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What Would Churchill Say?

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The British government has announced plans [2] to impose a minimum price for alcohol at 40 pence a unit. This proposal is not only an affront to personal liberty and responsibility, and perhaps more importantly to one of the Briton’s favorite recreational activities, but betrays a small hypocrisy in the government’s economic thinking.

The thinking behind the imposed minimum pricing is that it will discourage “binge drinking,” a particularly unpleasant (but traditional) part of the average British weekend. In many British towns pubs and bars offer deals aimed at young adults that sometimes allow for someone to consume close to half a handle of liquor for the price of a movie ticket.

As Chris Snowdon from the Adam Smith Institute [3] points out, the actual definition of “binge drinking” is questionable at best, and the levels at which the British drink has been decreasing over the last hundred years.

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Even if it were true that a measure such as this would discourage “binge drinking” (which is far from obvious), it is curious that the British government does not have a similar attitude towards this economic mechanism when it comes to labor.

If the theory is that setting an artificial minimum price (free from market mechanisms) for alcohol will discourage consumption, then why is the same thinking not applied to the minimum wage? The minimum wage is effectively a minimum pricing on labor. In the UK it is illegal for anyone to offer their services for £5.92 (about $9.40) an hour. This especially hurts the youth in the UK, who are among the worst affected by unemployment, with 22% of 16-24 year olds out of work [4], many of them without any skills. Because of the minimum wage, it is very difficult for many of them to gain the skills they need to establish a career.

This move by the British government is also insane not only because of the nannying and patronizing attitude those in power seem to have towards the public, but because it will affect an already struggling industry in a negative way. Pubs all across the UK are closing [5], and this new measure will not help.

If the British economy is to improve, the British government should remove the minimum pricing they have proposed for alcohol and abolish the minimum pricing they have in place for labor. It is a shame that one of the most reliable refuges during hard economic times will now be priced artificially high, and a comforting pint of bitter will now take more out of the pocket that it did already.

I love my home country, not least because of its relationship to alcohol. The Scribe, wrote on the joys of alcohol in Macbeth, in which the following exchange takes place:

Macduff: What three things does drink especially provoke?

Porter: Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine.

Why any government thinks they should or could discourage such an age-old activity is quite beyond me.

Image: Shutterstock [6]/Nomad_Soul [7]

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#1 Comment By Bill Pearlman On March 23, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

If you read account of Churchill’s habits he was basically an alcoholic. Yet he managed to save western civilization.

#2 Comment By Yakov Jimbeam On March 23, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

Well Bill, if you call engineering WWI and WWII, screwing up the Middle East and leaving the US to bail out their sorry asses in all three situations, I guess so.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 23, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

Drunkenness is useful to keep the poor in their degraded place of low cost exploitation of their labor, by defusing any sober rebellion.

Crony capital with no allegiance to any nation, though it invokes patriotism to protect its self-interests worldwide by a nation’s military force, cares only to maximize its own profits and naught for the laborers anywhere it seeks to pay as little as possible and play one off against the other in labor’s desperate race to the bottom.

So the solution to offshoring jobs by capital to dictatorial communist nations with no labor protection, is to reduce the minimum wage and allow the newly created deprived and powerless to forget their coming exploitation through cheap drink?

I watched Ronald Wilson Reagan, running for Republican Governor of California, stating that the businessmen of Los Angeles took very seriously their responsibility to provide jobs for their communities and to reduce unemployment. Additionally, not by reducing benefits, but he spoke of how responsible businessmen sought to provide health insurance for their employees and families, as accountable members of their own communities.

Unfortunately, Reagan didn’t save Western Civilization, nor did Churchill. Malcom Muggeridge, no leftist sympathizer, considered Churchill an unprincipled scoundrel and self-worshipping strutter.

I don’t think Churchill “saved” Western civilization, except under the theory that those who wrecked it, are the best ones to fix it. It was Churchill who cynically and Machiavellianly drew the borders of Iraq and other middle eastern nations, to sow conflict among the tribes there in order to divide and conquer for colonial imperialism. We are reaping the consequences of that evil to this day.

Germany was in the vanguard of advanced western civilization – Beethoven, Goethe, Luther, Wagner, Nietzche. Yet as Thomas Mann observed in Doktor Faustus, that didn’t prevent the nation from violating all of it, individually and collectively.

Yet, earlier, it was Luther who called for the Jews to be burned out of home and synagogue and driven from the land. German Christians finally complied with his wishes centuries later, under severe duress from a devastating war and a Wall Street-invented world wide Depression. Nietzche enabled the concept of the Ubermensch. Wagner scored it.

Western Civilization has enabled both great good and great evil. It is not an untrammelled force for good, untethered to morality as it often has been. To think otherwise is simply self-aggrandizing, self-interested hypocrisy.

#4 Comment By Gerry On March 23, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

Bill has a good point. The thing is, conservatism in the UK is dancing to the tune of liberal preconceptions to such a degree that it’s forgotten what’s important. Meanwhile, people who drink problematically will continue to do so, suffering and causing suffering to others under the right-on radar.

#5 Comment By Mitchell Young On March 23, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

” Yet he [Churchill] managed to save western civilization. ”

The jury’s still out on that one.

