The Arizona Desert Lamp

Amethyst, revisted

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 January 2009

Drunk Kid 2The Wall Street Journal recently collected short policy prescriptions from a wide swathe of thinkers on the right. Most of them are sharp, but the piece pertinent to our site is the recommendation by Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame:

I will make one policy proposal. Some of my fellow libertarians hope that the Obama administration will put an end to the drug war. I hope so too, but I’m not too optimistic. Instead, I propose a smaller step toward freedom — eliminating the federally mandated drinking age of 21. This mandate was a creature of Elizabeth Dole (who is no longer in the Senate to complain at its abolition), and it has unnecessarily limited the freedom of legal adults, old enough to fight for their country, to drink adult beverages.

What’s more, as the 130 college presidents of the Amethyst Initiative have noted, rather than promoting safety, it has largely created furtive and less-safe drinking on campus. As a former professor of constitutional law, President Obama knows that the Constitution gives the federal government no legitimate role in setting drinking ages. Returning this decision to the states would be a step for freedom, a step toward honoring the Constitution, and a step away from nannyism. It would also be a particularly fitting act for this administration. Barack Obama received enormous support from voters aged 18-21. Who better to treat people that age as full adults again?

Peter Suderman, Megan McArdle, and the good folks at Reason agree. Speaking of Reason, Radley Balko has an interview with John McCardell (how many ways can you spell that name?), the former Middlebury College president behind the Amethyst Initiative:

Q: How has Mothers Against Drunk Driving responded to the Amethyst Initiative?

A: MADD’s response has been disappointing and is unbecoming for an organization as revered as they are. They spammed the email boxes of college presidents, called them “shirkers,” and encouraged parents not to send their kids to those colleges. All this for nothing more than a call for discussion. If this question is as settled as they say it is, why such an exaggerated response?

I think their tactics backfired. MADD tried to bully these presidents into removing their names. We lost three presidents as a result, but we gained 20 more. And I think it actually strengthened the resolve of the presidents who stayed on.

Q: MADD and other opponents of your objectives say the college presidents are just trying to pass on their own responsibility to enforce the minimum drinking age. But is it really a college president’s responsibility to enforce criminal law?

A: That’s a great point. It’s about as logical as asking a couple of state troopers to come onto campus to teach calculus.

Perhaps MADD spamming was behind Shelton’s weak response, which you can read here. The key line, in my eyes, is, “Underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically are serious concerns for our society and certainly at universities where so many young people in the 18-20 age group are present.” This, of course, assumes that a public school should be making moral judgments about their student body — a very dubious prospect in my book. If you are going to go Carrie Hatchet, though, at least be consistent — premarital sex should be decried, Campus Health sale of condoms should be banned, as should the Union’s fast-food joints, smoking on campus, cursing (at least South Carolina is trying), and anything whatsoever that involves carbon emissions.

As we talk about budget cuts and tax revenue shortfalls, it’d be really nice to see a study estimating how much business and tax revenue would be generated from changing the age; talk about a recession-proof consumer demand. As the state threatens to go bankrupt, this a stimulus plan that everyone outside of the MADD-types can get behind.

Meanwhile, a SWAT team has raided a fraternity in Washington State. Abuse of police power, constitutional violations, wasted federal and state funds, and erosion of respect for authorities of the law? No worries. But stupid Facebook pictures? Now that’s the end of Western civilization.

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Drinking Age, Cont.

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 28 August 2008

Shocking news from UT-Austin:

College students today celebrate 21st birthdays with an average of 12 drinks for men and nine for women, finds the most in-depth picture yet of the consequences of extreme partying.

The University of Texas at Austin research found 78 percent of students cited ill effects, including hangovers (54 percent). Of 44 percent who had blackouts, 22 percent found out later that they had sex; 22 percent got in a fight or argument. And 39 percent didn’t know how they got home.

Next you’ll be telling me that public sex acts are illegal! Oh, wait. I’m a bit surprised at how low these numbers are: only 54 percent with hangovers? Although this is probably the most amusing study these researchers have done in their careers, the results also yielded a pertinent insight:

Texas’ larger study of 2,200 also looked at drinking in the two weeks before and after the 21st birthday and found frequency of drinking increases after 21, but quantity decreases.

Psychology professor Kim Fromme, who directs the Texas study, says turning 21 decreases the risk associated with heavy episodic drinking. Overall, the research found most students drank twice a week or less; 19-year-olds drank the most.

So much for that argument. An aspect of the drinking age debate that sometimes gets overlooked is the fact that if the drinking age were 18, many drinking-age birthdays would occur while the new adults were still living at home. While there certainly would still be a good deal of shenanigans, the home environment could do a lot to stymie some of the more outrageous and dangerous behavior that occurs when that kid heads off to college.

As Tyler Cowen has pointed out, if the current policy were so effective, why not make the drinking age 25? 50? Hell, why not ban the substance outright? Oh, right: we did, and it was a miserable failure. Yet some people never learn:

Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of the Irving, Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, isn’t convinced.

“Increasing access is not going to reduce binge drinking. Access would be increased,” she says.

Because that worked in the 1920s. And it really works now, since freshmen who finally get their hands on some liquor are in no way inclined to overdo it. Right? Right?