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[Philip Cook, guest-blogging, January 8, 2009 at 7:26am] Trackbacks
The Amethyst Initiative

Prohibition was never completely repealed -- only those that were deemed of mature years by state legislators were extended the right to purchase alcoholic beverages. The states adopted minimum age laws ranging between 18 and 21. Congress got into the act in 1984, establishing a de facto national minimum age of 21 by threatening the states with loss of highway funds if they didn't get in line. They all did.

Recently the Amethyst Initiative has gained prominence in its call for a reopening of debate on the national minimum. Amethyst is funded by the Robertson Foundation and headed by retired Middlebury College President John McCardell Jr. The 100-plus college presidents who have signed on are no doubt tired of dealing with widespread alcohol abuse on campus in a legal environment in which they must give at least lip service to the absolute ban on drinking.

Here are my thoughts: 1. I doubt that Congress will pay much attention to this initiative, at least in the near future. 2. If I'm wrong and some states lowered the minimum age to 18 or 19, there would be an net increase in alcohol-related problems among teens. 3. Nonetheless, denying college-aged youths the right to drink is so out of line with our collective judgment about adult status, and in particular the age at which we confer the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, that I am inclined to support a rollback in the age minimum.

We tried this before. In the early 1970s, when Congress was still respecting the 21st Amendment, most states lowered their minimum drinking age. That was the time when the Baby Boom cohorts were coming of age and 18-year-old men were subject to the Vietnam draft. The 26th Amendment was adopted in 1970, giving 18 year olds the right to vote. Denying young men who were getting shot up in the war the right to drink when they came home seemed perverse to legislators -- especially when those men could vote.

Twenty-nine states lowered their minimum age by 1975. I and a colleague analyzed the effects on highway fatalities, finding that the relevant age group experienced about a 10% increase in states that lowered their age for all beverage types from 21 to 18, compared with states that didn't change their law. Other research documented this and other indications of increased abuse. President Reagan appointed a commission that documented the problems (with some exaggeration) and ultimately sold Congress on establishing a national minimum.

(Note that we analysts could recite all the theoretical reasons why an age-based prohibition could have perverse effects on health and safety. Those arguments have some truth, but were ultimately trumped by the data. The net effect of lowering the minimum age was to increase alcohol abuse.)

Things have changed since the 1970s, and in some ways it seems likely that the costs of lowering the minimum age would be less now than then. In particular, youthful drunk driving has been curbed by zero tolerance laws, tougher DUI enforcement, and a change in culture that supports having a designated driver. While highway safety remains an important consideration, the greatest acute cost of youthful drinking these days is in its effect on the crime rate. In any event, freedom is still not free in this area.

Yet giving 18-20 year olds the right to drink has a lot going for it. After all, 18 year olds currently can vote, serve on juries, and hold most public offices, enlist in the military or work at any job without parental consent, undertake contractual obligations including marriage, and legally purchase lottery tickets, cigarettes, and shotguns. They are held fully accountable for criminal acts and are too old to receive the protection of the statutory rape laws.

It is also true that while the minimum age law does some good, it's widely violated -- in fact, it's hard to think of another law that is so widely scoffed at. The great majority of older teens choose to drink, with whatever effect that may have on their respect for the law generally.

By the way, even though I support the Amethyst Initiative, I do not think we should do away with a minimum drinking age entirely. High-school students tend to be dangerous to themselves and others, and before age 18 are more children than adults. Parents often welcome some help in providing checks on self-destructive adolescent behavior. But at age 18 or 19, despite the fact that youths are not fully mature (physically or mentally) and still prone to all sorts of hazardous behavior, it is time to swallow hard and make the booze legal.

As I said, I don't believe that Congress will repeal the national minimum. There are various partial measures that might have a better chance. For starters, a handful of states allow underage youths to drink with their parents, at least at home, and other states could adopt that more permissive stance. Enclaves like residential colleges and military bases are relatively safe places, and there might be a carve-out for such insulated environments.

(Actually military base commanders, while generally obligated to observe the local minimum age law, can declare a holiday on the minimum drinking age under special circumstances, such as a return of a combat unit.)

If there was room to compromise, I'd introduce Mark Kleiman's idea of a "learners permit" approach to youthful drinking, whereby a "drinking license" would be given to 18 year olds and subject to suspension if they abused it. The zero tolerance laws on the highway could be maintained to age 21 even if the minimum purchase age were reduced.

It will not surprise anyone who has been scanning these posts that I believe that higher alcohol taxes would help curtail youthful abuse, regardless of the minimum age law, and could serve as a freedom-enhancing, low-cost substitute for age-based prohibition. (Years ago Gary Becker endorsed this idea in his Newsweek column.) Ideally I would want youths to face a higher tax than adults because the external costs of their drinking are so much higher on average. But I haven't figured out how to accomplish that!

[Several who have posted comments on my previous blogs have asked me to respond to their queries. I'll provide a general response tomorrow in my final post.]

Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
If anyone is wondering why it's called the Amethyst Initiative, the name is obscurely witty. Etymologically, 'amethyst' means 'not drunk' (Greek a- 'not' + a form of methuein 'to get drunk'). The ancient Greeks believed that the gemstone prevented drunkenness. Whether wearing it was enough or you had to dip it in your drink, I do not know.
1.8.2009 7:48am
Hank:
Ideally I would want youths to face a higher tax than adults because the external costs of their drinking are so much higher on average. But I haven't figured out how to accomplish that!

Liquor stores and bars have to card young people already, so it wouldn't seem much more difficult to charge those over 18 and under 21 a higher tax. Cash registers could surely be programmed to make it easy.
1.8.2009 7:49am
Hank:
It might get complicated, however, in a restaurant where a group of people, some over 21 and some not, shared a bottle of wine.
1.8.2009 7:51am
phalkon (mail):
Twenty-nine states lowered their minimum age by 1975. I and a colleague analyzed the effects on highway fatalities, finding that the relevant age group experienced about a 10% increase in states that lowered their age for all beverage types from 21 to 18, compared with states that didn't change their law.

