Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Alcohol industry profits off underage drinkers!!

Who would have thought? But why is this a problem exactly? Are individuals under the artificially restricted age of 21, necessarily worse off by consuming alcohol. I don't see how that could possibly be true.

This is a good one to discuss. Why is underage drinking problematic? Isn't it only illegal because it was arbitrarily deemed so my federal and state legislators? Is protecting people from themselves, making them worse off? Is this restriction appropriate or too paternalistic? What is a better alternative?

Check out the article. Ya gotta love this quote:

"What we see here is that there is a large conflict of interest for the alcohol industry between profitability and public health," Susan E. Foster of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia told Reuters Health.

What conflict is she speaking of? I think it comes from the basic assumption that I mentioned above: that someone under 21 years of age is necessarily worse off by consuming alcohol and that companies are trying to take advantage of that situation and make a profit.

This is obviously nonsense.

The reason for the nationwide drinking age being set at 21 is simply that the U.S. government tied highway funds to states raising the drinking age.

As long as we believe that under-21s are rational actors, I think we have to accept that their decision to drnink alcohol is not making them worse off.
Yes, and when Jenna drninks on the job, she has a tough time spelling. Just kidding, Jenna.

Well I think we shouldn't take economic assumptions too far. Do you really want to make the argument that a curious 2 year old child drinking draino is making himself "better off"?

This type of reasoning is only warranted in a world of perfect information with actors that instantly and perfectly process that information. That type of assumption doesn't fit most people, let alone a child.

This is why, if we accuratley want to explain human behavior, we have to take into account imperfect information (a point made going all the way back to Hayek) and reasoning limitations (a more recent focus of neuroeconomics, though I've heard that Hayek touched on it in his later work).
But, on the point of the thread, I would have to agree that the 21-year-old age limit is arbitrary and lacking significance.

There is one thing France got right. Liberal drinking laws.
That's why I prefaced my comment with: "As long as we believe that under-21s are rational actors."

There is substantial evidence that we do this for at least part of the under-21 population, specifically, those who are 16+:

-At 16, individuals can drive cars and drop out of school
-At 18, men are required to register for the draft and all individuals are allowed to purchase cigarettes

So, do we believe these individuals are rational, or do we not? The fact that the standards are different for different behaviors prove that the drinking age is, in fact, arbitrary.

As for two-year-olds, I think we can categorially say that they are not rational in the common understanding of that word; they eat crayons. Parents not government should be making the decisions for minors (whatever age we determine that to be).
So, what is the best process for determining the legal drinking age? Or, the legal "whatever" age?

In my experience parents begin to lose their influence over their children around the age of 12.
I'm not really sure about that. It's hard to say when exactly a person can make decisions for himself. I'd be inclined to suggest, however, that we don't do it in stages. If a person can make decisions about life and death (joining the armed services, or ideally a voluntary militia) then that person can certainly make choices about alcohol consumption.
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