America's Trade Surplus in Bad Alcohol Policy

Via Chris Dillow, here's a proposed Scottish policy to combat "binge drinking":

The age for buying alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences in Scotland could rise from 18 to 21.

Scottish ministers said it was time for radical action in the fight against Scotland's binge-drinking culture.

But retailers and student leaders said the plan, which would see 18-year-olds still being served in pubs, was "confusing" and a "blunt instrument".

So Scots would be allowed to drink in pubs at 18, but not allowed to buy booze in stores until 21. How this is supposed to combat binge drinking is a total mystery to me. To the extent that the binging takes place in bars[1], this change clearly won't lower it.

And for the drinking that takes place in private homes, I don't see how this will decrease binging either. Alcohol is of course easy to acquire when underage, and if it's more cumbersome to do so (having to go through friends), people are more likely to just go with liquor rather than beer (easier to transport $50 of bootlegged whiskey than beer) and binge even more.

For the most part, I'm skeptical of claims made by some libertarians that drug legalization will lower usage (though I still support it). I see no reason to think that drugs aren't a normal good whose usage increases with lower prices, which would seem to be an inevitable consequence of legalization. But the substitution of hard liquor for beer is easy (virtually everyone I know did it as an underage student). If anything, I suspect this policy change will increase binge drinking.

Of course, if the Aussies have their way, three glasses of wine will now be defined as a binge, so the next step is probably a return of America's most successful alcohol policy: Prohibition.

[1] A problem in the UK that was for years exacerbated by, you guessed it, stupid laws.

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Also, it is less safe to

Also, it is less safe to drive to a bar and drink than to drink in the safety of one's own home, one would guess.