It would be interesting to know if the fatality rate increased overall or was shifted from new drinkers over 21 to new drinkers over 18 when the laws changed.
1.8.2009 8:23am
J. Aldridge:
What's the difference between prohibiting liquor and prohibiting say, pot?
1.8.2009 8:45am
Hank:
What's the difference between prohibiting liquor and prohibiting say, pot?

People in power prefer liquor, and pot still has associations with black people and jazz. In addition, every society needs to express its irrational urges, whether by hanging witches or locking up drug users.
1.8.2009 8:59am
Aultimer:

highway fatalities, finding that the relevant age group experienced about a 10% increase in states that lowered their age for all beverage types from 21 to 18, compared with states that didn't change their law

This demonstrates the core difference between the libertarian and statist views - most libertarians are not compelled to call for goverment regulation when adults suffer the consequences of thier irresponsible actions. Whatever the appeal behind the statist approach - save the "kids", one fatality is too many, etc. - it's illogical to stop at 21, or merely taxing the demon liquor - all roads lead to prohibition. To hide behind a pseudo-conservative resistance to change from the current 21 year limit doesn't change that.



it's hard to think of another law that is so widely scoffed at.

Um, speed limits (the other refuge of lazy "law enforcement")?
1.8.2009 9:08am
Der Hahn (mail):
Amethyst Initiative = giving people who have already demonstrated an inability to handle alcohol *more access to alcohol* so they won't abuse it. Yup, that's the ticket.

Colleges and universities willing take responsibility for changing student's irrational beliefs, such as the silly idea that people should be treated equally instead of being given preferences based on race, but they throw their hands up at trying to control drinking?
1.8.2009 9:09am
Oren:

This demonstrates the core difference between the libertarian and statist views - most libertarians are not compelled to call for goverment regulation when adults suffer the consequences of thier irresponsible actions.

The consequences of drunk drivers are not confined to those acting irresponsibly.
1.8.2009 9:28am
buckeye (mail):
Der Han-
How exactly should they "control" drinking in a free society in which the individual actors desire alcohol? Perhaps state imposed curfews with liquor sniffing dog patrols and snoop vans going up and down the street, busting down the doors of students who are drinking. That's the america i long for.

On the other hand, the idea that 18 year olds who can vote, fight and die in our wars, own a home, own a gun, get married, earn advanced degrees, and do essentially everything else the rest of us can in this free society....the idea that they might have a beer just shocks the sensibilities, I know.
1.8.2009 9:29am
Bretzky (mail):
Aultimer:

But road fatalities don't occur to only those who are driving drunk. Drunk and buzzed drivers kill thousands of innocents every year. It doesn't matter to the now dead sober driver whether he was killed by an 18 year-old or a 21 year-old. He's dead just the same.
1.8.2009 9:37am
Dick King:
There is one subtlety to consider.

In most states, divorced fathers non-custodial parents are liable to support them until they reach 18, or until they reach 19 if they are still in high school. Oddly enough, if the parents are still married they don't have such a responsibility.

Perhaps only someone legally responsible for their own support should have certain rights?

-dk
1.8.2009 9:38am
PLR:

3. Nonetheless, denying college-aged youths the right to drink is so out of line with our collective judgment about adult status, and in particular the age at which we confer the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, that I am inclined to support a rollback in the age minimum.
I am also, but that seems to be the minority view.

Link
1.8.2009 9:43am
emsl (mail):
I agree (I think) with Phalkon. One of the issues is whether the increase in minimum age simply shifted those DUI events later in someone's life or actually increased the totals. Put another way, does the change in drinking age really affect the total number of DUIs taking into account the increase in the observed population, that is, the DUIs/1000.

Depressingly, I am old enough to have benefited from the lower drinking age these many eons ago. My perception is that the critical issue is how use of alcohol is introduced, not the age. For those of us who grew up in homes in which a glass of wine at dinner was not a big deal (particularly Friday night or on special occasions), the fascination with drinking seems to be less than those who had zero access and experience before they passed the minimum age and then suddenly had unlimited access.
1.8.2009 9:51am
NI:
Congress passes moronic laws, like a national drinking age of 21, and then is shocked -- SHOCKED! -- when people pay no attention. I think a great argument for lowering the drinking age (and legalizing pot) is that it's bad public policy to have laws so completely at odds with what people actually do.
1.8.2009 9:59am
Adam K:

My perception is that the critical issue is how use of alcohol is introduced, not the age. For those of us who grew up in homes in which a glass of wine at dinner was not a big deal (particularly Friday night or on special occasions), the fascination with drinking seems to be less than those who had zero access and experience before they passed the minimum age and then suddenly had unlimited access.


That sounds like the kind of nuanced, rational thinking that is absolutely antithetical to policymaking in this country, where the solution to any problem is not a readjustment of or attack against the culture underlying and attendant to that problem, but the wholesale, bright-line, zero-tolerance, baby-with-the-bathwater prohibition of products or behaviors associated with the problem.
1.8.2009 10:02am
goodtogo (mail):
NI: I think Churchill agreed with you. Let me turn to my Christmas-gifted collection of quotations from the man:
"As always happens when prohibitions are imposed which do not carry public opinion with them, there is both wholesale evasion and occasional connivance, and the law is brought into disrepute."
- 26 April 1926
1.8.2009 10:09am
Andy Rozell (mail):
The legal age was 18 when I was growing up. Here are just a few random thoughts:

1. If we lower the age to 18, we're going to have most high school seniors able to drink (and buy) legally. They're going to share it with their friends who are under 18. In short, lowering the legal age to 18 is going to make it much, much easier for much younger kids to get access to alcohol.

2. I don't think the argument that we let 18 year olds vote, get jobs, get married and so forth is very compelling, because most 18 year olds I've known don't much want to do those things. Nearly all of them will want to drink.

3. The argument that the "zero tolerance" culture surrounding drunk driving will mean fewer drunk driving teenagers seems wrong to me. By lowering the drinking age, we'll be retreating from the "zero tolerance" policies that the poster says we can rely on to prevent drunk driving.

