Paying the Tab

The subtitle is The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control, and the book (here is its home page) has more on the latter than the former.  The author, economist Philip J. Cook, produces a wide range of reasonable arguments that alcohol is too cheap on the supply side, given its social costs.

The quality of the argumentation is high, but perhaps I have too much of a libertarian closed mind (more or less) on the issue.  I hold the following views:

1. I don’t have an a priori belief in uniform rates of taxation, and if you twist my arm I’ll admit bad things should be taxed at higher rates than good things, at least provided we can avoid slippery slopes of ever-encroaching government paternalism.

2. Penalties for drunk driving should be much stricter.

3. I think the world would be a better place if most people simply stopped drinking, 100 percent plain, outright stopped.  Admittedly drink cross-subsidizes quality food, so if there is any loser it might be me.

4. For reasons of ethics and morality, I don’t think governments should regulate adult substance consumption.

5. I see some role for governments to regulate substance consumption to prevent spillover effects onto minors.

I do understand that #1, #4, and #5 are not fully consistent, but this mix of views still seems right to me.  And unless I see the world coming to an end through booze — and I don’t — I’m still stuck on #4, no matter how good Cook’s evidence and arguments.  Alcohol is but one issue in the age-old battle between liberty and tyranny, a fight which I see as more important in the longer run than sobriety vs. stimulants. 

I do worry about more powerful drugs or neurostimulators.  I am struck at how weak a temptation alcohol is, relative to what the future will bring.  In the meantime, if alcohol restrictions fail on the grounds of liberty, I guess I am back to my closed libertarian mind.


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