The Key Speech

John Key’s speech to parliament today hardly signalled the commitment to reform he has been talking up. Summaries of the speech here and here, with commentary with which I largely agree here.

There’s unlikely to be much in the way of tax reform.  With only the possibility of a 2.5% increase in GST, probably some minor tinkering with depreciation rules, and no indication of spending cuts, there could only be very minor reductions to income and corporate tax rates.  The rejection of the introduction of new taxes, notably on land, is good, though for public choice rather than public finance reasons. There was some empty rhetoric about welfare reform, but major changes to the god-awful Working for Families were ruled out.

One thing really pissed me off though: the suggestion of unspecified reforms to liquor licensing rules to address the Problem of Binge Drinking. This means that beer is likely to get more expensive and less conveniently available so the government seems like they’re doing something. Not cool, John.

BrewDog Launches 32% ABV Beer

BrewDog, the Scottish brewing company behind the 18.2% ABV Tokyo* and the low alcohol Nanny State have revealed their newest brew: Tactical Nuclear Penguin, weighing in at a mighty 32% alcohol!

Managing director James Watt said a limited supply of Tactical Nuclear Penguin would be sold for £30 each.

He said: “This beer is about pushing the boundaries, it is about taking innovation in beer to a whole new level.”

Mr Watt added that a beer such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin should be drunk in “spirit sized measures”.

A warning on the label states: “This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.”

Want! Predictably, the wowsers aren’t too pleased about it:

However Jack Law, of Alcohol Focus Scotland, described it was a “cynical marketing ploy” and said: “We want to know why a brewer would produce a beer almost as strong as whisky.”

(Hat tip: @epicbeer)

The Political Power of Bad Ideas: Networks, Institutions, and the Global Prohibition Wave

That’s the title of  a forthcoming book by Mark Schrad, which looks very interesting. I’ve read a paper on this topic by the author, which has been very useful to the chapter I’m currently writing of my thesis (basically analyzing the consequences of  what Schrad calls “bad policy ideas” on constitutional effectiveness). I really wish the book were out now. Here’s the blurb:

In The Political Power of Bad Ideas , Mark Lawrence Schrad looks on an oddity of modern history–the broad diffusion of temperance legislation in the early twentieth century–to make a broad argument about how bad policy ideas achieve international success. His root question is this: how could a bad policy idea–one that was widely recognized by experts as bad before adoption, and which ultimately failed everywhere–come to be adopted throughout the world? To answer it, Schrad uses an institutionalist approach, and focuses in particular on the US, Russia/USSR (ironically, one of the only laws the Soviets kept on the books was the Tsarist temperance law), and Sweden. Conventional wisdom, based largely on the U.S. experience, blames evangelical zealots for the success of the temperance movement. Yet as Schrad shows, “prohibition was adopted in ten countries other than the United States, as well as countless colonial possessions-all with similar disastrous consequences, and in every case followed by repeal.” Schrad focuses on the dynamic interaction of ideas and political institutions, tracing the process through which concepts of dubious merit gain momentum and achieve credibility as they wend their way through institutional structures. And while he focuses on one episode, his historical argument applies far more broadly, and even can tell us a great deal about how today’s policy failures, such as reasons proffered for invading Iraq, became acceptable.

Drug Deaths vs Media Coverage

From the Guardian’s Data Blog comes this neat visualization of poisoning deaths from various drugs and compared to press coverage thereof. The at the comparison for pot in particular.

I think this image, which shows the deaths as a proportion of users is probably more relevant when considering the likely social consequences of media bias.

Having it Both Ways

From p. 396 of Andrew Sinclair, Prohibition: The Era of Excess:

Yet the strangest situation of all had been rendered legal by a decision of the Supreme Court. The Court had ruled that the Bureau of Internal Revenue had the right to request income-tax returns from bootleggers. The Court saw no reason “why the fact that a business is unlawful should exempt it from paying the tax that if lawful it would have to pay.” In the argument of the case, it was even suggested that bribes paid to government officials might be held deductible as business expenses. To this day [1962], the bootleggers of the last dry state in the Union, Mississippi, pay federal income tax and a state tax on their illegal profits.

 

The Best Sentence I Read Today

When Wheeler publicly praised the insertion of poison into industrial alcohol on the theory that those who drank it were committing deliberate suicide, he did not persuade others of the humanitarian aims of the League.

Andrew Sinclair, Prohibition: The Era of Excess, p. 336. Poison is still added to some industrial alcohol, of course.

Prohibition Cartoon of the Day

1376_victims_pile

 

By Winsor McCay, courtesy of DrugSenseBot. For a few of the victims of contemporary prohibition, see here.

Brewery Launches Low-Alcohol Beer, Calls it Nanny State

Awesome:

A brewery has launched a low alcohol beer called Nanny State after being branded irresponsible for creating the UK’s “strongest beer”.