Just a few thoughts
1.8.2009 10:10am
Marwan Dahab:
Greetings,

I am from abroad and I had the privilege of attending college in the United States. Concerning drinking, the driving age should be increased and the drinking age lowered; for the following reasons:

- Drinking would lose its Dionysius cult status, as they progress into college. As everything, with time, loses its luster.
- They would learn to drink before they drive, rather than the other way around; lowering DUI deaths and accidents.


~A nervous Grad-School Applicant~
1.8.2009 10:10am
htom (mail):
While I have no great desire to see drunken twelve-year-olds riding their bikes from home to home, I think that's a better approach than having them 18 or 21 and driving. Prudent alcohol consumption is a "learned" behavior, and should start young enough that by the time we consider them to be responsible for their behavior, they've had the experience to justify blaming them. Lower the drinking age to ten or twelve, with family members, fourteen without.
1.8.2009 10:14am
Adam K:

I don't think the argument that we let 18 year olds vote, get jobs, get married and so forth is very compelling, because most 18 year olds I've known don't much want to do those things. Nearly all of them will want to drink.


The entitlement to a right is or should be inversely proportional to the degree to which one desires to exercise it?
1.8.2009 10:27am
common sense (www):
While I was in the Army, it always seemed crazy to me that I had to prosecute kids who had a drink. Sometimes, you could ignore it, but often times you had to punish everyone in a group because one person got caught doing something stupid. So a Soldier who had a single drink and got jumped because he was the wrong color got a mark on his permanent record for having a single beer while out with friends, generally after a month in the field. Insane. We tell kids they are responsible enough to sign up to die for their country, but not to drink beer. That just contributes to the over emphasis of alcohol which leads to the abuse. If drinking alcohol wasn't so associated with adulthood, then kids wouldn't be tempted to drink a lot to show how grown-up they are. Also, the blanket prohibitions on alcohol just drive people to drink off post-the same problem colleges have had. Instead of buying a 12 pack to watch a movie at home with some friends, everyone drives off post or campus, gets hammered trying to drink a week's worth in a night, then attempts to get back. And as far as post commanders waiving the age limit, I'm curious if any has done it since the Army went to zero tolerance. It seems the risk to the post commander is too great, since he would receive blame for any accidents. Personally, I don't see why a kid can't have a glass of wine, legally, with his parents at dinner. Introduce it correctly, and it won't be such a big deal. Of course, some parents will be irresponsible, but isn't that the risk we assume when we allow parents to raise their own kids?
1.8.2009 10:32am
random idea:
Perhaps drinking minimums should be separated into 2 classes: bars/restaurants and liquor stores

you can lower one (bars) to allow drinking while minimizing underage access and raise the other to discourage parties, etc.
1.8.2009 10:35am
Andy Rozell (mail):
" I don't think the argument that we let 18 year olds vote, get jobs, get married and so forth is very compelling, because most 18 year olds I've known don't much want to do those things. Nearly all of them will want to drink.



The entitlement to a right is or should be inversely proportional to the degree to which one desires to exercise it?"

Nope. I think most 18 year olds are too immature to vote, get married or enter into major financial transactions. However, the societal harm that arises from permitting 18 year olds to do those things is relatively small because most 18 year olds won't do them. Most 18 year olds will drink if we make it legal, and so the social costs will be quite high.
1.8.2009 10:37am
...Max... (mail):
Marwan Dahab: there is no viable public transportation in the US (other than in a few densely populated metropolitan cores) and the everyday commutes may be quite significant even for a high school student. Parents have to act as chauffeurs. The idea of exacerbating this situation will not see a warm welcome.

As to introducing alcohol at a very early (pre-pubescent) age... I don't know if I like it at all. The ability to effectively metabolize ethanol comes with age. Don't forget that EtOH is indeed metabolic poison -- and I say this as someone who tries to have a glass of wine with every meal, not just "on Fridays" or whatnot. Mediterranean cultures with abundant wine did indeed use it as an everyday beverage -- the better to counteract the germs and bad taste in their drinking water -- but they watered the wine down quite significantly. I guess I don't have a problem with giving my grade school daughter a 1:5 mix of tempranillo and Ozarka with her dinner, but what would be the point?

I have no idea what the right answer is... biologically, 21 is probably too early an age for any significant intake of alcohol... politically, any restriction is chafing on me. "Agaist stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain"...
1.8.2009 10:51am
pintler:

For those of us who grew up in homes in which a glass of wine at dinner was not a big deal (particularly Friday night or on special occasions), the fascination with drinking seems to be less than those who had zero access and experience before they passed the minimum age and then suddenly had unlimited access.


Do late teen alcohol usage patterns vary between the US and,
say France, where IIUC alcohol use is introduced gradually from a fairly young age?
1.8.2009 11:13am
Sum Budy:
Here's one argument I have heard for leaving the minimum age at 21, that essentially acknowledges that the law will be broken in a wink-wink kind of way:

A drinking age of 21 means that those who look 21 or are friends with people who are 21 will continue to have easy access to alcohol. Thus, "experimentation" can take place at around age 18 -- the age of majority for everything else -- and society tends to look the other way, for the most part acknowledging the charade. (Hey, I even know some parents who complimented their kids on how authentic the kids' fake IDs looked.)

If you lower the drinking age to 18, children who look like they could be 18, and anybody friends with a senior in high school gets easy access to alcohol. The age of "experimentation" gets pushed down further.

By the way -- the above isn't intended to suggest that high school kids won't get alcohol -- it's just that it is still more difficult for them to do so and less socially approved than for a college kid.

What I would be interested in seeing is a comparison of other cultures with drinking ages of 16/18 and the effect on drunk driving or other misbehavior. British tabloids have been complaining about loutish behavior for a bit, but continental Europeans don't seem as concerned.
1.8.2009 11:30am
Kevin R (mail):
Whether wearing it was enough or you had to dip it in your drink, I do not know.


