Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Buy that man a drink

Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who helms Instapundit, has a column out today in the Wall Street Journal calling for an end to the 21-year old drinking age.

This is well-plowed ground, but worth going over again. Reynolds makes a key point about what it means to be 18:

Along with joining the military, 18-year-olds can vote, marry, sign contracts, and even take on a crippling lifetime burden of student loan debt in pursuit of an education that may never land them a job. Yet we face the absurd phenomenon of colleges encouraging students to go into six-figure debt—which can't be discharged in bankruptcy—but forbidding them to drink on campus because they're deemed insufficiently mature to appreciate the risks.

That is an odd way to treat people. And there's more, including the key point:

Defenders of the status quo claim that highway deaths have fallen since the drinking age was raised to 21 from 18, but those claims obscure the fact that this decline merely continued a trend that was already present before the drinking age changed—and one that involved every age group, not merely those 18-21. Research by economist Jeffrey A. Miron and lawyer Elina Tetelbaum indicates that a drinking age of 21 doesn't save lives but does promote binge drinking and contempt for the law.
More than anything else, that's always been my largest problem with the drinking age change, which took place in the 1980s. We have in place a sort of 3-year Volstead Act right of passage built into our society. We also end up seeing people drink furtively and in large quantities, which is precisely the wrong way to go about dealing with drinking.
I don't drink much any more. I have had a number of friends and associates who have battled the bottle over the years and it's easy to see the pernicious effects that alcoholism has. No one disputes those things. But I do believe this:  we'd have less problems if people learned how to drink the right way, in a social setting, with the supervision and support of peers. You're a lot more likely to get into trouble if you're pounding drinks out on an abandoned highway than you are in a tavern.


Bike Bubba said...

Amen. My dad made a point of (illegally I guess) giving me a sip of his drinks from a young age, and told me I could drink as much as I wanted--at home. So I never felt the need to get hammered.

Eliminating the drinking age altogether might do wonders to reduce drunkenness, ironically.

Anonymous said...

The inconsistency in our laws in terms of when a person is considered to be an adult has always confused me. What's even more amazing is that in many jurisdictions, the fine for underage drinking is higher for the 18-20 crowd, than it is for the 18 and under crowd.

If one really looks back, this move was one of the first that really accelerated the Nanny state mentality.

Bike Bubba said...

My favorite inconsistency in "majority" status was one my parents told me; apparently, in Illinois in the 1960s, a woman attained her majority at age 18 or 19, but a man only at age 21. So in many cases, high school sweethearts could not get married without waiting.....

Gino said...

bubba: my parents were 20 and 21 when they hitched in 1957 Chicago.

mom(21) thought it was hilarious that the man she married needed a parental signature (his dad had just arrived 6 mos earlier) when he'd basically been on his own since he arrived in country at 15. (when they first dated, she always thought he was 3-4 yrs older then her. after about 6 months, she found he was just a 'kid' so to speak.