed throughout history, but the one I find the most interesting is Prohibition, which occurred during the early 1900s. Prohibition laws were established by the U.S. government from 1920 to 1933. These laws banned alcohol and, as such, primarily aimed to reduce the overall consumption among Americans.

The Baptists, straight-laced and ‘good’ Christians, took the moral high ground and supported the ban for the sake of upholding the law. The Bootleggers, on the other hand, also supported Prohibition; however, they did so for quite different reasons. Prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, the government essentially made alcohol rare and highly desirable by the public. Bootleggers capitalized on this situation for profit and secretly hoarded, or “bootlegged,” alcohol, which they then sold at a high price.

After learning this history, I was at first astounded by how two very dissimilar groups with such different ethics could work together toward the same cause or end. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And I began to spot this political phenomenon in some of our news today.

So the next time you watch politics on the news or read a newspaper, see if you can spot a classic case of “Bootleggers and Baptists”!

[Sources: object.cato.org; Wikipedia]

This is such an interesting article and history. Awesome work, Michelle! – MckennaMadison, WI (2017-02-02 18:53)
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