Alcohol

Econ 101

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Public health fanatics in Seattle banned 29 cheap brands of booze preferred by poor people from large swaths of the city—for their own good, of course.  Poor people in Seattle have since switched to the 30th and 31st cheapest brands.

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  1. Keep this up and soon the homeless will start drinking brakefluid.

  2. Lucky for them they can still get Venti Low-Fat Caramel Macchiato for under $4!

  3. First, they came after the Thunderbird,
    And I said nothing…
    Then they came after the Malt Liquor,
    And I said nothing…

  4. Where does it say the ban is for the drinkers’ “own good, of course”?

    Whether or not just, prudent, or Constititional, the only intention cited is to “cut down on incidents of public drunkenness”.

  5. I think they need to make all alcohol illegal that will show them. After all that technique has worked so well with other drugs.

  6. Hey, maybe we could cut down on crime by banning cheap guns or guns that look scary!

    I mean, how could it not work?

  7. This proves one thing: even degenerate, hopeless, alcoholic street vagrants are smarter than government.

  8. Where does it say the ban is for the drinkers’ “own good, of course”?

    It doesn’t – this is just a libertarian catch-phrase, a snarky way of dismissing anything that resembles a public health initiative.

  9. Every time I get frustrated at how idiotic some of the politicians are out in the northeast, someone does something really stupid on the left coast that brings it all into perspective.

  10. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I was totally against this flagrant government interference in the private sector until I read that they also banned Steel Reserve. That can only be a good thing.

  11. It just goes to show – if you don’t study hard, do your homework, and make an effort to be smart – you end up stuck in Seattle making public policy decisions.

  12. Multiple choice quiz: will the alcoholic street vagrants

    a) commit more crimes to pay for the more expensive booze,
    b) relocate to a place where they can still buy the cheap stuff, or
    c) some of both?

  13. Another point worth considering here is that according to the news story, the Seattle government considers the banning of cheap booze from certain areas of the city to be an experimental procedure. Perhaps effectively raising the price of booze will cut down on its consumption (that sounds like Econ 101, there Radley), maybe it won’t.

    Either way, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a city to decide that widespread alcoholism and public drunkenness is a legitimate problem that requires some sort of action (since the free market obviously has failed to correct this).

  14. dismissing anything that resembles a public health initiative.

    government restricting your choice to use a legal product is a “public health initiative?”

    put down that big mac or i’ll shoot!

  15. Where does it say the ban is for the drinkers’ “own good, of course”?

    It doesn’t – this is just a libertarian catch-phrase, a snarky way of dismissing anything that resembles a public health initiative.

    Toward the end of the article it states that “there is a small chance that people might make a change” Indicating that this isn’t a “not in my back yard” thing but a way to get people to change for the “better.” Besides, I don’t think you could sell this to anyone without someone half-hearted altruism. Otherwise it just sounds like you don’t want drunk, urinating bums hanging around.

  16. since the free market obviously has failed to correct this).

    1. the free market is not responsible for solving social problems.

    2. government should not enact an anti-free-market solution to solve a social problem.

  17. “dismissing anything that resembles a public health initiative”

    Honestly. Interesting definition of ‘public health’.

    But I guess that’s just a troll’s catch-phrase, a snarky way of dismissing anything rational.

  18. since the free market obviously has failed to correct this

    There is not much that is “free” about Seattle’s liquor or housing markets. Piling on some more laws ought to help, though, huh?

  19. The law of unintented consequences is always constitutional.

  20. “since the free market obviously has failed to correct this”

    You know, the free market has failed to correct my penchant for spending money I don’t have. Furthermore, the free market has not corrected my habit of skipping going to the gym. I think that bad art is harmful to a moral populous, what is that free market doing to stop it’s proliferation?

  21. But I guess that’s just a troll’s catch-phrase, a snarky way of dismissing anything rational.

    Just like the term “troll” is a snarky way of dismissing anybody who doesn’t buy into the majority opinion of a given group.

  22. This reminds me of how all the alcohol is expensive here in Canada. The high prices have probably improved my health, but also made me poorer and crankier (about relative lack of booze).

    I prefer the US system of laissez faire. Boo on Seattle.

  23. Dan T., what do you suggest the “free market” should have been doing about the problem?

  24. The public health fanatics in Seattle are drunk with power.

  25. “Just like the term “troll” is a snarky way of dismissing anybody who doesn’t buy into the majority opinion of a given group.”

    Yeah, could be that. More likely a label appropriately applied to someone who sloppily uses phrases like ‘public health initiative’ to help buttress a non-argument designed to inflame thoughtful posters.

  26. I’m still a little curious as to why Radley Balko titled this blog post “Econ 101” (assuming he’s being sarcastic about it).