Because TDTTOE, #dipping an amethyst into a potion of booze will turn it into fruit juice (which is safer to drink if you don't want YASD). However, NHINRL.



(reference too obscure?)
1.8.2009 11:34am
NI:
Andy Rozell, most 18 year olds will drink whether it's legal or not; there is no point to pretending that keeping it illegal will actually impact the number of teenagers who drink.

There was a news item yesterday that Mississippi, with its abstinence-based sex education, has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Asking people to abstain from what they really, really want to do doesn't work, whether we're talking alcohol or sex.
1.8.2009 11:35am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

Twenty-nine states lowered their minimum age by 1975. I and a colleague analyzed the effects on highway fatalities, finding that the relevant age group experienced about a 10% increase in states that lowered their age for all beverage types from 21 to 18, compared with states that didn't change their law.


Others have already noted that this doesn't tell us whether overall fatalities rose, or if it shifted them to a lower age group.

But even assuming the former, there's another issue -- heterogeneous drinking laws encourage kids from State A, where they can't drink, to take roadtrips to State B where they can. Without knowing how many of those fatalities involved out-of-state drivers who came over for the express purposes of getting drunk, we can't really judge the effect of the laws -- we can't tell whether your measuring the effect of the lower drinking age, or not having one national drinking age regardless of whether it's 18 or 21.
1.8.2009 11:39am
The Mediator (mail):
Two thoughts. I agree with Sean O'Hara to an extent. I grew up in rural NJ not far from the New York state line at a time when NY's drinking age was still 18 or 19 and NJ's was 21. In the years while there was still a discrepancy, there were inevitably funerals - typically right around the same time as Prom or Graduation. So I recognize the arguments against lowering the age to 18 or at least allowing states to do it piecemeal.

That said, it seems absolutely foolish to allow 18 year old kids to affect the outcome of a presidential election, but not buy a beer. A common argument is that an 18 year old can be sent to war but can't buy a beer. How about this solution that I believe was actually proposed in South Carolina. If you are active duty military, you can buy alcohol at 18.
1.8.2009 11:48am
Aultimer:

Bretzky

road fatalities don't occur to only those who are driving drunk. Drunk and buzzed drivers kill thousands of innocents every year. It doesn't matter to the now dead sober driver whether he was killed by an 18 year-old or a 21 year-old.


1. The reported drinking age reduction may have added 10% to the pre-existing risk, it didn't create the risk. Like I wrote, the only logical conclusion in that view is prohibition. Anything less falls short removing the risk that a legal-to-drink person kills you (but not the risk of being killed, of course).

2. Some portion of any population abuse things. Increasing the size of population means an increase in the number of abusers, so you would expect lowering the drinking age to add something (maybe more or less than 10%) to the number of miles driven by legal-to-drink citizens.
1.8.2009 11:51am
Vain Clerk:
Following up on Sean O'Hara's points regarding the confounding effects of "increase[d] alcohol abuse" after lowering the drinking age: I wanted to add that it is likely that any relaxation of controls on prohibited chemicals (whether alcohol, tobacco, pot, or coke) will lead to a short-term increase in both consumption and possibly problematic behaviors (DUIs, hospitalizations). But in the long-term, I think the gradual effect on "drinking culture" and increased openness about the chemical would produce something similar to European countries, where there appears to be less binge drinking and DUI-related fatalities. Perhaps I am wrong on that data, and I would stand corrected if so.
1.8.2009 11:51am
Jefe (mail):
We can have the argument forever about what the right age is to start drinking and what effect if has on drunk driving deaths, etc. MADD is currently lobbying to raise the age to 25 because you are more mature by that age, and make better decisions. My question is, why stop there? Why not just raise it to 30? If you are more mature at 25, certainly you are even moreso by age 30.

These are the crazy ideas you get when you let policy be driven by people who have an emotional stake in the argument. Understandably, if you have lost a loved one to a drunk driving accident, you will think that any policy that allows a single drunk driver to get behind the wheel is not restrictive enough. But once you start drawing different lines for different actions, where do you stop? At 18 you are legally responsible enough to handle sex, such that statutory rape no longer applies, but you are not responsible enough to enjoy a beer? You can argue all you want about keeping beer out of the hands of high school kids, but that doesn't change the fact that 18-21 is a period during which the State has told you that you are a quasi-adult. You have all the responsibilities of an adult, but not all the privileges. If you want to keep the 18 year-olds from supplying their under-age friends, make the penalty for providing alcohol to a minor sufficiently punitive. But in any event, hold the 18 year-old responsible for the under-age drinking.

Any age will be, by definition, arbitrary. So let's just choose one and then decide that before that age, you are a child, and after that age, you an adult. Explicit responsibility for your actions begins as an adult, but it must come with the privileges as well.
1.8.2009 11:53am
Aultimer:
1.8.2009 12:04pm
jtb (mail):
"So let's just choose one and then decide that before that age, you are a child, and after that age, you an adult. Explicit responsibility for your actions begins as an adult, but it must come with the privileges as well."

Nobody has mentioned this yet during this discussion, but the increasing prevalence for holding children responsible for crimes as if they were adults also undermines the drinking age. So tack this on to the list of if you are old enough to vote, serve in the military, etc.: if you are old enough to be subject to capital punishment (or lifetime incarceration) then you should be old enough to buy a beer.
1.8.2009 12:08pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Personally, I think the law should be changed to reduce the minimum age to 18 for a very simple reason: The current state of the law (at least in my state) makes legal consumption of alcohol by 17yo a possibility but much harder for 19yo's.

My state has a minimum age of 21 with a number of exceptions. Aside from the exception for religious services, there is also an exception for parent-supplied alcohol outside of licensed establishments (restaurants, bars, etc). The state also exempts home-brewed beverages from this limit, but such beverages would still run amok with federal tax law unless part of a household with a person over 21.

I have been brewing since the age of 16. Under the above rules, living with my parents, at 16, I could brew alcohol and consume it legally. I could not give it to friends legally.