#6 Comment By stuartlondon On March 24, 2012 @ 12:54 am

A few brief observations from a UK perspective:

1. Here, reported cases of severe liver disease have increased by a quarter in the last 5 years.
2. The proposed minimum price will not affect prices in pubs and cafes, since these are already above the minimum.
3. In our supermarkets it is now common to find deals offering the equivalent of one person’s maximum recommended weekly alcohol intake for about $5.
4.This sweet flavoured ultra cheap booze targets the ‘alcopop’ market, which in practice includes any child who hangs around with friends who can pass for 18 years old.
5. Exemptions from the minimum wage include the self employed, those on work experience schemes, and those attending government sponsored apprenticeships and employment programmes.

Otherwise, a good article.

#7 Comment By James On March 24, 2012 @ 4:16 am

Bit misleading to be honest: prices in pubs almost certainly won’t be affected, as they always cost more than 40p per unit of alcohol. It’s designed to clamp down on the ridiculously cheap stuff that’s sold in supermarkets that people use to pre-load. Surely we don’t want people wandering drunk around the streets at night? Is that some kind of God-given right that people have just because they’re British? It annoys the hell out of me, and while the big problem is the culture of binge-drinking in this country, anything that actually reduces the anti-social behaviour that’s so prevalent is welcome. What’s Churchill alcoholism or opinion got to do with anything?

#8 Comment By Mr. Patrick On March 24, 2012 @ 11:08 am

Well it is a distinctively English position, I reckon. I certainly can’t imagine an American arguing for the merit both of inculcating the young with good work habits and intoxicating them with plentiful cheap booze at the same time.

#9 Comment By Bill Pearlman On March 25, 2012 @ 6:31 am

Ok, Fran, let me put it another way. I’m happy the Battle of Britain went the way it did. And I think that it was an incredibly good thing that Churchill was at !0 Downing St from 1940-45. You don’t?

#10 Comment By OrthoGrocks On March 25, 2012 @ 8:19 am

“The British government has announced plans to impose a minimum price for alcohol at 40 pence a unit. ”

They can’t have really thought this through. The last thing any recent British (or American) government would want is a sober, reflective electorate.

#11 Comment By BullDawg On March 25, 2012 @ 10:26 am

“Yet he managed to save western civilization.”

The Rooskies did the heavy lifting on the Nazis. The Germans – later the Americans – did the heavy lifting on the Commies, by far the graver threat to Western civilization. Churchill was pretty good at running his mouth while ceding the heartlands of Western civilization to Stalin. For Americans, he set the standard by which all efforts by foreign powers to entangle us in their problems by phony appeals to “Western civilization” are judged.

#12 Comment By David Giza On March 25, 2012 @ 10:52 am

Booze should always remain as cheap as possible.

#13 Comment By M J Harrington On March 25, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

Churchill’s political leadership kept Britain in the war after the fall of France in 1940, and he stopped Hitler from winning. In that sense Churchill undoubtedly saved Western Civilization.

Without Britain in the war there could never have been any American intervention. Hitler made the blunder of invading Russia. Poland and Eastern Europe were then conquered by Russia–they were not “ceded” to Russia by the western powers..Russia was devasted by the war, losing around 23 million people. It was no threat to the West so long as we maintained a Western Alliance.

Churchill did not “engineer” WW2. He laboured in vain to prevent it.He called it “The Unnecessary War.” Look at his Fulton speech in 1946.

#14 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 25, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

The Battle of Britain didn’t occur in an historical vacuum. The point is not the outcome of any particular battle, but what prior events and actions predictably caused it to come to that – with echoes far into the future.

It’s always possible to parenthesize anything and pretend what happened, only happened in isolation for no reason except the absolute inscrutable evil of anyone other than ourselves, outside any historical context, untethered in consequence from any decisions or lack thereof of the past.

For instance, 9/11 came out of nowhere, crazies did it with absolutely no motive than that they were unmitigated evil, a Satanic force that hated us for no reason other than that we are good and free. It is possible to see it that way, if historically speaking, you are historically ignorant, were born yesterday – or the day before 9/11, and are especially susceptible to propaganda.

There’s good psychological reason to want to see things this way, but this sort of thinking is circular and leads only to ever greater and more destructive cycles of revenge, something a humanity with ever growing technology of destruction and density of population cannot afford for long term survival – and certainly not in prosperity and freedom, if at all.

I urge people who are interested in having the veil of deceptive self-righteous thinking lifted, so they can substitute a practical realism for it, to read “Human Smoke” by Nicholson Baker. (Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, 2008, Simon & Schuster; ISBN 978-1416567844)

None of our nations, sadly, have clean hands when it comes to having caused the ills that have reverberated to humankind, when viewed through a panoramic historical lens.

#15 Comment By An Anachronistic Apostle On March 25, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

“Western Civilization has enabled both great good and great evil. It is not an untrammelled force for good, untethered to morality as it often has been. To think otherwise is simply self-aggrandizing, self-interested hypocrisy.”

Yes, I’m waxing nostalgic for the Second Zhou Dynasty, too. But I confess that to being baffled as to how this observation could ever fail to be applied to any of mankind’s civilizations, given enough study; or for that matter, to any individual … to myself, surely, and perhaps even to its originator.