Should There be a Minimum Price for Alcohol? (2013), by Sean Gabb

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Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, speaking on BBC Radio 5 on the 1st March 2013.

The background to this discussion was a report from the Alcohol Health Alliance, calling for a minimum price of 50p per unit for alcohol, and various restrictions of the advertising and sale of alcohol.

Sean argues these points:

  • If enacted into law, this report would be a step on the road to prohibition of alcohol. The Alcohol Health Alliance is a coalition of groups mostly funded by the taxpayers that includes what, in more honest days, were openly prohibitionist campaigning bodies. See, for example, The Alliance House Foundation, originally called the UK Alliance for the Suppression of the Traffic in All Intoxicating Liquors. Give these people what they want this year, and they will not announce that the "problem" is solved, and they all resign from their taxpayer-funded jobs. Instead, they will be back next year, with more junk statistics, and calls for a higher minimum price, and for plain packaging and advertising bans. Their final goal is plainly the prohibition of alcohol, and this report is merely one step to that goal.
  • In the meantime, their minimum price will be an attack on the poor. Most middle class people can afford to drink as much as they like, and no likely increase in price will change this. But many poor people, especially the old, will be prevented from drinking. We have lived now with alcohol for eight or nine thousand years. We all know that drinking too much, too often, can have ill effects. But we also need to remember that alcohol makes us feel better. It makes company more enjoyable. It dulls moral and even physical pain. The world often does look a better place through the bottom of a glass. Anyone who wants to take this blessing away from the poor is best described as evil.
  • Turning to the claim that there are 1.2 million alcohol-related admission to hospital every year, this is a statistical fiction. It is constructed not by asking every person admitted how much he drinks, and whether he is there because of drink. Instead, if a non-drinker is admitted with a possible heart attack, that is recorded as about one third of an alcohol-related admission. If a non-drinker is admitted with hypothermia, that is recorded as 0.25 of an alcohol-related admission. Given this bizarre methodology, there is no possibility of knowing what the truth is. The methodology was adopted because it generates junk statistics that get the headlines.