European History Reading and Debating the Drinking Age

For the third year in a row, I am spending the second week of June doing European history work and reading at Colorado State University.  It is safe to say that I love this college town; it has all of the ingredients one would want: shops, bookstores, restaurants, bars, live music, and outdoor recreational spots. Moreover, there is a  healthy relationship between CSU and Ft. Collins. I like to spend my mornings on a run through downtown. The community of Searcy, AR — where I went to school, was not a college town; it was an ideal place for those ready to get married, have kids, and build a picket fence for the dog; it rested in a very conservative community that was dry. Better yet, I am sure the Temperance Movement held its annual meetings there. With the exception of Race Street, it had some pedestrian qualities to it.

One of the questions that came up last night and has come up before is that of alcohol: academics here at this meeting and every other meeting I attend believe that the drinking age of 21 is too old. They contend that it should be lowered to 18. There are two ways of looking at the conversation brewing among academics: on one hand, the Puritanical nature of restricting alcohol as some moral and biblical sin is false and unjustified; I do know that a number of religious conservative bodies (Ex: Southern Baptist & church of Christ) illustrate via teaching that anything bad for the temple (or body) that God created is bad in general. Keep in mind that the United States is driven by fast food. I have read and studied the Bible; it says nothing about the evils of alcohol. Schools that restrict this such as my alma mater (Harding University) and Baylor University, as well as countless others due to scripture, are practicing the art of in loco parentis.It is hard to imagine that there are institutions that restrict the consumption of alcohol by adults.

The Puritanical nature and treatment of alcohol vis-à-vis temperance has not worked. Young people have not seen the consumption of wine or beer modeled to them at home. Thus, they seek to consume alcohol in an irresponsible way. Academics and college presidents have pushed to review the “18” and “21” drinking matter. They seem to think the current age limit exacerbates the problem by pushing the drinking “underground” and making it more dangerous. But some are accusing these officials of wanting to shirk their responsibility to enforce the laws. Then there’s the problem of a young person’s brain not being fully developed until 25. Whether the legal age is 21 or 18, the risk-taking behavior will be part of the equation.

People fail to realize that the Constitution does not set age limits on drinking. That is a 10th Amendment issue. However, the federal government has influenced states to set the limit at 21 if it hope to receive federal dollars on highways. In essence, this is part of the political nature that has caught the true attention of college presidents:

The college presidents supporting the initiative have signed a statement that does not specifically call for the drinking age to be reduced from 21 to 18, but seeks a debate of the law that tied states’ adoption of 21 as the legal drinking age to eligibility for federal highway funds. The statement does indicate that the presidents believe the laws are not working on college campuses, where they say a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge drinking” has taken hold.

There seems to be two major arguments about this matter. Argument for the change is this:

The United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world. Most countries allow people to drink at 16 or 18 years of age. Others, like China, Portugal, and Vietnam, have no minimum drinking age at all.

Legislators argue that men and women who are old enough to vote, get married, adopt children, purchase firearms, and defend our country can be trusted to drink responsibly. Libertarian groups and some conservative economic foundations have long advocated for lowering the drinking age, and in recent years many academics and non-partisan policy groups have joined the cause.

Proponents of the idea argue that the current law has forced youths to hide and sneak alcohol, which means lawmakers and responsible adults have no control over underage drinking. These groups argue the law doesn’t actually reduce drinking among people under 21 years of age, which renders the law ineffective. In support of their position, they point to the federal government’s 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found that 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged (on five or more drinks at one time) within the previous month.

By offering better education and taking away the appeal of doing something “forbidden,” some groups believe a lower drinking age will actually keep people safer. Nonprofit group Choose Responsibility proposes lowering the drinking age to 18, but only in conjunction with “drinking licenses” and mandatory alcohol education. The group believes this change would educate young people about how to drink responsibly with the oversight and guidance of older adults. [see reference note]

An argument against the change:

During the Vietnam War era, 29 states lowered the drinking age to 18, reasoning that thousands of men and women were dying for their country without even having the right to drink legally. Within a short time, the lower drinking age resulted in a significant increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Those who oppose the lower drinking age argue the law saves lives. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s review of nearly 50 peer-reviewed studies, it found that lowering the minimum drinking age to 18 increases fatalities by 10 percent.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says laws setting the drinking age at 21 have cut traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18-20 by 13 percent and have saved an estimated 19,121 lives since 1975. When Vermont voted to increase the age in 1985, alcohol-related traffic fatalities reportedly dropped by 40 percent, according to Vermont State Police. Since alcohol is still the leading cause of death among teenagers in highway crashes, activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving argue the law is serving a valuable purpose.

