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article imageOp-Ed: The minimum alcohol price and Sevareid's Law

By Alexander Baron     Dec 16, 2011 in World
Nineteen top doctors have put their names to a letter calling for a minimum price for alcohol, which they claim will save lives. They may know a lot about human biology, unfortunately, they appear to understand little or nothing about human nature.
This story was reported by the BBC as Minimum alcohol price in UK 'would save lives'. The logic behind it is simple, if the price of alcohol is increased, people will drink less of the stuff. After all, it's basic economics, isn't it, supply and demand?
As usual, something that is blindingly obvious may not be so. In recent months there has been an alarming increase in thefts of semi-precious and not so precious metals, some of them resulting in danger to life, or even death. The cause of this is the rising prices of metals. Whether or not the banksters or any other particular group is at fault, rising prices make the theft of any commodity or object more attractive, because every man has his price. Now, let's consider a few propositions:
The chief cause of problems is solutions - Sevareid's Law.
An outcome that is not the outcome intended by a purposeful action - The Law Of Unintended Consequences (also known by variant names).
For every problem there is a solution which is simple, clean and wrong - an observation by H.L. Mencken.
There are other observations that could be made here, but the three above should be enough.
What would happen if the price of alcohol were to be raised to astronomical levels? If say the price of beer were to be raised to £50 a pint, and a bottle of wine to £500? Apart from all the revenue the government would lose, and the off licences, public houses, etc that would go out of business, what else would happen? Would people stop drinking alcohol?
Excessive pricing of alcohol or of anything is akin to prohibition. For those who are neither students of history nor fans of old time gangster films, the effects of prohibition can be seen in the drug laws, the drug culture, and everything that goes with it including the usurpation of the rule of law and the emerging police state. Simply increasing the price of alcohol without a legal ban would result in...well, here is one example. And here is a more extreme one, although thankfully without the fatalities.
Do we really want to see increased smuggling, and far, far worse, people brewing potentially dangerous concoctions is the garden shed or lock up garage with no considerations for quality control, health and safety or even basic hygiene?
So, having identified the problem, what is the real solution? Though prohibition doesn't work, Islam does. The natives of Saudi Arabia don't imbibe for two reasons. One is that under Sharia law, drinking alcohol is a serious criminal offence that cant result in public flogging or a lengthy gaol sentence. The other is because good Moslems do not drink alcohol. The second reason, the taboo against alcohol, is by far the more compelling. Prohibition works in Saudia Arabia and other Sharia states not because of the drastic punishments handed out to offenders but regardless of them.
This suggests there is really only one way to stop people drinking alcohol, either totally or excessively, that is by social taboo. In practice, that means catching them young, so the government - and not just the British Government - should ensure that warnings about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption begin in primary school. We've had anti-bullying campaigns and Just say no to drugs, so why not just say no to alcohol? This is of necessity a long term strategy, but what about the adult population? As with certain other practices, driving while using a mobile phone, and even drinking and driving, the public is by and large ineducable. Some don't stop until they have a real wake up call, like serious health issues, while for others this comes too late, as with the tragic Amy Winehouse.
Having said that, the only real alternative is to keep hammering home the message with public information announcements, advertisements, and perhaps some none too subtle propaganda. One possible avenue is soap operas; EastEnders hard man Phil Mitchell is a recovering alcoholic, and Coronation Street is currently featuring a storyline about a not so recovering alcoholic and his mistress, who is also fond of a tipple. If this sounds frivolous, the portrayal of alcoholics and heavy drinkers on TV and elsewhere is often far from flattering; at the end of the day, no one really wants to be associated with the image of disreputable, slobbish men and sluttish women, so it might just do the trick.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, social taboos, eric sevareid, sevareid's law
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