I’ll drink to that!

Thursday, 16 July 2009 04:11 by The Lunatic

Here’s a funny story from when we lived in Europe a few years ago ...

Our kids went to a Montessori School in Waterloo, Belgium (famous for the battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated) and one sunny spring day the school had their annual fund raiser – an “International Day” where all the families brought foods from different countries, and visitors paid a few Euros per plate to sample all the delectables. They had song and dance performances from all over the globe, and a big auction of some of the students’ artwork and other donated items.  And of course, as expected at any good Belgian event, they served copious amounts of beer to the parents, teachers, and visitors. Good, strong, Belgian beer.

After the day was done they had about three cases of beer left over – which the teachers piled in a very neat stack in one corner of the third grade classroom. This stack of beer was there in the class for a few months until their next school event came around, when it was finally consumed. No one at the school, nor any of the parents, really thought much about the fact that they were storing beer in the classroom – it wasn’t a big deal to anyone.

Can you just imagine the uproar that would occur if someone found three cases of beer in a third grade classroom in the USA?  It would be headline news! The community would be up in arms, and the mayor would act all pompous and promise an investigation.  Committees would be set up to find out how this happened and to make sure it didn’t happen again. They would burn effigies of Adolf Coors in the street. And just to prove that some positive steps were being taken, someone would have to be fired – probably the principal.

For what?  Why are we so afraid of third graders seeing beer?  The answer is simple – we don’t want them to drink it, which just might happen if it was within reach.  Ok.  Never mind the fact that most kids, by the time they get to kindergarten, really do know that if there’s a can of beer sitting there, they are not supposed to touch it.  But in the American view, that doesn’t matter. Kids should not have a single taste of alcohol until they turn 21 and we will do anything and everything to enforce that view. Of course, when kids turn 21 they are suddenly free to see what they have been missing all these years.  And since they haven’t learned any sense of moderation, the first thing they do is get drunk and go out and crash their aunt Lucy’s car while partying in a gorilla suit, waving an Albanian flag.

I was trying to think of all the laws related to alcohol consumption in the US. Laws about where it can be sold, when it can be sold, to whom it can be sold, how it is taxed, manufactured, labeled, etc, etc, etc (many of which are state regulations, which means 50 different versions of all these laws must be written).  Now think of the cost of not only writing all these laws – but enforcing them as well.

In California, you can buy hard liquor in the grocery store – seven days a week, but just not between 2am and 6am. When we lived in the Seattle area, you could buy beer and wine in grocery stores but hard liquor could only be obtained in state run liquor stores.  A combination bar/restaurant had to have a distinct separation for the “bar” area, which is completely off limits to anyone who is underage; minors can’t even walk through the bar area on the way to the bathroom.  Here in Washington DC, liquor stores are independently owned and operated, but they are closed on Sundays.  Kids, however, can sit in the bar area while waiting for a table in the restaurant.  When you step back and think about it, all of these restrictions are pretty silly.  If the liquor stores are closed on Sunday, it just means you have to plan ahead and remember to stop by and get your booze on Saturday!

Most countries have far less restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption. After we left Belgium, we lived in Ecuador for two years.  In Ecuador, almost anything goes – there are very few regulations, but it’s still very civilized. You can send your eight year old daughter down to the local store to bring back a six-pack, and they are free to sell it to her. Yet the incidence of teenage drinking and overall alcoholism in Ecuador is far lower than it is in the US.

(One fun fact from Ecuador – the entire country goes dry on the weekend of any national election. The elections are always held on a Sunday, and you can not buy any alcohol anywhere from 5:00pm Friday till 8:00am on Monday morning!)

In New Zealand, they de-regulated alcohol sales in 1989. Since then, the number of sales outlets where you can buy alcohol has more than doubled – but overall consumption throughout the country has steadily declined since then! The New Zealand government has concluded that “There is no connection between increased availability and increased alcohol consumption.”

In fact, studies show that limiting or reducing the number of sales outlets and limiting the days or hours during which alcohol beverages can be sold has no effect on consumption. Some investigators have even found that the tougher the controls over availability, the greater the alcohol abuse. (the same can be said for our unnatural fear of exposing our children to sex and nudity at an early age, which is creating a society of perverts and sexual deviants. I just want to scream when I see signs at the public pool changing rooms which say “Children of the opposite sex are not allowed over the age of 3”, or when women aren’t free to breastfeed in public.)

So, does it make sense to deregulate alcohol in the US? Absolutely.  But not just because of the social issues, but because we can reduce the huge amount of costs we currently spend enforcing these useless laws.  Just think how much we’d save! Stores wouldn’t have to worry about stiff fines, or their employees getting sent to jail, if they neglect to card someone. And maybe – just maybe – people would be able to sit down at a romantic sidewalk cafe and enjoy a glass of wine without having to wonder if they’re breaking some arcane law.

Categories:   Social Issues
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