Since states would pay a high price – 10 percent of their federal highway funds – to lower the drinking age, it is unlikely the movement will gain any ground. In most states, the legislative efforts have died without much support. Some organizations are hoping to reopen the issue for the 2010 election. [see reference note]

Referenced Here


26 thoughts on “European History Reading and Debating the Drinking Age

  1. A simply complex issue regarding changing the status quo.

    I have always liked to believe that the US could be like Europe on this issue, where proper drinking behavior is learned early in the home. European youths still have a choice to binge or not to binge, but the social context of alcohol quite different than in the US.

    My thinking has ridden a kiddie roller coaster on this subject. I used to hold that if the law was changed there would be some period (say 10 years) of hold-over where US youths took advantage of the change in the law (be it 18, 16, or nil), but gradually educated drinking habits would prevail. Like I said, my thinking has changed a bit since then. Given the US propensity for excess be it fast food, big cars, heinous salaries, houses etc… I think our culture would not respond become all that European when it comes to drinking. Added to this there are many variables that influence European culture regarding drinking that just are not US values. A few value shaping examples are wine production/history, food culture, and city centers that are pedestrian friendly.

    Parents and peers that would shape better drinking habits would be the key to this change in the status quo not resulting in unnecessary injury or death. I do not think that we can expect parents and peers to change enough to allow a change in the status quo. That said, let’s all move to southwestern EU states.

  2. I sympathize with the “if you’re old enough to join the army and kill people then you’re old enough to choose to drink” argument, but I’m not sure that the solution is lowering the drinking age—I think it makes more sense to raise the age of enlistment.

    While I’m sure the armed forces would have a harder time recruiting if they were no longer allowed to take in directionless 18 year-olds, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be a good thing. The thought of most of the teenagers I know who have joined the armed forces (or plan on doing so) being trained to use heavy weaponry and kill people gives me the chills.

    And separate from this, the drunk driving fatality statistics you mentioned seem like a compelling argument to me to keep the age limit where it is.

  3. I agree with Alex Cone. My parents constantly tell me of how alcohol was treated in England including one story where my mom was sent to the local pub to pick up a bottle or three for her parents. She wasn’t carded. Just told to say hi to her dad for the bartender.
    All in all it is not the government’s job to educate young people on alcohol. It is the job of the parents to tell the dangers of alcohol and control consumption.

  4. I agree completely with Alex too- well put! I’ve traveled to Europe many times, and when I was only 11 a waiter in Paris asked if I wanted wine. I found that amusing.
    The issue with blaming only alcohol on car accidents is that many other things cause them to (obviously)- talking on the phone, texting, stupidity…although I will agree alcohol is a major part.
    Another thing I always think of when alcohol and the Bible is brought up- Jesus turned water into wine, so he clearly wasn’t against it.

  5. In addition: 30 packs do not exist in any EU member state that I have visited (11 of 27). A booze business culture that demands mass packaging of beer (terrible beer at that… with the exception of PBR) seems like a binge-is-best alcohol society to me.

  6. I could drink at 19 when I was a senior in high school and they raised the drinking age to 21 when I went to college the next fall.
    I agree you tend to LESS binge drinking when its legal. So many students seem fascinated with it though.

    BTW – I agree, Ft. Collins is an awesome town. Small town feel but livable. Not too touristy I think, great bars, things within walking/biking distance. I could certainly see myself there. I think Staci would love it too.

    I miss the reading this year, holding down the fort at HCHS, but I’ll be there next year. Say HI to folks for me.

  7. Very interesting discussion here. From a Biblical perspective, God is against two things with respect to alcohol, I think. One, he doesn’t want us to be at risk for self harm or harm to others by way of intoxication. So, binge drinking and/or heavy drinking is certainly not reflective of a person seeking to be like Christ in that area of his life. And, two: God wants us to turn to him in times of crisis, stress, etc.,.. not develop a pattern of mind-altering substance use as an idol. Drinking alcohol in and of itself is not the issue Biblically. Paul even mentions that a little bit of wine is good for the body in many ways and there is some evidence of that being the case.

    As for lowering the age, there are compelling arguments on both sides. It’s an interesting topic.

  8. Some institutions (including your alma mater) restrict alcohol consumption by adults by means of employment stipulations spelled out in contracts. Of course, it could be argued that employees could choose not to work under these conditions. The same argument could be made for students.

    See for some interesting discussion of alcohol politics in White Co. Arkansas.

  9. If I’m not mistaken, at one point the state of Ohio had a less alcoholic version of beer that they sold the people between 18-21 which I find particularly hilarious.

    James hit the nail on the head:

    “All in all it is not the government’s job to educate young people on alcohol. It is the job of the parents to tell the dangers of alcohol and control consumption.”

    I’m moving closer and closer toward an dislike for almost all in loco parentis laws.