    I mean:

    1. It costs money for a person to buy alcohol
    2. People have a limited amount of money
    3. By banning cheap brands of alcohol, you raise the overall price of drinking
    4. The higher the price of something, the less people will consume, because of #2.

    So if the objective is to get people to consume less alcohol, then raising the price should do the trick.

    I do agree that it’s open to debate whether the government should take steps to discourage drinking, but from an economic point of view this seems like as good a strategy as any.

  27. “but from an economic point of view this seems like as good a strategy as any.”

    …as evidenced by the myriad instances of government intervention in the marketplace achieving the desired consequences, said intervention being such an efficient economic tool.

  28. but from an economic point of view this seems like as good a strategy as any.

    no. restricting personal freedom is never a good strategy or government policy. That’s the whole damn raison d’etre of libertarianism, i’m assuming

  29. What Bee said at 9:58am.

  30. Yeah, could be that. More likely a label appropriately applied to someone who sloppily uses phrases like ‘public health initiative’ to help buttress a non-argument designed to inflame thoughtful posters.

    Really? So describing an effort to curb alcohol consumption as a “public health initative” (remember it was Balko who said it was done by “public health fanatics”) actually inflames people?

    My apologizes, I had no idea you guys were so thin-skinned.

  31. Dan T., what do you suggest the “free market” should have been doing about the problem?

    There’s nothing it could have done – I was pointing out, perhaps clumsily, that the problem was caused by the free market and one of the jobs of government is to correct market failures.

  32. no. restricting personal freedom is never a good strategy or government policy. That’s the whole damn raison d’etre of libertarianism, i’m assuming

    Problem is, every law restricts personal freedom in some way.

  33. and one of the jobs of government is to correct market failures

    how is that a market failure? a product is sold, people bought it. the market worked. the alcoholism is the problem, not the market. and government should address that problem with solutions other than ones restricting the market.

  34. every law restricts personal freedom in some way.

    which is why we want fewer laws. this is a libertarian site, after all. it’s like you came to a dog lovers site and expected everybody here to be all sunshine and happiness when you post your cat photos.

  35. Ah, it wasn’t actually the 29 _cheapest_ brands of booze that were banned, but the 29 brands most likely to be littered in problem areas. And indeed, it seems that the more rational consumers in the homeless-alcoholic demographic are learning that whiskey is more efficient than Steel Reserve for gettin’ you toasty anyway. (While the less rational are simply leaving town to find a place where the Night Train flows like water.)

  36. That’s exactly the point Dan T.

    This was a decision that was made by people who have a “101” understanding of economics where a “102” or 300/400 level understanding is in order.

    That’s how I took it anyway.

  37. “I’m still a little curious as to why Radley Balko titled this blog post “Econ 101″ ….”

    Possibly- just possibly, it could be a reference to this government action as an experiment to determine the slope of the demand curve.

  38. 1) It costs money for a person to buy alcohol. True
    2) People have a limited amount of money. True
    3) By banning cheap brands of alcohol, you raise the overall price of drinking. True
    4) The higher the price of something, the less people will consume, because of #2. ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL!
    Homeless alcoholics will take money out of their food budget and spend it on booze because of #2. Same alcohol consumption, less food consumption means poorer health for the very people the Health Nazis are trying to “help”.

  39. the problem was caused by the free market

    Oh my. Tsk tsk. Damn friggin’ freedom. Look what it does!

  40. Actually, this is an excellent template for future government repairs of failed markets.

    For instance, we could get Joan Claybrook to come back to NHTSA and compile a list of the makes and models of automobiles which are most frequently involved in accidents, and then ban their production and sale.

    We could coerce Google into tracking the make and model of computers most frequently used to search for kiddy porn, and…. you get the picture.

  41. “…Seattle’s expanded ban on 29 brands of cheap booze favored by the homeless…”

    Since article doesn’t give a comprehensive list, may I assume that the 29 brands are all of the get-you-plowed-real-quick variety such as malt liquor and fortified wine? If so, the sale of cheap booze that has an normal alcohol content is unaffected by the ban. This means that your average souse will opt for the latter and simply drink more of it to ward off the pink elephant stampede and achieve the same buzz. More alcohol from more containers equals more litter. Isn’t litter eradication one of the objectives?

  42. I’m glad that silly laws that try to restrict what we can put into our bodies will be gone once the Republicans are kicked out of power.

    Anyway, I’d love this law if I were a liquor distributor. You put a price floor on a product with little price elasticity.

  43. I believe “ECON 101” refers to the fact that, if the desired object is unavailable [in this case, the cheapest booze], customers will seek a substitute [the next cheapest booze].

