Apologises in advance for this heavily value ladden post. I am touching on infinitely busy (again), I’m very tired, and I’ve been listening to “too much” Irish music. As a result, I’m posting what is in my head rather than proactively trying to find an economic issue to write “objectively” about – as this is easier, and it still involves getting a post done 😀
When forming my value judgments regarding “moral vices”, I like to listen to the Dubliners. Having a proud Irish heritage helps in this regard, and I feel that they raise a number of important points regarding addiction to common commodities I can relate to (alcohol, women, cigarettes, roving).
Listening to their songs recently, two underlying points suck out – points I felt would be useful in informing part of the debate on alcohol regulation.
1. Wild Rover(ing), experience, and maturity
Running through my head early in this post is the song “Wild Rover“.
Supposedly it was initially a temperance song, but its ended up being related to drinking. I can understand how this double meaning has come about – and I think that the drinker’s interpretation carries a greater grain of wisdom.
The song tells us of a man who, earlier in his life, drank too much, caused harm, and was generally anti-social. However, either through luck or hardwork he has aquired wealth. Although this wealth is alluded to as physical wealth it is possible to interpret this as some form of mental wealth in my opinion. He has now learnt to steer away from drinking and other anti-social behaviours and aims to lead a mature life.
Those that push temperance would call drinking the main demon of this peace – therefore he stopped drinking and is a better man. Therefore, they believe that taking away the drink would make us all more respectable citizens.
Even if we are, for some reason, trying to push a situation where people are more mature, banning alcohol is not the only conclusion from this man’s life journey. It was the fact that he experienced hardship, the fact that he saw his weakness and dealt with it, that made him a stronger man. In that sense, the experience of drinking and the realisation of mistakes have lead him to a situation where he now can be mature and responsible. In the absense of drinking, he would have shown immaturity in other ways – and some of these ways may have been MORE harmful or may have taught him less about who he is.
Ultimately, wisdom is not something that be passed down from on high – it comes from experience. Teaching people about the costs of their actions and how they influence the outcomes of other people are valuable things – it is knowlege that can help this process. But only through experience can people truly learn “maturity” – it is not something society can force on people. Hell, we all make poor choices – and expecting legislation can be introduced to prevent that is at best naive and at worst domineering.
2. Alcohol vs generic social pressures: The desire to regulate the desire
Even so, alcohol is a costly substance. This is something we can all agree on – and something that ‘All for me grog’ makes patently clear:
Through addiction to alcohol this man has lost everything. Not only that, he bet his wife and sold her off!!! This has to be one of the most extreme cases of alcohol addiction, and I do find it personally abhorent.
However, I would like to point out that pretty much all the costs are internalised – apart from the costs to his dear wife. Even then though, she did choose to be with him – and we shouldn’t really set policy based on the fact that some people make dumb choices with regards to their own welfare right …
Now we can all agree that it sounds like alcohol has ruined this man’s life – or more aptly that he ruined his own life with alcohol. However, what is the best way to treat this? Restrictions on the time of sales and additional taxes (so that he stocks up and starts drinking earlier in the day and has to sell all his positions even sooner) or additional spending on the treatment of alcohol addiction so he can pull his way out. I’m probably in the later camp.
I would also add that this is not the only form of seemingly mad addiction the Dubliners looked at, there was also the case of the ‘Black velvet band‘.
In this song, the man throws away everything on the back of his crazed passion for a woman. In fact, this situation leads to an actual externality – a guy is pickpocketed. Furthermore, the man facing this addiction ends up in jail with nothing.
The outcomes in this song also seem very poor, however we don’t see legislation against falling in love with attractive, and badass, women.
Does this mean that we are willing to treat different decisions inconsistently just “because” – or does it mean that, once they are finished with alcohol regulation they are going to regulate the women/men you are allowed to date …