  10. Eins, zwei, drei g’suffa!

    Oh, Oktoberfest chants are fun to try to pronounce aren’t they? Anyways, I am in agreement with reducing the drinking age but I do see the other side of the argument as well. Drinking is more a matter of maturity than it is age or any other factor. One might that people gain wisdom with age and thus maturity is a side effect. However, what about people like my father or others like him? I have definitely seen people younger than half of his age consume two beers and then be done while he on the other hand cant stop after five and insists on picking fights with people and embarrassing himself. Thus, I see putting an age limit on a matter of maturity rather inane. Then there is the fact that I have chosen not to drink because of what I have seen it do to my biological father over the past seventeen years. Does that mean that kids today simply need to have someone serve as an example of all of the bad things that can happen to someone who cannot drink in moderation? A few answers spawn so many questions. However, one fact remains; if there was a subjective way to measure maturity to issue drinking licenses, the problem that we face today would be nonexistent.

    On a different note, I would like to address the problem of the federal government intervening in state affairs. Them having jurisdiction on matters that the people really should get to choose for themselves is not democracy I think, it is a slow trickle into a totalitarian regime. The sad part is, that problem of mixed jurisdiction does not only exist around alcohol. Much of the research that I have been doing for the Baker Institute over the summer really reinforces my belief in the separation of state and nation; such as Clinton signing the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and leading us into this massive sub-prime mortgage crisis that we are in right now.

  11. For the fact that Kirk Hollis and i are in agreement is telling; Alex’s point is well taken too. It is true that we are not Europe. A person once told be that we as Americans are obsessed with too much; we must have more of everything — even if it might kill us. I do not think this will change; however, there are campuses here in Houston that promote responsible drinking. The university of Houston and Rice University are wet campuses. I know that Rice promotes this with a beer for bikes (something like that). I watched it this past year.

    Patrick Ryan: I need another invite to your Lutheran Church fall carnival this year. I hate I missed it.

  12. Psalms 104 states how great and exalted God is and then it follows with a list of wonderful things God has done. Among them:

    14He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;

    15And wine that maketh glad the heart of man,

    Who are we to deny a blessing that God has given us and which the Psalmist through inspiration praises?

  13. Much of the research that I have been doing for the Baker Institute over the summer really reinforces my belief in the separation of state and nation; such as Clinton signing the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and leading us into this massive sub-prime mortgage crisis that we are in right now.

    Clinton on the other hand did not create the brilliant minds that cooked up bilateral derivatives “risk insurance” swaps in the 70s & 80s. This is a now $680 trillion a year business (growing to this number from $100 trillion in the early part of the decade). This much money on paper was bound to be revalued at some point by its long train of contract holders, who happened to be the largest financial institutions in the world. You know, the ones that make loans as a side business. The capital freeze based on a liquidity scare can only be roughly tied at very best to Clinton signing an act.

    This is another instance of people being made of something that the government at the end of the day is going to have a hard go of changing the status quo even if they wanted to. The desire to make ridiculous sums of $$ mixed with genius me thinks will trump any regulation cooked up in the minds of Michelle Bachmann and Barney Franks.

    A good analogy? Not really. But an other example of human values that will not be changed based on changing laws.

  14. I have never understood why the drinking age is so high. Why, as you point out, one can get married, in many states, younger than 18 yet cannot drink? The big issue, for me, is that we can put a M16 in the hands of an 18 year old and tell them to go kill…but don’t drink!!!

    A bigger factor is Federal Govco and their withholding of funds. They do that for several items and that is never what our Founders rolled out.

    I also have never bought those stats, esp anything by MADD. They will twist anything to have their way including demanding a zero tolerance meaning if you are pulled over and have ANY % of booze on your breath you lose your license.

    Great topic Carson!

  15. Alex Cone: Actually Alex, you are wrong again. According to the BIS, this figure has actually grown to over $1.14 quadrillion. You have to factor in all of the derivatives that our fed was selling to developing countries in the ’90s in the hopes that they could be paid back before the underlying securities went bust. It is a globe encompassing conundrum that we have entered into and I fear that it will only get worse. Especially since the end of bank regulation which was overturned with the Glass-Stegall Act in ’99, allowing our commercial banks to involve themselves in investment banking practices again, thus leading to the massive surge in derivatives trading when mega-banks were allowed to return.

  16. The figure I used was referencing a Wednesday FT Article. I would imagine that it is quite hard to pin down any solid number on the size of the industry due to the bilateral nature of contracts that are in effect invisible to any third party. Added to that, the number of assets (or liabilities) that might provide underlying values for swaps is nearing infinite. I think good evidence for this was the inability for anyone to place a solid number on just what the damage was back during the early TARP days.