Now, when I went off to college and moved out of the house (as a college junior at 18), it suddenly became illegal for me to brew my own beverages and consume them under federal law because the federal law is tied to the state law regarding liquor sales, not home-brewing production. As a side-thought I suspect that if I brewed the beverages at my parents house, and merely took it back to college with me, that might have been legal under the home-brew exception.

In short, one runs into the same issue that one does with 20-year-old gun ownership in Illinois, where it is legal provided one still has parental supervision, but where that is required until the age of 21. But then this really doesn't make a lot of sense does it?
1.8.2009 12:18pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rosell:

Most 18 year olds will drink if we make it legal, and so the social costs will be quite high.


Can't argue with the first part, but the second part is problematic since most 18-yo's drink even when it is not legal. When I was 16, I was drinking small amounts of beer and wine legally. Why should it suddenly become illegal for me to do all the same things when I moved out of my parents' house?
1.8.2009 12:22pm
Eli Rabett (www):
As with most things, the exceptions are driving the rule because they are so striking. If you lower the age, there will be spectacular mess-ups including deaths in accidents, etc. People don't know how to evaluate such information, and, of course, those most strongly affected, the parents, will go absolutely bats, hounding their local, state and federal government to DO SOMETHING.

From the rational point of view we need strong enforcement of anti-drunk driving and hunting laws (if it moves, they shoot) for the safety of everyone, and reasonable accommodation for those who want to drink or hunt separately. Pot is in the same container AFAIC.
1.8.2009 12:34pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Eli Rabett:

It is actually worse than that. It means that the spectacular screwups that happen now are dismissed because the consumption of alcohol was illegal, but will not be dismissed when it is legal.
1.8.2009 12:40pm
David Drake:
I second Der Hahn's comment. I was taken aback when I first about the university president's proposal. It looked and still looks to me like they are trying to punt their problem with excessive student drinking to the federal government.

The universities should be able handle this themselves if they are so inclined. Universities seem to do a pretty job of inculcating their students with the righteousness of the Left and with what seem to me to be some truly lunatic ideas. Surely they should, with a little bit of effort, be able to persuade their students not to engage in the binge drinking, drug taking, etc. that seems to be epidemic among college students and expelling the wrongdoers or at least punishing the behaviour in some way. Their success in, to put it crudely, brainwashing their students with regard to political and social ideology while disclaiming any ability to control student behavior is at odds with my idea of what a university should be about.

But I guess my take is based on the passe' ideas of "in loco parentis" and "a (classical) liberal education."
1.8.2009 12:40pm
Mhoram:
Andy Rozelle: Would you care to cite a source for your assertion that most 18-year-olds don't want jobs and so forth?

Perhaps we can accept intuitively that most 18-year-olds don't get married (although a not insignificant number do), most 18-year-olds don't vote (although a not insignificant number do), and most 18-year-olds are not getting into large mortgages.

I have teenage children, who have lots of friends - all of whom are teenagers. They all want to be as adult as possible - which means that, starting at about age 14, they all wanted jobs. Even with the current economy, most of the teenage kids in my town seem to have jobs of some sort. A very large percentage of them are buying their own cars (or at least making significant financial contributions toward car ownership).

Way back when I joined the Army, at age 23, I was the oldest person in my basic training battallion. Almost everyone was between 17 and 20.

The assertion that 18-year-olds don't exercise other rights and responsibilities is not a very good basis for not wanting a rational drinking age.

btw: My state allows kids to drink at home in the presence of their parents. I keep wine and beer in my house and the teenage kids are welcome to it at meal times. Sometimes they even accept the offer.
1.8.2009 12:41pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Drake:

If the university acts in loco parentis regarding alcohol control, would they have full parental authority delegated to them? Could the university provide alcohol to under-21 students as a parent can? Could the under-21 student brew his/her own beer/mead/wine/cider and assume that for tax exemption purposes, the university counted as an over-21 adult?
1.8.2009 1:06pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Dr Weevil:

Interestingly methuein is cognate to Mod, Eng. mead.

"Weevil" is also cognate to Old Norse Vefill, which is also the name of a powerful magician character in Hrolf Kraki's Saga.
1.8.2009 1:09pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Mhoram:

My state (WA) also allows kids to drink at home in the presence of their parents. However, the rules on home-brewed beverages seem to exempt *all* regulations except those relating to home-brew contests. This means that if a kid brews beer at home, this is legal and can be consumed without the presence of a parent......
1.8.2009 1:24pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
It has been my experience that some senior citizens are more succeptible to alcohol (get buzzed off of fewer drinks) and also drive worse. If the data supports this, should we have a maximum drinking age?

I assume only some have to be so afflicted to pass a complete ban, right?
1.8.2009 1:54pm
BCN:
My experience with the changing drinking age is kind of unique, in that when I went to University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin had just raised the drinking age to 21, they grandfathered everyone who was 19-20 at the change date and excluded all new 18 year olds. I was one of the oldest in my class as a freshman, and I missed the grandfather date by a couple of months. This of course did not stop me from drinking, or any of my friends that were 18, it meant we had to be creative about it. Additionally I did not see a difference in the drinking habits of Wisconsinites who had always been able to drink when 18 and 19 and those of from out of state that previously could not drink legally at 19, they all boozed it up.

On a similar note, I was from a family that had a nuanced and responsible approach to alcohol consumption. My parents had a drink every day when my dad got home from work, and the kids got wine at dinner on occasion. I never saw alcohol used excessively, except by the underage drinkers in high school. This did not stop me from being a "binge" drinker, or change the way I thought about alcohol, because I did not drink to be more adult, I drank because I wanted to get wasted. This seemed to be the attitude of the people I knew when I was in school. We did not hang out at the bar drinking martinis and manhattans, to be adults, we drank cheap swill out of a plastic cup to get blind drunk.