    As Buckshot refers to in the first post, some may substitute other substances to get their “shot”. Buckshot is pointing, I think, to the post yesterday about the Russian “experiment” in controlling alcoholism.

    Poor people drinking methanol and brake fluid, another triumphant public health initiative!

  44. this is a libertarian site, after all. it’s like you came to a dog lovers site and expected everybody here to be all sunshine and happiness when you post your cat photos.

    I understand that, but I figured since this blog discusses political and social issues that some debate and disagreement would be welcome. Otherwise, it’s just an echo chamber.

  45. 4) The higher the price of something, the less people will consume, because of #2. ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL!
    Homeless alcoholics will take money out of their food budget and spend it on booze because of #2.

    In some cases that’s no doubt true, although in other cases people will drink less if they decide that they cannot cut back on food or other needs. Either way, the total amount drank collectively will go down as the price goes up.

  46. There is no reason to pull out all the political philosophy here, all right. Even if you think that government has a right to protect alcoholics against themselves, this is just plain bad public policy. As in, it plain won’t work. If statistics show that burglars like to wear brand X sneakers, we don’t ban brand X sneakers, do we? I think this ban is only very slightly more effective than the sneaker example in that it may raise the price of alcohol a little. Still, alcohol is a very inelastic good for an alcoholic, it’s relatively easy to get it elsewhere, and stores have an incentive to find new, not-yet-banned cheap brands or offer discounts on more expensive brands. (Even stores that aren’t literally a monopoly will often do some amount of price discrimination if the cost of going to another store isn’t non-zero, and the difference between brands in retail prices is doubtlessly much bigger than it is wholesale.)

  47. 1. It costs money for a person to buy alcohol
    2. People have a limited amount of money
    3. By banning cheap brands of alcohol, you raise the overall price of drinking
    4. The higher the price of something, the less people will consume, because of #2.

    No, it means they’ll probably start doing what cheap bums in Utah do: Drink Listerine or Scope or (better yet) cheap generic equivalents.

    And since those brands can be purchased without ID and are much cheaper than booze, they stay under the legal radar and save money.

  48. “Poor people drinking methanol and brake fluid, another triumphant public health initiative!”

    It drives down the long term costs of providing housing and social services. Win-win, some might say.

  49. Homeless alcoholics will take money out of their food budget and spend it on booze because of #2. Same alcohol consumption, less food consumption means poorer health for the very people the Health Nazis are trying to “help”.

    Perfect. I was going to write something similar, but you said it much better.

    The other possible outcome is that they will spend more time panhandling in order to increase their incomes, and thus more of the sensitive citizens of Seattle (whom the city fathers are presumably trying to protect from having to see public drunkenness) will be harassed more and more often.

  50. Dan T:
    “I figured since this blog discusses political and social issues that some debate and disagreement would be welcome”.

    I welcome and ecourage your disagreement and debate.

    “…people will drink less if they decide that they cannot cut back on food or other needs”.

    These are homeless alcoholics we’re talking about here, Danny boy. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to understand that they don’t make rational health or economic decisions.
    This is why I welcome your disagreement and debate, you’re one of the few regulars around here I can whip.

  51. I do believe that Dan T. has been abused on this particular thread. He deserves it sometimes. Not today.

    Having lived on Capital Hill in Seattle, I can say that the cheap booze restrictions work about as well as the heroin and meth restrictions. Expanding access to affordable housing and rehab programs might be a better approach.

  52. From the article, it seems the purpose of the ban was to cut down on incidents of public drunkeness, in order lessen the number of breaches of the peace, rather than to help drunks stop drinking. Limiting drunks drinking may be a side effect that some hope for, but the ban was based on the containers found in an area where complaints came from.

    I think this has less to do with nanny-statism rather than the perhaps overly zealous pursuit of public safety.

  53. I guess we at least agree that banning cheap brands of alcohol will cause the price of alcohol to go up.

    There seem to be many different possiblities as to how individuals who like to drink but have little money will respond, however. If you’re affected by this situation you might:

    1) drink less
    2) get a job (or better job) to earn more money so you can buy as much booze as before
    3) spend money you otherwise would have spent on food, etc to make up for the higher cost of alcohol
    4) begin drinking products like mouthwash that contain alcohol but are not meant to be beverages
    5) resort to crime or begging to increase the amount of money you have
    6) decide to seek help in order to dry out and get your life back on track

    Of these (and perhaps others can think of more), it seems that three are positive outcomes and three are not. So wouldn’t the success of the policy hinge on the number of people who respond positively weighed against the number who don’t?

  54. andronoid –

    [M:] Where does it say the ban is for the drinkers’ “own good, of course”?

