It’s ironic that I read this this blog post today (rather than on Friday) since A) approximately a third of the country is in a some stage of a hangover B) I’m listening to “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse as I write this and C) there was a murder at a fraternity in Youngstown, Ohio over the weekend (I realize it’s a stretch to assume that anyone would have been drinking at a frat party) but this is pie-in-the-sky postulating that just begs to be mocked.
Janet Novack’s post at Forbes discusses a recent article written by two professors who are crime fighters in the economic persuasion:
Would raising the tax on beer reduce the number of young folks who get caught up in crime and the high budget and social costs of locking up so many people?
In a provocative article, The Economist’s Guide To Crime Busting, in the new issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Duke University’s Philip J. Cook and the University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig suggest that it would. (The article is here, but isn’t free.) The profs argue that crime policy (from an economist’s point of view) should focus “both on making criminal opportunities less tempting and the law-abiding life more rewarding” and offer three strategies which they say have been shown to do just that: raising the mandatory age through which kids must attend school; creating business improvement districts with private security guards (a tactic Los Angeles has used with great success); and yes, raising taxes on alcohol.
Our favorite passage being the “making criminal opportunities less tempting and the law-abiding life more rewarding” because this what someone walking into the liquor store is thinking, “Jeepers, the cost of binge drinking on the weekend has gone up significantly and no longer fits my monthly budget. I guess I’ll stay sober and won’t break the law today.”
The average state excise tax on beer, they note, is now only about 10 cents per 12 ounce bottle. Raising it to 55 cents they write, would persuade some teenagers “not to pick up that second six-pack on Thursday night” and would produce such extra benefits such as “fewer auto accidents and more money for state treasuries.” Data from Cook’s 2007 book, Paying The Tab, suggests a 55 cent per bottle levy would reduce beer consumption perhaps 10% and crime maybe 6%, they note.
Never mind how the neo-con scamps over at American for Tax Reform would react; this assumes that the demand for alcohol is elastic. You could easily argue that most people with the necessary means will pick their potent potable of choice regardless of price and even if they did decided to tighten the booze budget, they’d just go for a cheaper alternative, they wouldn’t actually buy or drink less.
I’m no economist but this kind of reasoning simply defies logic. People will drink regardless of the cost and they will continue to act like idiots and commit crimes when doing so. If you want to discuss that from a tax/fiscal policy standpoint raising taxes on booze (or taxing other sins) is a good idea then a discussion can be had. But let’s not get all crazy and start claiming that our country will become a bunch of law-abiding teetotalers the second a sixer of suds goes up $6.