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Demon Drink
Is There a Case for Prohibition Lite?

As the pro-pot movement gains steam, Reihan Salam lays out the case for regulating alcohol more strictly in Slate. “Prohibition Lite”, as Salam calls it, would would consist of raising the price per dollar of getting drunk. In the U.S. it currently costs between $5 and $10 to get drunk, but that price could drop as alcohol companies become bigger and more vertically integrated. More:

To get a sense of what the world would look like if that price fell significantly, go to a typical town square in England on a weekend night, where alcohol-fueled violence is rampant, or to Russia, where the ruling class has used cheap vodka as a tool to keep the population drunk, passive, and stupid for generations.

We shouldn’t be satisfied with keeping the per dollar cost of getting drunk where it is today. We should make it higher. Much higher. Kleiman and his colleagues Jonathan P. Caulkins and Angela Hawken have suggested tripling the federal alcohol tax from 10 cents a drink to 30 cents a drink, an increase that they estimate would prevent 6 percent of homicides and 6 percent of motor vehicle deaths, thus sparing 3,000 lives (1,000 from the drop in homicides, 2,000 from safer highways) every year. Charging two-drink-per-day drinkers an extra $12 per month seems like a laughably small price to pay to deter binge drinking

Nobody, for example, who’s seen the unforgettable photos Maciej Dakowicz took of the Wales nightlife can doubt that alcohol can be “crazy dangerous.” On American college campuses, binge drinking is a persistent problem, and nationwide the substance abuse culture now claims more lives than ever

Though the original Prohibition was arguably much more successful than Salam allows for in his column, Americans may not be ready for even a “lite” version of it. But there is some good news: In England, cultural changes are bringing alcohol use down already. The Economist reported in February on the rise of “dry pubs” in England, noting that there has been a year-on-year decrease of average household consumption. That’s a welcome development, and one we’d love to see other countries imitate. With or without a sin tax on alcohol, we need a cultural change when it comes to alcohol consumption.

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  • Arkeygeezer

    Why is the solution to every social problem, whether personal or environmental, is always a tax?

    • rheddles

      It’s the only way government can regulate behavior without making the behavior illegal.

  • Pete

    Reihan Salam! Who is that that anyone should notice?

  • Andrew Allison

    News flash: Cardiff isn’t in England, and there’s narey a Town Square in sight. As the photos linked to demonstrate, public drunk-and-disorderliness is a young urban denizen problem. The semi-private binge drinking among the same age group on US colleges campuses is at least as big a problem. Which is not to say that both aren’t disgusting, but let’s at least get our facts straight. On that subject, the original Prohibition was only successful at fomenting organized crime, the enormous cost of which we continue to pay,
    That said, the author is correct that alcohol is a far more dangerous drug than marijuana and should be regulated more stringently. The effect of taxation has been well-demonstrated by its impact on tobacco consumption.

    • Arkeygeezer

      Sure, tax alcohol and you will get more meth. Its cheap and gives you a real buzz.

  • Fat_Man

    No more wars on things. No more war on drugs. No more war on guns. No more war on cancer. Just stop. It is time that we learned to mind our own business.

  • Richard T

    The politics of this are going to be fun. Will Mormons and Southern Baptists vote for cheap booze? Will they vote for a tax increase? I can hardly wait ….

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