    Toward the end of the article it states that “there is a small chance that people might make a change”

    Now wait a minute. The “it” who stated that was not a legislator nor an activist, but a former addict, understandably appreciative of his restored autonomy and charitably hoping the same result for others in like plight.

    Indicating that this isn’t a “not in my back yard” thing but a way to get people to change for the “better.”

    I read it as the ex-addict’s suggestion of a favorable byproduct to the “quality-of-life” legislation – by which is meant the quality of the homeowners’ rather than the vagrants’ lives.

    Besides, I don’t think you could sell this to anyone without someone half-hearted altruism. Otherwise it just sounds like you don’t want drunk, urinating bums hanging around.

    Thera are a lot of neighborhoods where that appeal alone would sail.

    I am forced to surmise that Mr. Balko, whose work I greatly admire, just slipped here, and inserted the clause “for their own good, of course” out of a fully understandable habit. Even Homer nods.

    It’s just not obvious to me that every government action is promoted as benefiting all parties they affect. SWAT teams don’t profess to benefit their targets (though anything’s possible), nor is quality-of-life legislation, however misguided, framed as a gift to perceived public nuisances.

  55. These are homeless alcoholics we’re talking about here, Danny boy. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to understand that they don’t make rational health or economic decisions.

    I don’t know – an alcoholic is really just someone who very much enjoys the feeling of being drunk. And I guess if you are sober, and you want to experience drunkenness, then the rational thing to do is drink.

    My point is that if the price of booze goes up, a drinker with little money will have no choice but to act rationally in accordance with his desires. In other words, they’ll have to decide if the new price of drinking is worth it to them. Not everybody will come to the same conclusion.

  56. but from an economic point of view this seems like as good a strategy as any.

    Do people like you lack memory or comprehension? You’re right Dan. Prohibition has worked in the past to prevent people from accessing that which was banned. Right.

  57. Dan, I’ve worked with homeless drug addicts during my career, and I can tell you that they are where they are because they want to be there. You could give them a home, a year’s supply of food, and a gold-plated Cadillac and they’d sell them for booze or whatever else gets them high.

    It’s not the booze that’s causing the problem — it’s the people’s addiction to it, combined with mental health and emotional issues. And simply cutting off the supply will only reform that competent few who had the gumption and wherewithal to kick the habit themselves anyway. Most addicts will go and find something else to feed their appetites.

    Society CAN do something to help drunks and druggies, but it’s very expensive and time consuming. In Utah there are drug courts that allow non-violent meth heads to defer jail in exchange for strict, intense, court-supervised drug treatment and job training. It’s quite successful — the recidivism rate is around 10% — but it usually takes well over a year to turn these people into productive citizens.

  58. Public drunkeness in some cities is definietly a social problem, but I think it’s a symptom of another problem and not a lack of government. Maybe the City Council needs to reasses why there is a rich/poor gap in the city? My sister and her husband used to live out there (her husband worked in marketing for the Sonics). They couldn’t afford to live in the city, they lived in a small house way the hell out on Fox Island. His commute to work was over an hour, part of it was on a ferry. And I’ve also heard that Seattle is quite a crowded city, even by big city standards.

  59. (since the free market obviously has failed to correct this).

    Actually, the free market does correct this…alcoholics die sooner, thus eliminating the ‘problem’.

    The inputs and outputs of a free market system are not entirely financial…in the absence of wise and powerful deciders, choice is the only experiment you can count on.

  60. Dan, I’ve worked with homeless drug addicts during my career, and I can tell you that they are where they are because they want to be there. You could give them a home, a year’s supply of food, and a gold-plated Cadillac and they’d sell them for booze or whatever else gets them high.

    I’m working under the assumption that there are different degrees of alcoholism and that by raising the price of drinking at least some will respond by deciding the price is too high to continue as they were.

    That very well could be a poor assumption, I’ll admit, or perhaps it would require much more extreme circumstances to hold true than anything found in the real world.

  61. Dan T.

    With alcoholism – which is pervasive among ‘street people’ – 4) is by far the most likely. Unfortunately, mouthwash is the choice of suburban alcoholics, not street people. Street people turn to brake fluid, methanol, windshield washer fluid and anything else containing an alcohol molecule. Of the alcohol molecules, only ethanol can be safely metabolized by humans, and that in relatively small quantities. Ethanol, glycol, etc are all highly toxic.

    Your ‘desirable’ options 1) 2) & 6) require initiative and long-term planning, not traits normally associated with street people. [Lack of these traits is usually how they got to be ‘street people’.]

    I recognize that many street people suffer from mental illness, but unless you want to go for forcible institutionalization, there is no way to “cure” them. And that is a horror show I don’t want to go back to.

  62. Aresen – good points, all.

    Still, I would think that even the most hard-core libertarian would sympathize at least somewhat with Seattle’s problem, even if they don’t like the way it’s being addressed. I’d be curious as to what others would propose they do about it from the libertarian POV.

