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Locke Foundation leader: Repeal drunk driving laws, lower drinking age

The head of the Locke Foundation rarely speaks or writes without having thought through the implications of his prescriptions for American society so it would seem that we must take him at his literal word when he said the following in his daily column this morning:

The only laws about alcohol that should remain on the books are these:

No one under the age of 18 should be permitted to purchase alcoholic beverages.

Anyone who gets drunk and injures or kills another because of it – like what happened so tragically over the weekend to a young Carolina Ballet dancer here in Raleigh – should receive a draconian sentence.

Anyone selling alcohol beverages should be required to label their products accurately.”

To which one might reasonably reply: Really? Those are the ONLY laws? No laws about drinking and driving (or drinking and flying) if no one is injured or killed? No laws about drinking and performing other inherently dangerous activities? No laws about giving children alcohol for free? No laws about selling homemade moonshine at your corner convenience store? Is it okay to sell potentially poisonous stuff if you say so on the label?

And they call us progressives a bunch of anything-goes softies!

Seriously, there is something to be said for this brand of no-holds-barred libertarianism. Many progressives would agree that the government plays too big a role in regulating private, personal behavior. Indeed, it would be great if the Locke people would speak up and join their Libertarian friends in endorsing full and complete equal rights for the GLBT community. Decriminalization of marijuana is probably another area in which the Locke people could give a boost to a legitimate position of the Libertarians.

Having said this, the notion that modern society should simply do away with almost all alcohol regulation is, in a word, nuts.

What’s also nuts is that a group that voices so many loony ideas on so many issues continues to be taken seriously by so many in the North Carolina news media as a responsible voice in state policy debates.

8 Comments

  1. James

    September 15, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    If we say Hood’s position on this issue is a -10 … and that the current public policy is a +10 … I would come somewhere around -6.

    I’d want regulations related to age, which should remain at 21. There is simply too much brain research on the books that shows the enduring and debilitating effects of alcohol on adolescent brains.

    Beyond that, I say get out of the ABC business completely.

    I also agree with your intimation that decriminalizing drugs would be a good thing as well.

    Both of these areas reflect stunning failures at all levels of public policy.

  2. Rob Schofield

    September 15, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks James. I share your views (and, I guess, John’s) about ABC laws and the disastrous drug war failure.

    I still can’t imagine seriously considering the abolition of drunk driving rules or consumer protection regs for alcohol production and sales.

  3. Ajax the Great

    September 15, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I think our laws are both excessive AND insufficient. Thus I agree partly with John. I definitely think the drinking age should be lowered to 18. But total deregulation is not the answer.

    Aside from those three laws that John wants, we still need additional ones:

    1) Excise taxes–they reduce excessive consumption and the harm it causes, pay for social costs of alcohol, and raise revenue. Use the funds for education, treatment, and DUI enforcement. The burden falls on the heaviest drinkers, who generate the greatest social costs. A win-win situation IMO. But go easy on the microbrewers :)
    2) Laws against DUI, including logical blood alcohol limits and very tough penalties. With no excuses! The best was to stop DUI, and the deaths and injuries it causes, is to deter it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    3) Anti-adulteration laws.
    4) Selling moonshine (but not making it for personal use) should be illegal.
    5) Advertising restrictions, similar to those on tobacco, would probably do a lot of good. Though they are not absolutely necessary.
    6) Normal regulations that are applied to non-alcohol businesses as well.

    Other than those, and John’s, most of the alcohol laws on the books today are unnecessary. By the way, I also believe in legalizing cannabis, and would want similar regulations for that as well.

    As for James, I would come in around -2 or -3 on his scale. As for the age remaining 21 due to the effect on adolescent brains, that is not a valid reason. Heavy and excessive drinking is bad for the brain at ANY age. Age has very little (if anything) to do with it. It has never been proven that alcohol is MORE dangerous to an 18 year old brain than a 21 year old brain (though some studies suggest drinking heavily before 18 may be riskier).

    Even if there was some apocalyptic difference between drinking at 18 versus 21, it does not follow that it should be illegal. 18 is the age of adulthood and thus the age of consent, so such individuals have sovereignty over their bodies and should be allowed to do whatever to them, as long as they do not harm others. At the very least, 18-20 year olds should have the same rights as those over 21. Unless, of course, we are willing to make the age limit 21 for going to war, being executed, being tried and punished as an adult, buying a gun, having custody of a child, etc.

    The purpose of government is to protect individuals from violence and coercion from others, and to protect the people from foreign attack. Anything else is peripheral to the purpose of government, and must not be used as an excuse to violate individual rights. Protecting legal adults from themselves, against their will, is an illegitimate government function.

  4. Kimberly

    September 15, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    My husband, children, and I were the average family and never thought that we would be a victim of a drunk driver until June 8, 1996. On that day a drunk driver who was a repeat offender and had lost her license and insurance slammed into us and forever changed our lives. She got away with it because she had already lost everything. We are still paying for her crime with our injuries. Drunk driving laws, and all laws pertaining to alcohol use, should be strictly enforced and those who break those laws and injure others should pay more than a small fine.

  5. piperTom

    September 15, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Before criticizing Hood, consider what a crashing failure the current system is.

  6. Adam Searing

    September 16, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Kimberly has a good point. You can make the laws very draconion, but short of locking drunk drivers up for life simply for driving drunk, our society depends so much on cars to go everywhere, it’s inevitable that at least some people will continue to drive after they’ve lost licenses, insurance, and everything else.

    Clean, efficient and frequent bus, light rail, and train services can go a long way towards addressing at least a part of this problem.

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