Skip to comments.Cheers for Drinking Reform - It should be a libertarianís dream issue.
Posted on 03/23/2013 11:07:30 AM PDT by neverdem
Alcohol occupies a peculiar position in the culture of the United States. Like so much else besides, it is subject to the ongoing brawl between puritanism and libertarianism, two philosophies that have long jockeyed for dominance here. Americans have made many contributions to the bar — including the perfection and popularization of the cocktail. But puritanism has survived, enjoying a rich history of its own. Benjamin Rush’s inquiries into alcoholism spawned a variety of anti-alcohol movements at the outset of the new republic; in the 1850s, “temperance” overlapped uncomfortably with the Know Nothing movement’s distaste for secular principles; and in the 1920s the 18th Amendment was passed, in part on the back of widespread mistrust of immigrants and the drinks they brought with them. The role of alcohol in society, remember, is the only such question ever to have been placed within the U.S. Constitution. Nowadays, the folly of Prohibition is widely known. But in practice it still obtains for some, as a deviant exception to the rule of adulthood.
In the United States, we treat 18-year-olds as full citizens. At this age, a man may vote and he may serve as a juror — or he may search for excuses as to why he should do neither. He may smoke cigarettes and fly an airplane. He may get married, or he may eschew that road in favor of pornography and promiscuity. He may enter into contracts, max out his credit cards, and run a business into the ground. He may join the military, putting his life in danger. In some jurisdictions, he may run for public office. Less welcome but no less real are the opportunities to be executed by the state for capital crimes and to sign up for the Selective Service. But what he may not do — in any of the 50 states — is walk to a bar and buy an alcoholic drink. This is nonsense — an aberration from the usual rules. What sense does it make to deprive an adult of just one feature of adulthood, and why are the arguments in favor of doing so taken seriously?
Lobbying the federal government in the 1980s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving claimed that there was a connection between young-adult drinkers and the worrying number of deaths caused by drunk driving. Their evidence is by no means indisputable. Traffic fatalities in the 1980s decreased considerably less after the drinking age was raised than they did during the same period in Europe, where drinking is common at 18 and below; and, as the research of Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron shows, the “drinking age does not produce its main claimed benefit.” But, arguendo, let’s presume that MADD was correct. A bigger question would still remain: If practicality wins out in that arena, why is it alone? Why is William Pitt’s “Necessity” justifiable as the “plea for every infringement” in this domain but not in others?
Should we perhaps raise the marriage age or age of consent to 21? And if not, why not? After all, young people often think they are in love when they are not, and young lust can lead to inordinately bad decisions. (Just ask Romeo and Juliet.) Should we make home ownership illegal until one has 20 years and 12 months under one’s belt? Again: If not, why not? Perhaps our young people need a little time to rehearse in the marketplace before they make the biggest financial decisions of their lives? In fact, given that purchasing a house is top of almost all common stressors, one might classify being forced to navigate the mortgage market while sober as cruel and unusual punishment.
The answer to these questions is that there already exists a cutoff point beyond which your personal choices are deemed to be nobody else’s business. The rapper and producer Dr. Dre had, he said, “a house, a Mercedes, a Corvette and a million dollars in the bank before [he] could buy alcohol legally.” This inconsistency is grotesque. Are we to indulge an arrangement by which a father might say, “I’m really proud of you for joining the military, son. But don’t you dare have a drink”? In Personal Reminiscences, Robert E. Lee quotes Stonewall Jackson as having claimed to be “more afraid of alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy.” That was certainly Jackson’s prerogative; alcohol, like so many things, can be terribly destructive. But recognition of this is neither basis for wise law nor sufficient reason to deprive young adults of their choices. Guns are destructive, too. Smoking is destructive. Paint thinner is destructive — I would buy a round for the first politician who defended the notion that the state should insist on age limits for the patrons of Home Depot.
