Sunday, September 07, 2008

Single-beer Bans

There is a movement in Nashville to ban the purchase of single servings of beer in Davidson County. The ban would apparently prohibit sales of beer involving fewer than six bottles or cans. In looking around the web for other stories of towns that have done the same, the intended purposes of the legislation usually involve reducing littering, public drunkenness, drunk driving, and alcoholism.

Let us leave aside the issue of whether or not this is even a legitimate thing for government to be doing. Will this regulation actually accomplish anything? I can't imagine how it would. Alcoholics are not going to give up drinking because of this minor inconvenience. They'll just buy six-packs, or get together with six friends and buy a six-pack together. People with a drinking problem are sick, not stupid. Yes, this regulation may, by inconveniencing some drinkers, raise the costs of buying their first-best choice of alcohol. This isn't going to stop them from buying alcohol, though; it's just going to cause them to buy differently--to substitute toward different alcohol.

This law could even make drunk driving worse. The would-be drunk need merely save up a bit more and buy a six pack, leaving him with six beers in his car, instead of one (granted, single beer portions are often of the 40-oz variety, compared to ordinary 12-oz beer bottles).

Littering could be made worse, too. Suppose six guys get together and buy a six-pack. There are six liquor containers, just as before the ban, but now there is the cardboard container used to hold the six-pack as well. Why would they be any more likely to properly dispose of the cardboard than they would individual beers?

Is there any evidence (and by evidence, I mean actual empirical evidence, rather than anecdotes) to suggest that such bans do anything at all? I will make a prediction: If this ban passes, it will do nothing to curb the problems associated with drinking. Furthermore, no one will care whether or not it worked. No one will investigate its effects, and no one will push to repeal the ban after its failure. We will have yet another alcohol regulation on the books that will sit there for decades, much like the rest of Tennessee's bizarre alcohol sale restrictions.

UPDATE: One more thought. This ban essentially legislates out of competition all the beers which come in four-packs, some of which are artsy expensive imported beers.

Also: This regulation won't affect me one way or the other, since it won't change the likelihood of beer drinkers hurting or inconveniencing me, and I don't drink beer. Personally, I think beer tastes pretty gross.

3 comments:

Eric said...

Would this ban also include the serving of beer in restaurants/pubs/bars? If so it would also be an underhanded way of effectively banning bars altogether, as everything you order at one is naturally sold in individual servings.

Mike Hammock said...

I believe this regulation only applies to retail stores. Bars could still sell single beers.

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