What I think people were really abusing was their freedom, not alcohol. University was really the first time most people did not have their parents around so they indulged in all kinds of behavior that they would normally not do, and alcohol is only one of these things. I was as bad as the next guy when it came to "binge" drinking, but I grew out of it. I still drink, and I still get drunk on occasion, but nothing like I did when I was 18-24. I think lowering the drinking age should be done, but I don't think this will really change much in the way people behave in that it is the freedom to do "destructive" things that is abused not the drinking.

BCN
1.8.2009 2:05pm
Cornellian (mail):
It's hard to believe we think eighteen year olds are mature enough to be put in charge of life and death decisions in the military, but not mature enough to decide whether to drink. And is there any member of the House or Senate that never had a sip of alchohol before turning 21 (other than those who have permanently sworn off alcohol for religious reasons)? The 21 year old threshold for drinking is a joke and should be repealed.
1.8.2009 2:48pm
David Drake:
einhverfr--

Although my comment on "in loco parentis" was somewehat tongue in cheek, as a theoretical matter I think your proposals would probably follow from the concept of "in loco parentis."

However, the contours of the doctrine and the implications of this line of conjecture are beyond the scope of the post.
1.8.2009 2:54pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
In response to my inquisitors, and in no particular order:

1. I don't know anybody who really wants a job. Neither of my teenagers did, but I made both of them get one. I know lots of people who want money and find a job a good way to get it. If, in fact, people wanted to perform a particular task, they'd do it for free.

2. It's true that many 18 year olds will violate the minimum drinking age, just like most drivers will break the speed limit. That's no reason to change the law.

3. As to the "abstinence pledge argument", the study you're referring to may have been overhyped. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123120095259855597.html A report failing to understand what a study actually finds!. Whooda thunk it?
1.8.2009 3:23pm
Fub:
Philip Cook, guest-blogged:
If there was room to compromise, I'd introduce Mark Kleiman's idea of a "learners permit" approach to youthful drinking, whereby a "drinking license" would be given to 18 year olds and subject to suspension if they abused it. The zero tolerance laws on the highway could be maintained to age 21 even if the minimum purchase age were reduced.
This is one of few (and maybe the only) Mark Kleiman proposed ideas with which I agree. To his credit, unlike most totalitarian prohibitionists, he does recognize that alcohol is a drug.

Such a licensing approach to all drug use by all ages would be better than the hysteria and police state engendered by the current War On (Some) Drugs. It wouldn't be optimal, but it would be better.
1.8.2009 3:29pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Fub (and maybe Whit):

I may be reading the law incorrectly, but I think that in my state (WA), zero tolerance laws on the highway tend to be enforced through questions of minor alcohol consumption. Hence if a 17-yo brews his own beer in the house where he lives with his parents, consumes it, and drives with 0.03% BAC, he might be subject to arrest, but might have affirmative defences in that:

1) The DUI laws themselves don't prohibit driving in that case and
2) THe minor in possession laws don't apply in this case.
1.8.2009 3:43pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozelle:

Personally I figure when my son gets old enough, he will probably be brewing beer and mead alongside me. Old enough will be when he decides it is interesting. If he wants to brew beer at age 12, that is fine, and he won't violate any laws doing it.

Why should a college student living away from home be unable to legally do what a teenager living at home can?
1.8.2009 4:00pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
Perhaps because the teenager living at home has adult supervision?
1.8.2009 4:09pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
With regard to the "old enough to fight in a war/not old enough to drink" aspect of this discussion, could it be that both judgments (war:yes/booze:no) are based upon the same judgment - that young people, and especially young men - are frequently inclined to engage in risky behavior without a great deal of reflection?

That trait is highly desirable when you need someone to storm a beach or jump out of an airplane into the middle of an enemy army. It's less desirable on the highway on Friday night.
1.8.2009 4:16pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozell wrote:

Perhaps because the teenager living at home has adult supervision?


That is the obvious reason, but then why send kids away to college at 18? Why not make the full age of majority 21, and extend High School through the first three years of college?
1.8.2009 4:20pm
Perseus (mail):
But at age 18 or 19, despite the fact that youths are not fully mature (physically or mentally) and still prone to all sorts of hazardous behavior...

Which is why the 26th amendment should be repealed.

It's hard to believe we think eighteen year olds are mature enough to be put in charge of life and death decisions in the military, but not mature enough to decide whether to drink.

I have never found that argument very convincing since 18 year olds in the military are subject (usually) to strict rules and a chain of command.
1.8.2009 4:23pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozzel:

The main problem is that something which is legal for a teenager to do at home when living with parents but illegal for an adult under 21 to do after leaving the household creates a gap of authority which needs to go away.
1.8.2009 4:26pm
CJColucci:
Whenever the drinking age comes up as a topic, I trot out a comment advocating lowering the drinking age to 12 so kids will have a few years learning to hold their liquor before they get behind the wheel of a car, instead of letting them start driving and then, while they're still pretty bad drivers, adding booze to the mix. People usually say I'm nuts. (They're right, of course, but for the wrong reasons.) Looks like Marwan Dahab and htom beat me to it.
1.8.2009 4:31pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
"The main problem is that something which is legal for a teenager to do at home when living with parents but illegal for an adult under 21 to do after leaving the household creates a gap of authority which needs to go away."

Why does it need to go away?
1.8.2009 4:32pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
"That is the obvious reason, but then why send kids away to college at 18? Why not make the full age of majority 21, and extend High School through the first three years of college?"

Why not indeed? That's the reason some parents require their kids to attend local colleges the first year or two, or send their kids to colleges that attempt to enforce rules about drinking.
1.8.2009 4:35pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozell:

Why does [the authority gap] need to go away?


Because otherwise, responsible drinkers are also deeply encouraged to break the law, and parents such as myself are more likely to say "Well, brewing beer in college if oyu are under 21 is technically illegal but go ahead, because the only issues are federal tax issues and nobody is going to audit you that closely!"

Way to encourage respect for the rule of law :-)
1.8.2009 4:42pm
Aultimer:

Andy Rozell

1. I don't know anybody who really wants a job. Neither of my teenagers did, but I made both of them get one. I know lots of people who want money and find a job a good way to get it. If, in fact, people wanted to perform a particular task, they'd do it for free.

