Common Error No. 60


60. "Alcohol should be made more expensive and less widely available to combat binge drinking and yobbery."

beer.jpg Many people who put no great faith in the price mechanism elsewhere happily advocate big price increases for things they disapprove of. Such things include smoking, budget air tickets, petrol, and alcohol. Price increases can indeed change behaviour, but it is poorer people who are hit hardest; the rich can afford the increase.

The assumption behind the anti-alcohol campaign is that low prices promote binge drinking, and the attendant anti-social behaviour sometimes seen in young drinkers. It is by no means clear that this is true. People in some other countries where alcohol is cheaper do not have the binge drinking or lout problem to anything like the same extent. It seems to be a cultural thing which affects some countries more than others.

An increase in the price of drink would probably just prompt a switch among binge drinkers to cheaper types, or perhaps to illegal substitutes. Meanwhile respectable middle-aged couples would have to pay more for their bottle of wine, and the great majority of Britons who do not binge drink and commit anti-social acts would be punished for the sins of the minority who do.

Similarly there are those who urge that pubs and bars should have reduced opening hours to deny drinkers the opportunity. Again, it seems that facilities enjoyed the many are opposed in order to target the abuse committed by a few. Determined binge drinkers would continue to drink, but at home or outside, rather than in licensed premises where the decision of the proprietor when to stop serving them exercises at least some restraint.

Countries which make it difficult to drink through state monopolies or huge liquor taxes seem to suffer greater drink problems than more easy-going ones. To curb drinking excesses, it is the culture that must be changed, not the availability of alcohol.