The Corner

Age Before Liquor, Never Sicker

I was gonna wait until tomorrow when John Miller’s piece goes up to continue the drinking age conversation. But I thought this email was particularly interesting:

Jonah,

As a guy actually in the alcoholic beverage industry, I’d like to point out a few things. 

Age does matter when it comes to drinking.  Having the legal buying age at 21 limits the drinking of high schoolers and much younger people.  How’s that?  There are two ways to get alcohol if you are not of legal age–fake ID and have someone buy it for you.  

Good fake IDs are getting harder and harder to get.  We see but a handful a year.  However, the new thing to (maybe not so new, but more popular) do is to borrow someone’s identity to get a real, but fraudulent, ID issued to you.  This is much harder if not impossible to spot. We only spot them when someone is stupid enough to give us a second ID like a debit card with their real name on it. 

However, anecdotally, what we see is people over 21 coming in and buying for minors.  How do we know?  Well, not many thirty year-olds buy a six pack of beer, a half gallon of Captain Morgan, and a bottle of grain alcohol.  Also, how many times have you bought alcohol, but asked for two receipts?  Or is that really your teenage son in the driver’s seat out in the parking lot?

Lower the legal age to buy alcohol to 18 or 19 and there will be plenty of  18 and 19 year olds eager to buy for their 15 – 17 year old friends.  Keep the buying age at 21 and you can be certain that far fewer 21 year-olds, as opposed to 19 or 20 year-olds, would be willing to buy for some 17 year old punk kid.

Notice, however, that I am discussing the legal buying age.  Keeping the buying age high (for carry out purchases) discourages the sort of behavior described above.  I do think that there is a very good argument for lowering the age of consumption.  Lowering the age of consumption would encourage 19 to 20 year olds to act more mature as they would now be legally able to consume around their older peers.  It it might also discourage younger (under the age of 18) people from consuming alcohol since the 19 and 20 year-olds would presumably not be hanging around the 18 and younger crowd–as much. 

Splitting the consuming age and the buying age is well-known in other parts of the world.  Lowering the consuming age when younger people will be in a controlled environment such as a bar or at home with the parents encourages responsible behavior at least at the margins. 

Hey, does this make me you beer, wine, and spirits guy?

Me: I will need to take the Beer, Wine & Spirits Guy title under consideration. I have a brother-in-law who owns liquor stores and I don’t want to get in trouble with my Alaskan relations.  

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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