Yesterday, Jonah and several of his readers conducted a lively conversation about the effects of raising the drinking age to 21 on the college binge-drinking culture. I fear, however, that many of Jonah’s correspondents ascribe too much power to federal regulation. The drinking age doesn’t prevent parents from teaching the responsible use of alcohol or from modeling responsible use. Moreover, it’s even arguable how much the drinking age actually prevents drinking. In an era where around 40 percent of kids are born out of wedlock, where religious practice is on the decline (especially in college), and where the “adults” in students’ lives manifestly have so much trouble growing up themselves, the federally ascribed drinking age strikes me as a marginal cultural influence, at best (or worst).
Yes, the federal drinking age is nanny-statism. Of course it has perverse side effects. But is it materially important to the alcohol-abuse problem on campus? I’m unconvinced.