Scottish brewer BrewDog, of Fraserburgh, was criticised for Tokyo* which has an alcohol content of 18.2%. (…)

BrewDog founder James Watt explained on his blog: “Anyone who knows BrewDog, knows beer, or anyone has more common sense than a common (or garden) gnome will know that the scathing and unrelenting criticism we faced was pretty unjustified.

“If logic serves the same people who witch-hunted and publicly slated us should now offer us heartfelt support and public congratulations.

“However I fear that this, unfortunately, is an arena devoid of logic and reason.” (…)

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said of the new Nanny State beer: “This is a positive move which proves that low strength doesn’t compromise quality.

“However the name of the beer proves that once again this company is failing to acknowledge the seriousness of the alcohol problem facing Scotland.”

BrewDog’s blog post is here. They don’t seem to ship outside the UK, but Brits can buy Tokyo* here and Nanny State here.

Also, I hereby double dare The Epic Brewing Company to make an 18.2% or stronger beer. I will consume some without imposing external costs on others. You will be labelled irresponsible and get some free publicity. Geoffrey Palmer will be filled with righteous anger. Everybody wins.

Drunk in Public

should-a

Geoffrey Palmer want to make being drunk in public an offence in New Zealand:

“It’s not an offence to be drunk in a public place but nonetheless police have to deal with (drunk people), but they have nowhere to take them.”

Being drunk in a public place should be an infringement offence that incurs a fine, Sir Geoffrey said.

The law could include drunk and disorderly behaviour or only being drunk and discretion be left to police on whether to charge someone or not. (…)

The amount of police resources used policing the “late night culture” in New Zealand was “truly astonishing”, he said.

“Unless you saw it you wouldn’t believe it.”

This guy is clearly a puritan; he doesn’t like drinking and feels the need to Do Something about it. He’s willing to cite whatever shonky research best serves his case.

Still, at first glance, banning public drunkenness seems like a better option than increasing the excise tax on alcohol or taking other measures to “reduce availability.” If government wants to reduce the external costs of alcohol, it should address behaviour most closely related to external harm. People who are drunk in public are far more likely than those having a couple of beers at home to cause problems for others. As Ed Stringham puts it, “raising taxes on alcohol to prevent problem drinking is akin to raising the price of gasoline to prevent people from speeding.”

As it happens, I don’t think government should be concerned with reducing the social costs of alcohol: I think they are much smaller than the social costs of any policy intervention I can imagine. Even if we accept the need to Do Something, however, Palmer’s proposal worries me more than other (perhaps less efficient) means of alcohol control.

Since being drunk is arbitrary, the proposal would give police more arbitrary power. As someone who takes the rule of law seriously, this worries me more than the (very high) cost of excise taxes on innocent drinkers. Unless you think being drunk is itself wrong, in which case I don’t much value your opinion, this gives cops another legal weapon to brandish against innocent people they don’t quite like the look of.

Discretionary power sounds reasonable enough, but it is dangerous. It replaces the rule of law with the rule of men, and history teaches us that power corrupts.

Golf Carts and Drunk-Driving Hours

I don’t see the problem with this:

A South Milwaukee man was accused of driving drunk after trying to use a golf cart to drive home nearly 40 miles away from the golf course where he had been drinking beer.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department said in a release Monday that the 47-year-old man told deputies his relatives had left him behind at the Kettle Hills Golf Course in Richfield Saturday.

So, he got in a golf cart and headed for home on Highway 167.

Someone called the sheriff’s department to report an intoxicated man on a golf cart driving on the highway. Deputies caught up with the man about a mile from the golf course.

He told investigators he had consumed 10 beers, but didn’t think he was intoxicated.

Golf carts seem like a great way for drunk people to get around – they can’t go very fast, and won’t do much damage in a collision. I don’t think driving drunk is a generally a good idea and it’s not something I do myself, but most folks’ opposition to it seems almost religious. If there are ways of driving drunk without imposing risks on unwilling bystanders, I’d be all for them.

Golf carts are one way, but I think there’s a better way. My idea would be to have well-publicized drunk driving hours. Don’t punish drunk drivers during specified times – when there are many people wanting to get home from the pub, but few people driving around for other reasons. If it’s only drunk people, or people willing to take the risk of being hit by a drunk, on the road during this time, it seems like an implicit acceptance of the risk. This would inconvenience the risk-averse non-drinking night owl slightly, but it would save many drunken walks and provide the opportunity for thrill-seekers to drive in more exciting traffic. For an added bonus, we could remove all speed limits and other regulations.

This would clearly be awesome, but given the opposition many people have to the idea of would-have-banned stores, I don’t see much hope for this becoming reality.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.