Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"[W]e face the absurd phenomenon of colleges encouraging students to go into six-figure debt ... but forbidding them to drink on campus ...

... because they're deemed insufficiently mature to appreciate the risks."

Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit) argues that the federal drinking age in the United States should be lowered from 21 to 18 — and that Republicans are particularly well-positioned to bring about this change:

Republicans are supposed to stand for limited government, freedom and federalism, but it was under a Republican administration—and a Republican transportation secretary, Elizabeth Dole—that states were forced to raise their age limits or face financial penalties. That was before the tea party, though. Perhaps today, when Republican leaders across the board are singing the praises of limited government, it is time for them to put their money where their mouths are and support an end to the federal drinking-age mandate.

And if arguments based on fairness and principle aren't enough, perhaps one based on politics will do the trick: This will get votes.

Democrats traditionally do well with the youth vote, and one reason is that they have been successful in portraying Republicans as fuddy-duddies who want to hold young people down. This may be unfair—college speech codes and the like don't tend to come from Republicans—but the evidence suggests that it works. What's more, the first few elections people vote in tend to set a long-term pattern. A move to repeal the federal drinking-age mandate might help Republicans turn this around.
There's also the fact that almost no other country in the world has such a high drinking age. And I think ours is the highest of any developed country. But I guess Republicans don't like the "America is the only country in the industrialized world..." style of framing.

9 comments:

Beth said...

We ought not to be surprised that we've cultivated a couple of generations of people whose adolescence has extended into their mid-twenties, when we tell them clearly that we think they're irresponsible, unaccountable and that we regard them as children until they're 21.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Professor Reynolds, but why are we only going to allow active or former military between 18-21 to drink?

My take on this is that if you're old enough to legally: get married; be licensed to drive a car or motorcycle; be licensed to fly an airplane; buy a rifle; serve in the armed forces; get drafted into the armed forces, handed a rifle, and ordered to kill someone with it; enter into legal contracts; gamble; vote; subject to full legal penalty for criminal behavior, etc. . .

Then you ought to be old enough to consume alcohol.

Anonymous said...

Beth,
When the law restricted voting to those 21 and older, were we* cultivating generations of people whose adolescence extended into their mid-twenties, when we were telling them clearly that we thought they're irresponsible, unaccountable and that we regarded them as children until they're 21?

*I can't really be included in the above We since I was about 9 months old when the 26th Amendment passed.

madawaskan said...

You are really buying the argument that an important reason that young people vote Democrat is because Republicans are portrayed as fuddy duddys?

Actually it might have to do with young voters "inexperience".

So supposedly Republicans will win the youth vote by lowering the drinking age.

As if Republicans can win the vote bribe game.

Third then we are suppose to believe the behaviorist rationale that once they vote Republican-they will be "imprinted" with this vote and will in a zombie like fashion continue to vote that way for Republicans.

It's weird for a Libertarian to argue like B.F. Skinner but there it is!


Then this is followed by the "peer pressure" every other country is doing it type argument-

There's also the fact that almost no other country in the world has such a high drinking age. And I think ours is the highest of any developed country.

What happened to nuance?

What could be a major difference?

Have any of you lived overseas?

I could argue about a whole host of differences but one that is immediately provable by simple statistics is-

car ownership.

unece.org

Simple fact- for a multiple of reasons Americans drive more. There is a good reason that most people in America reference "drinking and driving" almost immediately whenever this subject is brought up.

John Althouse Cohen said...

madawaskan, you're assuming that the law against 18- to 20-year-olds drinking prevents them from drinking, or least causes them to drink more moderately. How do you know it doesn't encourage them to drink more excessively, by making them feel that drinking is a covert, forbidden pleasure that should be enjoyed to the maximum whenever they get a chance?

(To answer your question, yes, I have lived overseas.)

Simmer said...

My college years were timed to coincide with the change from 18 to 21. I was a legal drinker, and then illegal for three months, and then legal again. At my small college campus, much of the drinking was done in fraternity houses. Those who got drunk stumbled home, until the new drinking age and the administration changed everything. The administration systematically shut down nearly all fraternity houses and soon the partying moved off campus. This usually meant a 20 minute drive to Saratoga where better bars and better girls could be found. From my point of view, the law which was fashioned to save us from ourselves put a lot of college kids in more danger because even if you weren't drinking on the ride north, changes are...someone else was.

John Althouse Cohen said...

GayPatriot makes a similar argument to the one in my previous comment (via Instapundit):

"Rather than discouraging the irrational consumption of alcohol, the drinking age actually promotes it. It turns the types of beverages human beings have been drinking in ritual celebrations as well as social gatherings for as long as we have recorded our history into a kind of forbidden fruit. . . .

"When people see wine, beer and other (potentially) intoxicating spirits as beverages to enjoy with their elders, rather than those to consume on the sly, they will be more likely to drink responsibly, particularly by learning about drinking from those who have been drinking responsibly for a generation (at least). If you start drinking among a group of adolescents, the age at which we are the most irresponsible, you will likely drink more irresponsibly, drinking among those with the least capacity to control their actions a spirit inclined to excess.

"Studying in Germany, I saw many of my Teutonic peers drinking on regularly basis, yet encountered none of the binge drinking I had observed on American campuses. They grew up drinking beer. They did not see consumption of their national beverage as something to do just with your peers, but as an activity to enjoy with your parents–and their peers as well.

"If there were no drinking age, students could meet a professor at a pub to enjoy a beer and discuss the importance of alcohol to ancient ritual or merely to unwind together and talk about campus life. In short without a drinking age, college officials could more regularly integrate drinking into campus life."

XWL said...

There should be no drinking age, period. Drinking should be like R rated films, under 18, it's up to their parent/guardian, above 18, anything goes.

Bars, and dining places should be allowed their own discretion as to whether or not they serve minors who are accompanied by their parents.

And while we're at it, let's get rid of the 'last call' laws and allow alcohol to be served around the clock (again, at the discretion of each establishment, by making the law less restrictive, that leaves room for individuals to choose greater restrictions if they feel it's in their interest, or for moral reasons). Seems like having a specified last call time just means that the half hour after last call is the worst time to be on the road. Better off letting the irresponsible be irresponsible on their own schedule, rather than funneling them into a certain time of night.

John Althouse Cohen said...

What makes even less sense: laws against stores selling alcohol at certain times.

At least if you believe there are certain times when no one should be drinking, it makes sense to regulate when bars can be open, since anyone who orders a drink at a bar drinks it right away. But once you buy a drink at a store, you can drink it at any time!