The NZ Law Commission is on the way to cutting back on the availability of alcohol. Their justification is twofold:
- The contribution that excessive use of alcohol led to law and order problems in the country.
- The serious health and injury effects from alcohol consumption, as well as a list of other social harms.
And the principle they used to weigh these issues: harm minimisation. What, you say: What about weighing the benefits? What indeed! Eric Crampton takes to the second point of the report thoroughly:
The study counts as costs reduced labour productivity. … If we only count costs, then these get included: costs to society via lost output and costs to the government via reduced tax revenues. But if we worry about NET costs rather than gross costs, these have to disappear. Why? Because if I decide to drink and be less productive at work, I’m less likely to get a promotion or a salary increase. My productivity affects my wages. If I decide to be less productive and have a lower expected salary path, that’s between me and my employer: I’m bearing the costs. If I decide to do it, that’s prima facie evidence that I weigh the benefits as greater than the costs.
Not only do they miscount costs, but they also fail to take into account any net benefits: the enjoyment of drinking, or the higher salaries that come with it.
And that’s before we turn to the first point: growing lawlessness. The police report over 10,000 offences last year from alcohol related offending, up from 1,200 in 2002. What they don’t report is that, in 2002, councils got the right to create liquor ban zones. So what was not previously an offence now accounts for 90% of the offences reported by police as alcohol related. If you take them out of the picture, since 2003, alcohol related offending has dropped every single year to now be comfortably under 1,000!
Now I can accept that police resources may have been diverted away from catching people who are lawless to catching people carrying around a beer, which would result in a decrease in the numbers of those offences. However, to conclude from that fact situation that we have a growing problem of lawless, alchol related offending seems a stretch to me. Breaching a liquor ban does not indicate unruly behaviour, which is surely what we ultimately want to avoid.
The real problem here is not the decision that the Law Commission has reached, it’s the process they took to get there. They’re charged with carefully considering what laws might be altered or introduced to make NZ better off. That sounds something like welfare improvement to me. Yet what they’ve done is deliberately misconstrue the facts and ignore everything that might have militated towards an alternative outcome. It seems that they already knew what they wanted to do before they sat down to think about it, and didn’t even pretend to consider alternatives. That saddens me, because it is exactly the sort of paternalistic, arrogant attitude that Matt’s been accusing the civil service of recently. And if you can’t trust lawyers then who can you trust???