The 26th Amendment lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 and, in doing so, corrected the untenable incongruity of 18-year olds’ being drafted into the military and sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam but asked to wait three years before they might cast a ballot. In the wake of the change, with 18 set as the new yardstick, a majority of states saw fit to lower their drinking ages. Between 1970 and 1976, 30 did so. This logical trend was cut short by federal overreach. And what an overreach! Under the provisions of the Federal Underage Drinking Act, any state that holds out and allows its resident adults to enjoy a drink before they reach the age of 21 will be punished with a 10 percent decrease in its annual federal highway funds. This is no less than legalized bribery, one of many means by which the federal government circumvents the restrictions imposed on it by the Constitution and buys off the states. That since 1988 not a single state has told the feds to bugger off and mind their own business is a testament to the craven, upside-down nature of modern American federalism. (Also to the tyranny of self-interested majorities: Whatever demographic changes are visited on the United States in the years to come, we will likely not see an electorate that cares that much that people 18 to 20 years of age are deprived of the opportunity to go drinking.)
The law is an ass, and it is faithfully treated as such. Winston Churchill, who, having “taken more out of alcohol than alcohol [took] out of [him],” would no doubt have opposed the status quo on libationary grounds. But Churchill also wisely counseled against contriving a legal framework that undermines respect for the law. “If you have ten thousand regulations,” he enjoined, “you destroy all respect for the law.” Quite so. With the exception of the equally asinine laws against marijuana, it is difficult to think of another law that has become such an open joke among those at whom it is aimed. It’s not just the drinking bit: We introduce our citizens to the responsibilities of adulthood by encouraging them to get their hands on — and casually and routinely use — false identification documents. This in turn causes the purveyors of fake documents to proliferate and pushes them into the mainstream.
Drinking Reform has few public champions, which is a shame, because the issue presents those who habitually exalt limited government, individual liberty, and the rule of law with a golden opportunity to prove them congruous. Truth be told, it should be a libertarian’s dream issue. Why haven’t prominent figures picked it up? Benjamin Franklin said that beer was “proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”; he also warned that the United States would remain a republic “if you can keep it.” Federalism’s advocates are missing an opportunity to demonstrate what happens to republican principles when the federal government gets too powerful. What better way than a call for the repeal of the Federal Underage Drinking Act to introduce to the young people of America both of Franklin’s principles at the same time?
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.
I experienced drinking reform about twenty years ago.
Budweiser was too expensive, so I reformed to Busch.
Promiscuity in today's sex positive realm of the medical profession and academia no longer "begins" at 18. Kinsey and Reich's goal of sexual people sexual active at all ages is here. Kids are encouraged by teachers to experiment while in school and learn oral sex and fisting techniques as well as how to properly put a condom on a phallus.
In some areas, stripping and access to porn is restricted to those over 21.
You have to be 35+ to run for the office of President.
There are all sorts of age restrictions on things. but the above summary missed a few of them.
MADD is focused, period. You could make the drinking age twenty-five, and you’d still have an abundance of DWIs. You can put out forty police points on a Friday night, and round up two hundred folks out of any major town...for DWIs. People do stupid things...no one wants to drink responsibly. Lives are wasted.
The woman who founded MADD left the organization in the 1980s when she realized it had shifted to being a neoprohibitionist movement. She subsequently lobbied on behalf of alcohol producers and bars.
There are some who would like breathalyzer ignition systems required in every car. There are some who want 0.03% BAC to be the standard for drivers and 0.01% for bar employees (including bands and strippers). I think Sweden’s DWI standard is 0.01%.
When I turned 18 Texas changed the legal age to 18 and when I turned 21 they changed it back. Hope I wasn’t the cause.
Before Texas raised the age to 21, they raised it to 19 just one month before I turned 20.
As a libertarian I can tell you that just because I don’t want the government, with the full force of law cracking down on citizens for certain behaviors - DOES NOT MEAN I FAVOR THOSE BEHAVIORS.
There is a role for individual responsibility as well as family, church, and community intervention.
With a smaller government (less expensive and intrusive), individuals, family and churches will have the opportunity to step up. These entities can handle these problems much more appropriately.
