Thursday, 3 May 2007

The unbelievable hubris of the bien-pensant classes

According to the latest edition of Children Now,

The Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank has called for the compulsory introduction of smart cards for 18-year-olds that would restrict the amount of alcohol they can buy.
Those of you interested to learn more may purchase a copy (for the free exchange of ideas is not universal within the left-leaning Institute) of the article that Jasper Gerard penned for Public Policy Research. Those for whom US$ 39.00 is better spent elsewhere (anywhere!) may welcome a summary:

[T]he UK has ‘lost the plot’ when it comes to regulating alcohol. [Gerard] proposes raising the drinking age to 21 or requiring 18-year-olds to carry smart cards which record how much they have drunk each night and restrict under-21s to three units of alcohol.
Words can barely express my contempt for this execrable suggestion.

18 year olds, one might remind “New Labour’s favourite think tank” (as The Economist likes to style them), are adults capable of making decisions for themselves. They are considered old enough to have sex with whomever they wish, vote in parliamentary elections, and brave death in the service of Her Majesty. They may drive cars, pay taxes and – not insignificantly – serve in the legislature which would need to enact Mr. Gerard’s idiotic proposal.

Of course, the idea that individuals may exercise their freedom in a manner which is unpalatable to others is no more popular with the new-wave of C21st dirigistes than it was with their Syndicalist authoritarian forbears. The sense of illiberal state planning is reinforced by Gerard’s other suggestions

· increasing the number of prosecutions and the level of fines on retailers selling alcohol to minors

At what point did we start planning for the number of prosecutions so as to achieve social ends? I thought prosecutions were a response to infractions of the law!

· increasing taxes on drinks targeted at young people, such as alcopops

Young people tend to have low incomes, and like all intelligent consumers they will adjust their consumption habits to reflect price-signals.

· restricting advertising of drinks aimed at youngsters

This makes sense if aimed at the under-18s, though many parents will allow their children to stay up after the “Watershed”. There is no way to avoid the “targeting” of 18-21 year olds as they will watch many of the same programmes as 21-30 year olds.

· allowing 16 and 17-year-olds limited amounts of alcohol in pubs, bars and
restaurants when consumed with a full meal and accompanied by someone over 21

I understood that even younger children were allowed to drink with a meal. This is a sensible proposal, allowing a gradual introduction to alcohol in a controlled environment in an attempt to demystify it. As such it seems to fly in the face of Mr. Gerard’s other policies, and would be better as advice to parents than recommended legislation.

I have argued before that we need a consistent and logical approach to ages of consent in this country. It makes no sense that we allow a 16 year old to breed but not to vote, a 17 year old to drive a car but not buy a drink, we expect 16 year olds to pay taxes but not influence how they are set or spent, and allow them to join the army but not to fight.

Mr. Gerard’s proposals fly in the face of this logic. They demonstrate the classic meddling instinct of those uncomfortable with the consequences of freedom. There are a raft of sensible policies that might be introduced to cope with the negative impact of excessive alcohol consumption in the UK, but forbidding a portion of the adult population their freedom simply on account of their age is not among them.

Gerard’s article in Public Policy Research is endemic of a belief that well-intentioned people are better placed to make decisions about how individuals lead their lives than those individuals themselves. It shows appalling arrogance.


Anonymous said...

The government are caught between two fires: an alcohol driven public health disaster and the power of those most illiberal tyrannies, modern corporations.

Not wishing to curb the 'rights' of their corporate masters the government is left to produce a series of meaningless and authoritarian measures that will have no effect on alcohol consumption by the young.

Tom Papworth said...

I love it when people go through my back catalogue!

Of course, it has nothing to do with "corporate masters". These proposals would apply equally to a self-employed publican selling beer from the local micro-brewery to a young adult.

This is about the fact that the socialists dare not mess with the economy anymore because every time they do so they wreck it, so their controlling instincts must be directed elsewhere: into our private lives, our homes and our families.