  63. Poor people drinking methanol and brake fluid, another triumphant public health initiative!

    Don’t forget canned heat.

  64. Street people turn to brake fluid, methanol, windshield washer fluid and anything else containing an alcohol molecule. Of the alcohol molecules, only ethanol can be safely metabolized by humans, and that in relatively small quantities. Ethanol, glycol, etc are all highly toxic.

    http://www.sterno.com/consumer/consumer_gel_fuels.aspx?kwid=1&descid=2&pg=consumer_gel_fuels.aspx

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canned_Heat_Blues

  65. I just think that we as a nation shouldn’t allow anyone, especially our most vulnerable, to drink Icehouse.

  66. TPG

    Thanks. I forgot Sterno.

    BTW: I meant to say “METHANOL, glycol, ets…”

    Looks like I need an Organic Chem 101 refresher.

  67. “I just think that we as a nation shouldn’t allow anyone, especially our most vulnerable, to drink Icehouse.”

    Let them drink Glenlivet.

  68. Dan T., my intimate experience with alcoholism informs my sensibilites thus: there are no “varying degrees of alcoholism.” Period. You are an addict, or you are not. Once addicted, an alcoholic will sacrifice home, belongings, and personal relationships just to keep the booze in their system. Economic matters or decisions of food vs. drink do not factor into an alcoholic’s decision to buy booze.

    That said, from a Libertarian perspective, the solution would be driven primarily by private charity. Someone with the wealth to provide economic support and a vested interest in seeing the streets become free of homeless drunks and/or offering a means of self-improvement for said homeless individuals. Such ventures are expensive to fund, and I cannot begin to imagine the kind of permits, inspections, forms, zoning requirements, etc. etc. etc. it would take for a private operation to run in any city.

    Another solution could be strictly community based. I am opposed to top-down government solutions to most problems, especially social ones. If the people of a particular area wanted improvement, I have no opposition to them forming a group dedicated to helping their fellow citizens on the path to sobriety and productive citizenship. Its a from-the-ground-up type of solution that enables people to be directly involved in improvements, versus having “The Government” take care of it for them (usually with solutions that have tepid results at best).

    Of course, that assumes people are willing to solve their own problems and be part of the solution. WHAT was I thinking with that line of reasoning….

  69. Still, I would think that even the most hard-core libertarian would sympathize at least somewhat with Seattle’s problem, even if they don’t like the way it’s being addressed. I’d be curious as to what others would propose they do about it from the libertarian POV.

    Obviously, nothing.

  70. I wonder what forms of government aid the ‘street people’ use that allows them, even indirectly, to purchase all of that Colt 45 and Wild Turkey? There’s your libertarian answer. My ‘public health’ response would be to go pick up the bodies in the morning. Anything other than that is up to private charity. Not compassionate enough for you? Too damn bad–put your own money where your mouth is.

  71. Raising the price to drive down demand is the whole strategy of the war on drugs, right? The inability of people who make laws to learn simple lessons from clear examples never fails to astound me.

  72. Dan T., my intimate experience with alcoholism informs my sensibilites thus: there are no “varying degrees of alcoholism.” Period. You are an addict, or you are not.

    I think there’s a lot of validity to that, but then again if you’re dealing strictly with bottom-of-the-barrell addicts you might not see the whole picture. I know people who could be described as “functional” alcoholics -they drink more than what is usually considered healthy and sometimes their drinking gets them in trouble but they still manage to hold down a job, pay the bills, etc.

    So I agree with you that some alcoholics may be beyond redemption without serious help but I will still maintain there is a lot of gray area between them and those who don’t drink at all.

    That said, from a Libertarian perspective, the solution would be driven primarily by private charity.

    I would agree that would be the ideal solution, but it’s more idealistic than practical often times. Meaning that if you couldn’t find enough people willing to voluntarily donate time and money you still have a problem that needs addressing.

  73. This is hilarious! Buckshot, waddya mean about the only guy around you can whup is Dan T, winner of todays Pollyanna Award? I think you just whupped every busybody bureaucrat in Seattle w/ yr “drunk on power” comment.
    Let me see if I follow this: genteel citizens note litter. Surveying said litter, they decide x percentage is made up of cheap booze bottles, the contents of which would never pass the lips of they or thier friends. (They ignore fast food wrappers, free “progressive” weeklies & Starbucks containers)
    Serious drinkers- (closely related to Serious Thinkers, one might intuit) find other brands of pleasure. Trash changes, superficially.
    And none of these deep thinkers thought: more garbage cans? Really? which makes it clear to me: its not the trash, its the winos they want to go away. But the winos wont go away. I cant wait til Round 2……

  74. I guess they didn’t cover “inelastic demand” in Dan T.’s econ 101 class.

  75. ‘m still a little curious as to why Radley Balko titled this blog post “Econ 101” (assuming he’s being sarcastic about it).