2. It's true that many 18 year olds will violate the minimum drinking age, just like most drivers will break the speed limit. That's no reason to change the law.


1. Glib, but wrong. No one does much of anything for "free" - there's always some value, it just may not be monetary value. If a kid wants money, they work to the extent it's "worth it" to them in terms of all the inputs and outputs, not just money.

2. Teaching and affirming respect for the law is certainly a reason to repeal undesirable or unenforced laws. Have you ever visited the third world? Corruption thrives where the law isn't respected.


That trait is highly desirable when you need someone to storm a beach or jump out of an airplane into the middle of an enemy army. It's less desirable on the highway on Friday night.

That's disgusting and un-American (from a created-equal view, among others).
1.8.2009 4:43pm
pluribus:
A little wine served by families at the dinner table will help to introduce teenagers to the moderate and healthy use of alcohol. A small glass of wine mixed with water can serve as the introduction when the children are young. Later, they can enjoy a glass of undiluted wine with their parents and siblings--even later with their friends. Alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation by friends and family, preferably at home, but on appropriate occasions in other social situations. It should not be drunk by someone (often a man, rarely a woman) who sneaks away at night to a bar, where beer and spirits are consumed in great quanities, where fights are started, where paychecks are squandered, and, after too much has been drunk and the senses are numbed, cars are driven home.

Of course, this should be encouraged by family traditions, not by laws.

Jefferson said:

"No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage."
1.8.2009 4:44pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozell:

Why not indeed? That's the reason some parents require their kids to attend local colleges the first year or two, or send their kids to colleges that attempt to enforce rules about drinking.


When I was 18, I had exhausted all local college options.
1.8.2009 4:44pm
wva (mail):
"Yet giving 18-20 year olds the right to drink has a lot going for it. After all, 18 year olds currently can vote, serve on juries, and hold most public offices, enlist in the military or work at any job without parental consent, undertake contractual obligations including marriage, and legally purchase lottery tickets, cigarettes, and shotguns. They are held fully accountable for criminal acts and are too old to receive the protection of the statutory rape laws."
All true and, indeed, even raises a fair question whether the disabling of those between 18 and 21, in treating them less well than those 21 and older, is (in principle) subject to constitutional challenge on straightforward "equal protection" grounds. Insofar as the Constitution itself establishes the base line of 18 (in the 26th Amendment) for voting, it may plausibly suggest that legislation discriminating against them as unfit to assess the wisdom of buying a beer (though fit to buy a cadillac, chose the President of the United States, and—incidentally—be conscripted to fit and die), it is a fair question to ask by what act of supererogatory authority Congress presumes to treat them as incompetent to buy a beer (indeed, by what legitimate authority does Congress presume to instruct the states that none of them may merely treat all of their voting-age residents as presumptively competent in this way?)
1.8.2009 4:50pm
wva (mail):
"Yet giving 18-20 year olds the right to drink has a lot going for it. After all, 18 year olds currently can vote, serve on juries, and hold most public offices, enlist in the military or work at any job without parental consent, undertake contractual obligations including marriage, and legally purchase lottery tickets, cigarettes, and shotguns. They are held fully accountable for criminal acts and are too old to receive the protection of the statutory rape laws."
All true and, indeed, even raises a fair question whether the disabling of those between 18 and 21, in treating them less well than those 21 and older, is (in principle) subject to constitutional challenge on straightforward "equal protection" grounds. Insofar as the Constitution itself establishes the base line of 18 (in the 26th Amendment) for voting, it may plausibly suggest that legislation discriminating against them as unfit to assess the wisdom of buying a beer (though fit to buy a cadillac, chose the President of the United States, and—incidentally—be conscripted to fit and die), it is a fair question to ask by what act of supererogatory authority Congress presumes to treat them as incompetent to buy a beer (indeed, by what legitimate authority does Congress presume to instruct the states that none of them may merely treat all of their voting-age residents as presumptively competent in this way?)
wvanalstyne
1.8.2009 4:51pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
eihnvehr

You're right. Telling your kid to break the law is not a good way to encourage the rule of law.

I think it's completely reasonable to say that certain individuals can take a drink when under parental supervision, but not otherwise. Experience that tells us most parents will prevent their kids from doing anything really stupid.

Aultimer

You'd probably think where I live is the third world. Corruption thrives in the hearts of men regardless of how well the law is enforced. I fail to see how it can increase respect for the law to teach people that they can make an undesirable law go away merely by ignoring it. Seems to me that teaches the opposite.

As to being "disgusting and un-American" - thank you.
1.8.2009 4:53pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Let me put it clearly in case Andy Rozell can't understand:

In my state (WA), there are no state laws against anyone brewing wine or beer in a home. None, whatsoever. There are no laws against minors possessing home-brewed alcohol either. This is true whether or not the individual is living at home.

However, there are federal excise tax restrictions which could make a 19-year-old living at college who brews his own beverages guilty of tax evasion, because the tax exemption does not cover cases where nobody in a household can legally purchase the alcohol.

Hence it is TECHNICALLY illegal (though I can't imagine this being heavily enforced) for a 19-year-old living alone to brew beer or wine. However, since there are no state controls, this encourages me as a parent to tell my kid when he goes off to college to ignore the law.
1.8.2009 4:55pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
einvehr

I understand quite well.

If you were to tell your kid to ignore the law when he goes to college, then you are the one who is encouraging disrespect for the law.
1.8.2009 5:02pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
The basic thing is that unjust laws should be ignored.
1.8.2009 5:07pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozell:

Another argument would be that the WA state home brew exception exists for a reason, and is universal for a reason. The letter of the law may be violated, but I don't see any way in which the spirit of it is. Just in this particular instance, I would think that the application of it is unjust and should be rightly ignored.
1.8.2009 5:13pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
"The basic thing is that unjust laws should be ignored."

