Are you ready for the govt war on booze?

Everything old is new again in the era of expanding government regulations, so why limit yourself to only trying new things? Let’s dredge up some golden oldies and take them out for a fresh spin. This seems to be part of the thinking of Reihan Salam, writing at Salon this week. As far as a new war on alcohol is concerned, Salam isn’t calling for a renewal of prohibition… we tried that before. But he will settle for just taxing it out of this world.

Alcohol Taxes Should Be Tripled
The war on drugs has been a failure. But the war on booze deserves a second chance

For a nightmare vision of where heavy drinking can lead a society, consider Russia, where the pervasiveness of binge drinking contributes to an epidemic of cardiovascular disease and a death rate from fatal injuries that you’d normally see in wartime. Political economist Nicholas Eberstadt has gone so far as to suggest that drunkenness is a key reason why Russia, a country with universal literacy and a level of educational attainment that is (technically) in the same ballpark as countries like Australia and Sweden, has roughly the same living standards as Ecuador.

Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner takes a run at the correct answer.

Reihan is right that excessive alcohol consumption has been a disaster for Russia, but that is, in no small part, a function of the way that the state has used and abused alcohol both as a method of social control and a source of revenue (as much as 40 percent of the state’s income came from alcohol at certain points in the Czarist era, and as much as 25 percent for certain periods in Soviet times)…

Moral panics generally make for bad policy, but, despite the efforts of David Cameron (a man hopelessly susceptible to moral panics and a reliable enthusiast for big government initiatives, the supposedly ‘conservative’ prime minister wanted to fix a minimum alcohol price, a proposal that fortunately came to nothing) not much was done in response other than the introduction of some worthwhile public health education initiatives on the problems caused by hitting the bottle too hard…

As so often, society is correcting itself, as it often tends to do when the Nanny State keeps out of the way.

You’ll have to read Andrew’s entire response to get the full flavor, but it’s worth the time. What’s missing from this discussion, though, is the social control component. Drinking to excess is pretty much uniformly a bad thing (Trust me on this one..) Of course, as Andrew notes, it may prove to be a largely self-correcting feature.

But the alternative is to follow Reihan’s course and leave it to the government to modify human behavior through prohibition or excessive taxation. Our running series on how well sin taxes have worked out in stopping smoking should be a clue here. It doesn’t generally work, and usually fails to deliver a lot more government revenue either. Triple the alcohol tax? No thanks.