Even though many of us students are underage, we are probably going to be drinking this weekend (if you haven’t already started). Although it is illegal, is it a bad thing? Or is it minors’ slurred way of saying “Svil Dis-ohbedienz”?
A new report by Jeffrey Miron, senior lecturer in Harvard’s department of economics, confirmed that when the federal government pressured states to adopt a minimum legal drinking age of 21 it had little or no life-saving effect.
In 1984 Congress passed the Federal Underage Drinking Act that withheld transportation funding from states that did not make it illegal for those younger than 21 to drink, under the justification that a higher minimum legal drinking age would reduce traffic fatalities.
However, the recent report showed that the states forced to change their minimum drinking age from 18 to 21 saw only a temporary life-saving effect during the first year or two of policy change.
This makes sense. States forced to increase their drinking age against their citizens’ choice undoubtedly enforce the policy less. Think about college campuses, whose “citizens” have almost no respect for the drinking age. Violators are usually given only slaps on the wrist.
While the minimum legal drinking age has had little or no positive effect, it has managed to create two negative effects.
First, it manages to disenfranchise youth.
I’d love for one of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving to explain to me why our society trusts me at 18 to vote for the leader of the free world, and to fight and possibly die serving in the armed forces, but yet can’t seem to trust me to drink responsibly.
The central argument that a higher minimum drinking age would reduce traffic fatalities has not only been disproven through this report, but even if it were true, a large impact would have to be present to warrant restricting citizens’ rights. After all, where do we stop? I’m sure by restricting many people’s habits we could reduce a lot more deaths.
No more cigarettes. No more fast food. Hell, no more driving.
Second, Maintaining the current legal drinking age also promotes binge drinking.
Many other productive, industrialized countries around the world manage with a younger drinking age such as 16 or 18. Their youth grow up in an environment that inches them into alcohol and that doesn’t demonize it.
However, here in the United States, most of us only first experience drinking when we leave our parents and go to college. We’re being let loose to a potentially dangerous drug without ever having taken it in moderation and with supervision. We don’t know our tolerance or what the drug does to us.
It took me a year until I found my tolerance, and if I didn’t have some friends willing to hold my glasses while I puked (and hold my hand steady while I shaved my head) then I could have done something dangerous.
At the very least, whenever considering restricting someone's choice, the costs of restriction and its benefits must be measured. This new report makes clear, the costs out-weigh the benefits. This weekend save one toast for a change to the policy. Cheers.
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