I see. That will certainly promote the rule of law.
1.8.2009 5:13pm
pintler:

"It's hard to believe we think eighteen year olds are mature enough to be put in charge of life and death decisions in the military, but not mature enough to decide whether to drink."

I have never found that argument very convincing since 18 year olds in the military are subject (usually) to strict rules and a chain of command.


I certainly take the point that a certain willingness towards recklessness is a valued attribute in a soldier, and thus 19 year olds make good soldiers. As I approach geezerdom, my take on 'old enough to fight, old enough to drink' is simply that saying to a 19 year old 'I'll send you to die on my behalf but won't let you drink lest you drive drunk and hurt me' is something I am not selfish enough to say.
1.8.2009 5:18pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
The problem with lowering the drinking age to 18 is that in many jurisdictions, the de facto driving age (solo, at night) has been raised to 18. Thus you would have people driving unsupervised while they are drinking unsupervised. I would prefer they had a couple of years' experience under their belts with one before they took up the other.

he does recognize that alcohol is a drug.

Unlike all other drugs, alcohol is primarily a beverage, as well as a food. Fermenting is a way to preserve the harvest, as in pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
1.8.2009 5:20pm
Fidelity (mail) (www):
Guys! Guys! I have the perfect solution to propose:

You can't drink until you've graduated from High School or 21.

BAMO! Problems are solved, children are motivated, everyone's happy. If we included the same rules for marijuana, I'm sure High School graduation numbers would increase nation wide.

As for military commanders authorizing drinking for underage, I'm not so sure. I was told there was a clause in the UCMJ that says military bases must adopt certain local laws, including liquor laws...that was always the excuse I heard while I was in.
1.8.2009 5:23pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
pintler

Sending the 19 year old to fight rather than going myself is selfish regardless of the legal drinking age. We ought to exercise more care when we do it. But I don't see how that makes it a good idea to enact another policy that we think would be harmful.
1.8.2009 5:27pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozell

So would you support raising the minimum age of enlistment to 21?
1.8.2009 5:48pm
Perseus (mail):
I certainly take the point that a certain willingness towards recklessness is a valued attribute in a soldier, and thus 19 year olds make good soldiers.

I wasn't making that point, Andy Rozell was. My point is that the life or death judgments of the 18 year old soldier are directly subject to superior authority (i.e. training, rules, and the chain of command). The alcohol equivalent would be a minor drinking only under direct adult supervision.
1.8.2009 5:48pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Andy Rozell:

I would settle for an amendment to the tax code tying the age of home-brewing majority to state law for home-brewing rather than alcohol purchase.
1.8.2009 5:56pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Not entirely germain to this discussion, but 18 is not a univeral age for tobacco purchase within the US. Alaska for one sets that at 19.
1.8.2009 6:47pm
New Pseudonym:

Twenty-nine states lowered their minimum age by 1975.


Does this include or exclude states that had a legal drinking age of 18 well before the Viet Nam War (e.g. New York, Louisiana) or states that permitted 18 year olds to drink beer (or 3.2 beer) at age 18, but not hard liquor (e.g. Kansas)?

I've never been able to decide whether lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 was a good idea (I tend toward thinking it was), but once the Constitution was amended to do so, I believe that any legal distinction based on the use of the age 21 instead of 18 for any purpose in law must be capable of surviving strict scrutiny [sic].
1.8.2009 7:46pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Thoughts on legal drinking at 18.....

IANAL, TINLA, etc.... However, it is based on my own reading of the laws. I could be missing something though.

In my state, there is a broad home-brew exception which applies to all beer and wine produced in the home for personal and family consumption. All of title 66 of RCW with the exception of rules on home brew competitions exempt homebrewed beverages, though of course, they cannot be commercially sold, and I doubt one could give to another underage person and hide behind the exemption. The only restriction I can find is that home brewed beverages may not be distilled nor may they achieve more than 24% alcohol content by volume. This means that regarding home-brewed alcohol, there is effectively no drinking age in my state.

However, in federal matters, there is an excise tax exemption which is limited both by volume and quantity, and is tied to the number of over-drinking-age individuals in the household where it is brewed.

So, suppose one is in college, under 21, and brews beer at the house of an over-21 friend, or the two of you brew it together. Does this get one out of the tax problems? Given that no state laws are violated, does this make the drinking legal?
1.8.2009 9:18pm
PubliusFL:
Fidelity: As for military commanders authorizing drinking for underage, I'm not so sure. I was told there was a clause in the UCMJ that says military bases must adopt certain local laws, including liquor laws...that was always the excuse I heard while I was in.

You're right. Bases in the U.S. must adopt the drinking age of the state they're located in. There's an exception for bases within 50 miles of Canada or Mexico. At those bases, the installation commander can adopt the drinking age of the nearest foreign state, in order to eliminate the temptation of driving across the border, getting drunk, and driving back to base. Overseas, the drinking age is 18, unless a higher age is set by agreement with the host nation or by order of the installation commander.
1.9.2009 10:13am
Zorro for the Common Good (mail):
I once heard a pragmatic argument for lowering the drinking age to 19 rather than 18, based on the respective cohorts at each age.

In other words, the average 18-year-old is a high school senior, which means that if he can buy beer legally, it will be easier for 15-year-old freshmen to drink. On the other hand, 19-year-olds are mostly in college, so the alcohol consumption is less likely to trickle down to younger teens.

Yes, this presumes college attendance, which I know is not universal. Nonetheless, I could see it bringing the laws into alignment with behavior, while mitigating the most deleterious effects.
1.11.2009 10:06pm
Melvin H. (mail):
Any thoughts on what Colorado had when I was in that age group at the time of the 1984 change, namely:

> 18 for 3.2 (3.2%) beer;
> 21 for all other alcohol.

In other words, a split age for legal consumption of alcohol--it seemed to make sense at the time, more so than a straight 21 (20, 18, etc.) for everything.

Was there any indications of problems, or statistics on the differences, between a state with such a split-age limit and one with one age limit for all alcohol?
1.12.2009 3:30am

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