    My point is still this. Yes, over-inflated home sales provided yet another underlying debt value to swap on. You are correct saying if you are only saying that Clinton is roughly connected to some inertia on that underlying debt. However, profit motivated creativity in the financial sector is going to prove tough to reign-in upon for any number of reasons.

    Not so similar to, but in the same vain as the original topic of any level of law on drinking age limits.

    “Actually” is a black and white adverb.

  17. 21 is too high. End of story. The fact that the government believes that someone is smart enough to vote at the age of 18 but not smart of to consume alcohol responsibly scares the crap out of me.

  18. Dillion- It has nothing to do with government believing people are too dumb or something along those lines. It’s that government is stepping in to take place of irresponsibility where alcohol is involved. People aren’t too dumb to make decisions relating to alcohol. It happens alot. That’s where DWIs come into place. To “correct” irresponsibilty. However, that isn’t a government’s job or responsibility. It isn’t governments job to play parent.

    Alex and Patrick- Please excuse my ignorance but what exactly did the stuff you guys were talking about mean? It sounded interesting but…

  19. Dillon: I would venture to say that some people are too dumb to vote at eighteen, but that is merely opinion. Perhaps it should be the other way around.

    James: I certainly do not expect you to understand what Alex and I are talking about. Heck, most of the people who trade in derivatives probably do not fully understand the dangerous ramifications associated with what they are doing. Join government club next year and that is one of the first things I plan for us to talk about. We could use someone like you who actually has a foreign perspective.

    Alex: You are exactly right that it would be hard to track any specific monetary value associated with derivatives when most are off of the record books or are merely filed under “other.” Secondly, you are right about the assets that can be traded on is nearing infinite considering the fact that you can trade on whether or not weather will affect the rise and fall of businesses in a certain financial quarter. However, I do not understand you allegation that federal government legislation trumping over state ruling in the case of our current sub-prime mortgage crisis is not similar to the alcohol question. The government ruled that the drinking age should be 21 and is (in-effect) taking away a right that the states have to choose what their drinking age will be by taking away funding for an area that they know the states will want to maintain, their road systems. Clinton taking away the decision of banks to loan to those who they deem worthy by vowing to withdraw funding for them is the exact same thing becasue it is taking private jurisdiction away from the entity that it truly belongs to and placing it in the hands of one “over-lord.” You were the one who brought the talk of derivatives into the mix.

  20. Clinton taking away the decision of banks to loan to those who they deem worthy by vowing to withdraw funding for them is the exact same thing becasue it is taking private jurisdiction away from the entity that it truly belongs to and placing it in the hands of one “over-lord.”

    I was not aware that withdrawals of government funding were ever a part of any lending law. Possibly withdrawals of government full faith and credit, but the feds would have had to have been nuts to ever do that with fanny and freddie as it would have caused quite a scare in the home lending sector.

    I brought up derivatives because bad lending in itself did not cause balance sheets to approach zero. The issue is much more complex, as I am sure you realize, than several thousand “bad” home mortgages.

    Thanks for the debate. I am finished.

  21. If I am at all knowledgeable I have Edward Carson to thank in part. Questioning the status quo and ethnocentric worldviews are two skills I picked up in his World History class at CAC in 2002ish. I still remember reading the piece on skewed western views of world history like it was yesterday.

    I am in part ruined though because now I have a masters in European Union Policy Studies that I can hardly use. Oh well, I am happier than I would be swapping for AIG.

  22. Patrick: Thanks for the advetisment with government club but again what exactly do derivatives have in economics. Heck what do economics have with alcohol. I just about grasped the first topic you stated alluding to, interstate commerce and the seperation of state and nation, and then i lost it.

  23. James: Economics was only an example of what I see as one of the major problems in America today which is national versus state jurisdiction mixups. Alcohol figures into that as one of many examples of that kind of problem. Derivatives are a subject that I will have to play coy about though because they are far too complicated to describe in a short paragraph. Like I said though, if you really are interested, just join the club.

  24. In case no one has, I’d like to address the link between our drinking age, sprawl, and public transportation. Our country has developed a very suburban culture, and with the exception of a few cities such as NY, Boston, and San Francisco, public transportation is insufficient. This creates a need for youth to begin driving when they are arguably a bit immature. I’ll admit that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed on the road at 16, but there wasn’t much of a choice. European youth, on the other hand, can get almost anywhere by train or bike, and are therefore not a threat on the roads when coupled with alcohol. While 21 is rather ridiculous in comparison with the rest of the world, (I just got back from China and they offered us beer everywhere) it is necessary that driving take precedent over drinking in the highway culture we have become.

  25. That is not a picture of downtown Fort Collins, Colorado. We do not have palm trees here. We do have underage drinkers, though.

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