Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Drinking Age

I've been reading and hearing an unusual number of people discussing the drinking age lately, so I thought I'd throw it out there. It's been twenty-three years since the national age was raised, so I'm not sure why this is suddenly an interesting topic, or whether it has just been an unusual streak where I'm coming in contact with more libertarian types, but it seems like an interesting topic for a warm day in the Mid-Atlantic, the sort of day to kick back with a nice cold beer.

The question is one that pits rights against utility. On the one hand, we are taking individuals who are given adult responsibilities in a large number of other ways (being drafted into the military during wartime is usually the example employed) and limiting their rights to engage in an activity otherwise legal and socially acceptable.

The argument on the other side is that those below the age of twenty-one tend to have mental faculties that are still forming and who tend not to make the best decisions. Young people tend to underestimate dangerous situations and have a sense of invulnerability. They also have drivers licenses. So, innocent lives will be protected if we limit access to alcohol until they mature a bit more.

The counter-argument here often invokes Europe where drinking age is much lower and where they do not have the alcohol problems we have here. Would lowering the drinking age in this culture lead to similar effects or are the two cultures different enough that we would just be pouring gasoline on the fire?

Is the fact that those under the legal drinking age have fairly ready access if they are clever enough relevant at all? Surely, making it more difficult even if it is not impossible is helpful.

So, should the drinking age be lowered? Abolished? Maintained?