Phi Beta Cons

The Infantilizing Drinking Age

Two recent articles on the drinking age by NRO’s John J. Miller and by George Will in the Washington Post raise important points, points which are especially relevant to college students.
As anyone who has spent any considerable time on a college campus can attest, having the drinking age at twenty-one is hardly a major barrier to consuming alcohol. It may even exacerbate the problem; a strongly enforced drinking age may encourage binge drinking by those under twenty-one.
The current policy also creates additional criminal behavior. The current black market for fake I.D.s on college campuses would dry up tomorrow if the drinking age were lowered. As the articles point out, the law criminalizes the conduct of young drinkers, instead of addressing it in an effective way.
Both articles cite John McCardell’s work questioning the assumptions of the drinking age. The former Middlebury President was quoted in the NRO article, saying “There used to be an intergenerational social intercourse that’s now completely gone—the law obliterated it … If you expect adult behavior, you’re more likely to get it than if you infantilize people.”
In this, McCardell hits the nail on the head. In the way we’ve written and enforced our drinking laws over nearly the past quarter-century, we have established the age of twenty-one as the bright red line of legality. A mature drinker at age twenty is a criminal, but an alcoholic twenty-one-year-old is not. If the MADD crowd wants to truly abate excessive drinking, it should consider the point that a lower drinking age would allow families to slowly teach children maturely drink. As it stands now, an arbitrary calendar age is our society’s marker of maturity.