    I mean:

    1. It costs money for a person to buy alcohol
    2. People have a limited amount of money
    3. By banning cheap brands of alcohol, you raise the overall price of drinking
    4. The higher the price of something, the less people will consume, because of #2.

    So if the objective is to get people to consume less alcohol, then raising the price should do the trick.

    Dan T.,
    It is called “inelastic demand”. Very common with things that people need to live, or are addicted to. Hardcore alcoholics will pick beer over food. And this is who we are talking about. Not the construction worker who hammers nails 8-4 and beers 4-10. We are talking about people who are living on the street, who’s only motivation to live is that bottle. So, by your rules, if they have a finite amount of money, it will all go to alcohol and none to food. Very good health initiative if you ask me. Starve ’em to death.

    If you price liquor outside thier means then they switch to mouthwash. Outlaw that, then it’s brake fluid or windshield washer fluid. Ban enough stuff and there will be a black market whereby people purchase “two buck chuck” outside the ban zone and ferry it in to resell for four bucks. Sound familiar? Look back into history, or at the current Drug War. Remember, it’s all for the public health.

  76. Mutt, more trash cans just means more dumpster diving.

  77. I don’t have a problem with the idea that the government has a legitimate interest in trying to reduce the incidents of people urinating on public streets, or other public externality-annoyances associated with “incidents of public drunkeness”. But how did people come to the conclusion that this is an optimal way to go about it.

    This seems like it will do more to harm people who drink responsibly and aren’t a public nusaince than it will to actually alleviate the problems it is supposed to alleviate.

    People who consumed low-cost alcohol will now have to either stop/reduce their drinking or have less money for other stuff or some combination of the two. So either way those people are worse off because they have less of something they enjoy and/or less money.

    If the public health problem is externalities primarily caused by “homeless alcoholics” than making it more expensive to get drunk may stop a few people. But being a homeless alcoholic is probably correlated strongly with prioritizing drinking more highly than most people in relation to relatively essential things. So the people this measure is trying to prevent from getting drunk will probably be least prevented as a group.

    Isn’t it already illegal to piss on the street or otherwise be a public nusaince?

    I’ll post later with some possible alternative ways of addressing this issue.

  78. “Isn’t it already illegal to piss on the street or otherwise be a public nusaince?

    I’ll post later with some possible alternative ways of addressing this issue.”

    We could electrify the sidewalks…

  79. Dan T:

    The price of crack has gone up since the ’80s and, instead of rationally choosing to quit or finding a new/better job to support their habit, users have found other, uh, not-so-friendly ways to pay for their vials.

    I think that it’s much more likely that a violent backlash black market could evolve than it is that homeless people will just say “Oh, well. Time to go get a job. Maybe my wife will take me back…”

  80. The trouble is that people don’t want the penalties for the actual behaviors they want to discourage — public urination, littering, etc. — to be raised to the point that they would be effective, nor to punish for such activities people who are intoxicated. Such enforcement would seem harsh, arbitrary, and generally mean-spirited. So instead they adopt measures against victimless behaviors to indirectly try to reduce the offensive behaviors. No particular thing a drunk does is bad enough to get people to stop it, so instead they try to prevent the condition or pattern of being drunk in general.

  81. Hardcore alcoholics will pick beer over food. And this is who we are talking about. Not the construction worker who hammers nails 8-4 and beers 4-10. We are talking about people who are living on the street, who’s only motivation to live is that bottle. So, by your rules, if they have a finite amount of money, it will all go to alcohol and none to food. Very good health initiative if you ask me. Starve ’em to death.

    People seem to be fond of saying this, but when was the last time you heard of anybody, even a street bum, starve to death in America?

    Alcoholics have to eat just like anybody else.

  82. “People seem to be fond of saying this, but when was the last time you heard of anybody, even a street bum, starve to death in America?

    Alcoholics have to eat just like anybody else.”

    Yes. The street people usually get SOME food from the local charities who run kitchens, so diseases – diabetes, cirrhois, heart disease – usually – usually kill them before starvation. In cold climates, they often freeze to death in the winter.

  83. I can’t wait for the day I’ll need a prescription for windshield washer fluid.

    P.S. – didn’t Sterno save that guy’s life in The Andromeda Strain?

  84. Dan T:

    Even though I almost always disagree with you, I’ve never seen you get out of line or insult anyone, for that you have my humble respect.

    “Alcoholics have to eat like everybody else.”

