POWER is intoxicating. Being drunk with power is more dangerous than drunk driving. The thought of raising the drinking age from 18 years to 21 years is so intoxicating that it befuddles the brains of power-hungry bureaucrats and politicians. They mumble incoherently about it being necessary to reduce crime and improve health, neither of which it will do.
They think someone clever enough to vote for them is too stupid to have a drink with a meal or friends. In their megalomaniacal stupor they ignore or misinterpret evidence to the effect that the Draconian measure will be counterproductive.
Raising the drinking age to reduce crime is one of the antisocial measures proposed by the Department against (sic) Trade and Industry. A higher drinking age and other proposed measures are apartheid liquor policy in new clothes.
Alcohol for black people was banned initially, followed by relaxations during the 1970s and 1980s. During "transition" (the 1990s), restrictive laws were virtually scrapped and liquor-related crime fell. Then, with no further law reform, crime rates rose due to shoddy and corrupt policing. Clearly, we should do the opposite of what is proposed. We should show respect for civilians by completing the liberalisation process.
Maybe, instead of the tipsy-inducing effect of power, officious officialdom just hates happiness. In their simplistic narrative, freedom and mental health are irrelevant or nonexistent. They think of us as mindless, biochemical machines to be kept in good working order. They neither care nor think about why people drink. There are many legitimate reasons: drinkers may be depressed, lonely, socially dysfunctional, mentally ill, unmotivated, battling to cope, sedentary, or suicidal. They may just think it’s lekker. The Department of Trade and Industry attaches no value to feelings, happiness, enjoyment or contentment. It neither values mental health nor appreciates its benefits, including physical health benefits and safety benefits.
The fact that we drink, smoke, eat badly, take traditional or alternative medicine, are sedentary or obese, drink cold drinks, add salt, braai fatty chops, or do anything else for personal satisfaction is so monstrous that they want it banned, punished, suppressed and taxed.
Since the department did not examine the evidence, the Free Market Foundation (FMF) did. According to mainstream research summarised in a forthcoming FMF publication, the evidence is "inconclusive". According to one of the sources, "how to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence continues to perplex scientists and policy makers (because other factors) affect the relationship".
Despite there being statistical relationships, "cause cannot be assumed". Because drinking is often a coping mechanism, it might "moderate" crime and suicide rates. Research produces "mixed results (because) statistical links could be … cultural".
In other words, culture and context rather than alcohol explain the violence for which alcohol consumption is blamed.
One of the standard deceptions on which latter-day prohibitionists rely is to show a reduction in crime rates where the drinking age was increased. The trick is to omit prior trends that show criminal violence and accident rates have been falling in most countries for decades. The introduction of higher drinking ages makes no difference.
Internationally, nine countries with no minimum drinking age — nursery school kids may booze — have the lowest average homicide rate, 3.3 per 100,000. Seventeen with minimum drinking ages younger than 18 years average 5.3 per 100,000. The 109 with our current age of 18 years have the highest average — 8.7. The average for the handful of countries SA is planning to mimic is 5.4 homicides per 100,000.
Banning alcohol for 18-21-year-olds is irrational because their inebriation induces no more than a tiny fraction of all violent crimes and road accidents. A few innocent young adults are being scapegoated for everyone else’s behaviour. Sober people in other age groups cause two-thirds of road accidents and most violent crimes.
By the Department of Trade and Industry’s flawed assumption that correlations are unidirectional causes, they should ban sober driving and liquor sales to older people.
• Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation
This article was first published in Business Day on 18 May 2016