One for the Road

I tend to agree with the overall proposition of this brief essay – that the current approach to preventing underage drinking (a Federally stipulated no-drinking-under-the-age-of-21-state-law-or-the-state-will-lose-10%-of-it’s-Federal-Highway-Funds) isn’t exactly effective.

However, it leaves me with a basic question.

If we’re really serious about curbing underage drinking as well as drunk driving, why don’t we do these things anyways, with the current drinking age of 21?  Why do we have to repeal one measure in order to experiment with other measures?  It’s not an either-or premise – we could do both.  Frankly, this would be a much stronger way of demonstrating that the 21 and over drinking age requirement could be done away with.  And in the meantime, keeping the legal drinking age of 21 seems to make more sense than eliminating it in blind hopes of alternative approaches being more successful.

2 Responses to “One for the Road”

  1. JP Says:

    Thanks, Paul. Would you also apply this perspective to illegal drugs? I have been surprised lately how many are advocating legalizing drugs due to the apparent failure of the “war on drugs.” You can see a representative article here (from a very popular news magazine): http://www.economist.com/research/articlesBySubject/displaystory.cfm?subjectid=348954&story_id=13237193 Thoughts?

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Wow – a frighteningly similar argument!  And again, a false either-or setup.  Should we spend more in education?  Undoubtedly.  Is it necessary to legalize drugs to do this?  Hardly.  The magazine cites nothing to support it’s allegations that drug use is not addictive to “most consumers” of illegal drugs.  Nor does the magazine cite any documentation to demonstrate how illegal drugs are no more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol.  This is a fairly common argument for legalizing drugs – that it’s no worse than other substances that are currently legal.  However, this is hardly a logical or compelling argument.  Legalizing something simply because there are equally dangerous substances available is a poor argument.  Rather, this argument ought to make us look more closely at our policy on tobacco and alcohol.  In other words, inconsistency is not a good argument for legalizing drugs. I’m sure that some of the erudite and educated readers of The Economist are likely to sympathize with the idea that drugs can be taken in moderation and without either dangerous or addictive consequences.   Readers sympathetic to the magazine’s position may in fact exemplify that narrow demographic that that magazine paints as such a broad representation of reality.   I agree that the war on drugs is not working, but the solution is not to legalize drugs, the solution is to attempt a different strategy, and the magazine appropriately highlights education as the key.  We don’t need to legalize drugs in order to educate people against them.   And what the magazine doesn’t recognize is that, once drugs become a significant tax revenue, what incentive does the government really have to try and convince people not to do drugs?  More likely, the government would seek to refine the nature of drugs, until they were ‘safer’ but still addictive.  Nothing like having a captive market share, so to speak, eh?  In fact, it would seem to be in the State’s best interest to foster greater access to the drugs, once it had refined them.   Reminds me more than a little of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or even the awful but cheap or free gin of George Orwell’s 1984 – methods of the State to help keep in check an increasingly miserable population.  But hey, it could help pay for that State-sponsored healthcare, so maybe we should all take a happy pill and get on board the Progress Train!!

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