    But the kind of alcoholics we’re talking about don’t eat just like everybody else, they are nutritional minimalists, they eat when food is available, and then only after they’ve quenched their thirst. There are people who literally live off of beer, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

    I knew a guy, Mark, who I NEVER saw without a beer in his hand, he probably needed it to keep his balance. On a two day trip to Las Vegas he ate no food the entire time, he only drank beer and lots of it. By the second day, he was begging us for money to buy some food (he lost all his money in like the first ten minutes), so we gave him $20, then he and I headed downstairs to get a restaurant meal. As I walked into the restaurant, he sat down at a slot machine and started playing so he could get some comp drinks from the waitress! (My other friend and I were seriously thinking about taking him out into the desert with only food and water to sustain him and forcing him to detox. But we said, Nah.) On the drive back to L.A. he was doing some serious complaining about starving, so we bought him one of those gross gas station sandwiches only a starving alkie could love. He died about a year later of liver failure, age 31.

    Some people don’t give a shit, and there is nothing anyone can do for them until they do start caring about themselves.

  85. Dan T.
    Have you ever sat in on an AA meeting? Have you ever heard people relate thier “bottoms”, what they were willing to give up, willing to do, for a drink? My best friend is an alcoholic (recovering as they say). Got kicked out of the army, lived under a bridge for a bit, did quite a few ‘less than respectable’ things for booze, and was existing off the good grace of friends when we met. I know my friend’s story, and have heard countless others from people who reached a “bottom” and decided to attempt to quit. However, many never reach that point and exist day to day, any way they can, until they drink themselves into a grave.

    Aresen is correct, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and the like dole out a bit of food, usually with some good preachin’, but it doesn’t cost the “bum” a dime. Your original post was one of economics. Free soup kitchen food is not an economic factor. When offered a choice to purchase a warm meal or a bottle of Jack the choice is usually the bottle.

    I am not an advocate of folks living on the street, drinking thier life away but I am less a fan of the governmental “solutions” to these problems. As jb touched earlier, the Law of Unintended Consequences is always the one that government never seems to see or account for in its actions. All this political wrangling is going to do is make booze more expensive for the poor or force the poor out of the “downtown” areas, which I suspect is the actual motivation behind this law. In the meantime, it will mean that the poor have to travel further and pay more to procure either booze or food (since soup kitchens are frequently set up near homeless concentrations). Tell me again how this is a good thing for “public health”?

  86. An obvious problem in the food vs. Alcohol debate where alcoholics is concerned is that alcohol = food for an alcoholic. Their bodies adapt to it and begin to favor it as their preferred source of quick sugary energy (like Corn Syrup, yes!). It is only in the latest stages (scirrosis) where the liver is failing that they would begin to starve.

  87. I think Robert hit the nail on the head.

    But I say, if you want to prevent an externality then go after the externality directly and leave non-infringing drinkers alone. If that seems “harsh, arbitrary, and generally mean-spirited” than the public nuisances must not be that bad.

    To me, it seems “harsh, arbitrary, and generally mean-spirited” to curtail everyone’s freedom to enjoy a low-cost buzz just because a small minority of drinkers cause public annoyances while drunk.

    Some alternative ideas for addressing the issue:

    – I agree with MUTT’s idea of more garbage cans if littering is a problem.

    – I would also support the idea of more public bathrooms to reduce the incentive to urinate on the street. Charge public urinators who are caught a fee and use that revenue to fund public bathrooms and greater police presence in the times and places where drunk people are likely to be. Indigent offenders could be given the option of community service instead of paying money.

    – Some commenters have suggested that homeless drinkers are a main source of the public health issue. Obviously such people don’t do most of their drinking in a bar or club (which would have a bathroom) and can’t go home to take a piss. Public bathrooms would address this somewhat. But I have to ask: Don’t homeless shelters have bathrooms?

  88. And if, for some reason, it is absolutely necessary for innocent bystanding drinkers to give up something in order to contribute to alleviating this problem; this is still not the right approach.

    In that case I would say have a uniform tax on alcohol and don’t prohibit any varieties of alcohol, cheap or otherwise. The tax could be either in proportion to the quantity of alcohol or as a percentage of the final product’s price (I lean slightly towards the former). Use that revenue to fund your preferred solution and have the tax no higher than it needs to be.

    Even with the tax, there would probably be several brands available at a lower price than whatever the 30th cheapest brand costs now.

    Why should this “public health” action be based on sticking it to people who would rather drink cheap brands of alcohol than pay more for whatever alleged quality the more expensive brands have? If innocent drinkers must pitch in, people who prefer high end liquors shouldn’t be exempt to the detriment of other drinkers.

    And on the supply side, the tax would not unfairly and arbitrarily exclude some suppliers from the market the way Seattle’s current policy does.

