The British government has announced plans 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 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.
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, 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, 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.