Our government nannies are worked up
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Nannies are worked up again – this time it is the Alcohol Awareness Working Group (AAWG) hectoring us about how we need more laws and government programs to prevent young people from drinking alcohol (“Time to stop winking at Iowa City’s drinking problem,” Oct. 30). AAWG has good intentions, but by addressing only a single issue they do not consider the costs to individuals and society that their proposals entail.

Iowa City’s “drinking problem” mostly concerns drunken university students urinating in public, fighting and assaulting bystanders. But the overwhelming majority of the thousands of drinkers each weekend don’t commit crimes.

And even though it is currently a crime for people under 21 to drink alcohol, that doesn’t mean that it should be. It was illegal for everyone to drink during the 1920s, but most people agree that Prohibition was a terrible mistake. And the baby boomers fought successfully for the right to drink at age 18 – people believed that someone old enough to fight our wars for us was old enough to drink beer. It’s too bad the boomers don’t champion the same rights for today’s young adults.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984, only to increase the allure and discourage moderate consumption. Drinking occurs even in Iran, where it is punished with forty lashes, and in prisons, so how can we expect to stamp out consumption among free young adults?

But AAWG wants even stricter laws and more enforcement, which means less money to protect citizens from real, violent criminals. Our jails are already overcrowded at great cost to hardworking taxpayers.

AAWG writes about the costs of college drinking. But I question their claim that alcohol abuse is the leading reason for dropping out of college. Students who want to finish school will generally do so. Marginal students who come here to party often don’t.

And it is undeniably tragic to hear about a young man falling off a balcony to his death, or fatally driving drunk. About 5,000 people under age 21 die each year from causes related to excessive alcohol use. However, many more die from simply driving their cars, yet we still allow them to drive.

And while the costs of alcohol consumption are easy to see, the benefits are usually ignored. I don’t mean the health benefits of a glass of red wine – I mean going out with friends and drinking a bit too much and having a lot of fun.

People have enjoyed drinking alcohol to intoxication for ten thousand years. It is a benefit that people are willing to pay money for and one that keeps many local businesses in business.

But AAWG wants to raise taxes and increase paperwork costs for local bars and restaurants, hurting our local economy. They also want our government to offer “economic incentives” for non-alcoholic youth venues. But the free market already provides as many as are demanded without government meddling. I strongly suspect that students who enjoy drinking would avoid these taxpayer-subsidized, dry places like the plague.

Why do we continue to believe that government can solve our problems, when it usually makes problems worse? The purpose of government is to protect our legal rights, period. And there is no “right” to be protected from the consequences of our decisions.

AAWG should focus their efforts on privately-funded education programs for parents and young people. Parents are best-equipped to teach their children about the consequences of drinking, which may help them withstand the college free-for-all that no laws can suppress.

And AAWG is right that the University of Iowa can help control the problem. It certainly has the right to impose rules concerning public intoxication and to expel students for infractions. However, it might affect enrolment, which University officials will need to weigh against community pressure.

I will certainly be called “irresponsible” for writing this. It is true – I am not responsible for the decisions that other adults make, and AAWG is not responsible either.

Alcohol is not the culprit. It is bad decisions that lead to terrible outcomes. And young people will still make bad decisions despite the efforts of parents and others. Life is not risk-free. But freedom is still the best way.