  89. Glad to see someone mention the lack of facilities for humans to take a leak, or a dump. And Im not surprised to see folks suggest using the lack of facilities as an excuse to lock people up. Like the respectable folk in Seattle, it seems theres a strain of “libertarian” who is quite dandy with having a situation come about where even if you work a shitty job, rents out of reach (AKA the Market) you can get locked up if you piss in an alley.
    Dumpster diving……couple fellas got 6 mos in Steamboat Springs, Co a while back for diving for veggies in a dumpster behind a produce market. The folks at the market were appalled: it was the cops & cty prosecutor. You cant lock folks up for pissin if theres no where they can piss. Jeez. And you cant bitch about trash if there aint no damn trash cans. Jeez, again. And you cant arrest hungry people for eatin. Or otherwise orderly drunks for drinkin.
    Im minded of some twit who lectured me on how Libertarians dont approve of military intervention, snif, snif. Nah, you just dont say nothin about it & call the resultant wave of human misery “market forces”. (caution: youll have to think to get previous connection)
    Yup. More garbagecans, for a start.

  90. Mutt please clarify:

    Was it the cops & prosecutor who were dumpster diving?

    Or was it that they pushed the prosecution against the wishes of the folks at the market?

    My logic tells me it was the latter, but it would be OH so wonderful if it was the former.

  91. Dumpster divers: itinerant hippies
    Pushed prosecution against wishes of Mkt owners:
    Police & crackpot prosectors.
    Nope. Story crazy enough as it stands…….

  92. “But I say, if you want to prevent an externality then go after the externality directly….”

    Well yeah, we say that, but so what? An enormous amount of public policy folly is from failure of nerve or not wanting to face out own self-image.

    People don’t want to say “no” or “yes” to beggars, so they outlaw begging so as to try to avoid thinking of themselves as either stingy or soft touches. We know some people won’t provide for themselves, and we know that when that happens we can’t resist either supporting such persons or feeling like suckers for doing so, so we enact tax support for them all in advance. This is a big impetus for the wars on drugs too.

    There are so many other ways this cowardice about self image leads to bad policy in a vastly diverse range of fields. We waste vast amounts on make-work, subsidies, and restrictions because people are ashamed to lobby simply for cash giveaways, which would wind up costing us far less in payments to organized groups for the amount of good they’d derive. (Legislation would be so much simpler and cheaper if it just read, “Pay to this list of persons…this amount of money, to spend on whatever they want. Period. Because we can.”) Sex laws are all about shame too.

  93. Robert Goodman, you are my non-sexual man-crush of the day.

    I would agree that would be the ideal solution, but it’s more idealistic than practical often times. Meaning that if you couldn’t find enough people willing to voluntarily donate time and money you still have a problem that needs addressing.

    What’s idealistic is continuing on as they are, believing they are doing something to help, in the face of history which says they are going to make the problem worse. Right now, people are *involuntarily* giving time (the hours they work) and money (the taxes taken from their pay) for a solution that’s guaranteed to fail. Imagine a situation where people aren’t taxed for this amount they are currently forced to pay. They’d have more free time to devote to stuff like helping those less fortunate, because they’d need to work fewer hours to get the same amount of pay. Alternatively, they could work more hours, and make more money to spend on things they believe would be useful to the community. Sure, some people are always gonna be uncaring shits. But idealistically, I believe most people aren’t complete uncaring shits. Also idealistically, I hope that most people aren’t *really* as unself-aware as Robert Goodman states.

    BTW, this thread was pretty good. I would never have thought of the more trash cans and places to pee thing.

  94. Lower income non-alcoholics are punished by being unable to purchase inexpensive liquor, while the regulation has little or no direct effect on either littering or public drunkeness. I hope I’m not the only person to see this regulation as one whose actual intent is class warfare dressed up under the pretext of littering.

  95. Doesn’t WA have a container deposit law?

    Container deposit refunds are a lot like bum welfare. How can there be can-and-bottle litter and bums, all in the same place? Are those Seattle bums so well off they can afford to leave nickels lying all over the ground?

  96. Robert Goodman, that was a very insightful comment.

  97. “Also idealistically, I hope that most people aren’t *really* as unself-aware as Robert Goodman states.”

    Not un-self-aware; the problem is that they’re too self-aware, and sensitive about it. People want to have certain choices removed from their own agendas, because they know that, one way or the other, they won’t like the choice they make, because of what it demonstrates about themselves.

    Parents appreciate having the fall-back, “…because it’s illegal” to tell their children, because they don’t want to choose either being responsible for being the “bad guy” (for making their own judgement to not let their child do X) or for being the “bad parent” (for allowing their child to do X).

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