What is that, half a beer?
It may be something a libertarian minded person might agree with but it’s about 5,356 on the list if priorities. We still have to save the country from total fiscal collapse so we should probably avoid distractions like this.
The Democratic Government Of The Peoples Reppublic Of Obamaland says that “children” aren’t mature enough to be dropped from their parents medical plan until after age 26.
And that they aren’t mature enough to drink alcoholic beverages until they are 21.
So why are they allowed to vote when they are only 18 years old?
South Dakota v Dole was Scalia’s worst vote.
I just saw on The Military Channel, that Ethan Allen was rum-swilling Green Mountain Boy. If it is good enough for Old Ethan then it’s good enough got me.
FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.
Well said-if the nanny state was prohibited from meddling into the non-criminal behavior of individuals, personal responsibility and peer pressure would come back into play, as they should-then law enforcement would have to concentrate on preventing and prosecuting real crimes-murder, theft, arson, assault/rape, etc.
I’ve been told the age of consent/responsibility is 16 in Britain.
As to behavior that is not a crime-any adult should be able to name their poison, so to speak-just don’t try to force it on anyone else, and don’t blame God, the society you live in, or the manufacturer if it kills you-that is what personal responsibility is all about...
Help for those with drinking problems.
If we can muster the cojones to save the country from fiscal collapse, I predict this distraction-and many others- will disappear all by itself-from a lack of funding for stupid nanny programs...
Stop it! That visual always makes me laugh...
Old enough to go to war, old enough to do anything.
When I turned 21, Texas lowered it to 18. I’m still peeved about it.
I've heard that this penalty extends to everyone in the car. Talk about using peer pressure. "Dude... are you SURE you didn't have any?"
And liberals are always pushing us to be more like Sweden.
I suspect that nannyism is the real disease. Bad behavior cures itself eventually. Insulating people from the consequences of their actions just encourages worse risks.
I also think that measuring traffic fatalities or any fatality as your baseline is off. That we have fewer fatalities in Iraq or Afghanistan isn’t because of smarter officers or better tactics/strategies/ROIs, but medical advances in trauma treatments.
Liberals point to gun fatalities when the real benefits of gun ownership rarely lead to someone’s death. Did traffic fatalities fall due to safer vehicles, better training, etc. Illinois has made it very hard to get a DL for a kid. Fewer are getting them early and many wait until they’re 18. So are we measuring a smaller pool of teen drivers and thus see lower fatalities?
Correlation leads the way to all kinds of bad laws or outcomes.
Sure, I could vote and do most things when I was 18. What I couldn’t do was return from a combat op and legally buy a beer.
I may have some libertarian leanings, but I do not believe that I have a right to everything but am responsible for nothing. However, If I am an 18, 19, or 20 year old and I have been deemed old enough to take a bullet, someone needs to pony up and buy me a brew when I get back!
Ah yes, I remember the Great Drinking Age Changes of the 80s:
I tuned 18 (in NY), in February and I became legal to drink. Later that year, NY changed the drinking age to 19, beginning on Dec. 1, with no grandfathering. That made me illegal from Dec. 1 to Feb. 24. Then, magically, on Feb. 24, I was legal again, presumably because I was now mature enough. Again. Two years later, NY complied with the federal extortion and changed the age to 21. And so I was illegal again from Dec. 1 until Feb. 24 when I again magically became mature enough to have a beer.
The drinking age should be 18, or they should just go ahead and officially delay adulthood until 21 and be done with it. As usual, though, they want it both ways.
He also died from RWI (Riding While Intoxicated).
I hear you...
This is the one place where some republicans come off the rails of limited government. They want a nanny state for social issues even if it creates a nanny state that does some things they don’t want. This is why the political class duopoly of Democrats and Republicans exists today. (They trade pork with each other to maintain control.)
When was the last time the federal government actually got smaller? (Growing at a reduced rate is *not* getting smaller.)
These results are not by accident.
Didn’t know that. I would’ve that someone of his stature would’ve died a little less ignominiously than RWI.