MADD Logic

Is it irresponsible to even suggest lowering the drinking age?


In 1985, when New York raised its alcohol purchase age to 21 under federal pressure, I was a sophomore at Cornell. One day, I was responsible enough to order a beer; the next day, I wasn't.

Nowadays, I'm irresponsible simply for bringing up the subject. Or so it would seem, judging from the way Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has responded to the 128 (and counting) college presidents who support the Amethyst Initiative, which calls for "an informed and dispassionate public debate" about the drinking age.

"Parents should think twice before sending their teens to these colleges or any others that have waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies," declared MADD President Laura Dean-Mooney. The same press release quoted former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, who said "signing this initiative…endangers young lives," and Mark Rosenker, acting director of the National Transportation Safety Board, who said it invited "a national tragedy" that would "jeopardize the lives of more teens."

According to MADD, a lower drinking age will result in more drinking among 18-to-20-year-olds, which will result in more drunk driving, which will result in more dead teenagers. Therefore, if you favor a lower drinking age, you favor dead teenagers.

There are a couple of problems with this syllogism. First, although MADD insists research "unequivocally shows that the 21 law has reduced drunk driving and underage and binge drinking," the picture is not quite so clear.

In 1984 Congress passed a law that threatened to withhold highway money from states that did not increase their drinking ages to 21; by 1988 all of them had complied. Yet according to the government-commissioned Monitoring the Future Study, the rate of "binge" drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks) among both high school seniors and college students peaked in the early 1980s, before the federal law took effect.

Traffic fatalities also were declining before then. In a 2007 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron and Yale law student Elina Tetelbaum note that the traffic fatality rate for 15-to-24-year-olds "has been decreasing steadily since 1969," while "most of the variation in the [drinking age] occurred in the 1980s."

Looking at state-level data, Miron and Tetelbaum find that "any nationwide impact" from raising the drinking age is driven by states that did so "prior to any inducement from the federal government." Even in those states, the effect "did not persist much past the year of adoption." Furthermore, raising the drinking age "appears to have only a minor impact on teen drinking." Miron and Tetelbaum conclude that a drinking age of 21 "fails to have the fatality-reducing effects that previous papers have reported."

Whether or not Miron and Tetelbaum are right, it's neither fair nor sensible to view drinking as tantamount to drunk driving. By MADD logic, if raising the drinking age to 21 saves lives, raising it to 25 or 30 would save even more. Yet when it comes to adults older than 20, the law recognizes that the problem is reckless drinking, not drinking per se.

This is the sort of distinction the Amethyst Initiative's supporters would like to reinforce. They complain that a blanket ban on alcohol consumption by 18-to-20-year-olds, who are considered adults in virtually every other respect, makes it difficult to inculcate responsible drinking habits. They argue that alcohol prohibition on campus has undermined respect for the law, since 85 percent of college students drink anyway, and created "a culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking.'"

Treating college students like children has not made much of a dent in the rate of heavy episodic drinking on campus, which has remained around 40 percent since 1993, compared to 43 percent when the uniform drinking age was established in 1988. If the government treats people as if they're irresponsible, it should not be surprised when they behave irresponsibly.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: Requiem for the Clintons

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  1. Most of us know MADD is no longer about drinking and driving. They are all about reinstating prohibition. So why should anyone give a damn what they say or think?

  2. Hrm. I was sort of expecting that an article for lowering the drinking age would have pulled in some data from European countries where the drinking age is 16-18 and moderate drinking is the norm.

    We need to teach kids how to use alcohol responsibly. You don’t do that by prohibiting them from taking so much as a sip of alcohol until they’re 21, and then telling them “OK, you’re a mature adult now, go out and drink all you want”.

  3. McLovin! WHYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?!?!

  4. The drinking age is 21, yet “kill the keg” competitions live on. That’s some quality work there, MADD.

  5. We are all McLovin, tonight.

  6. This article is going to get you soooooo much ass, Sullum.

  7. To be honest, I don’t care about the statistics. Statistics would probably also show a drop in drunk driving if we only allowed people over 30 to drive.

  8. To be honest, I don’t care about the statistics. Statistics would probably also show a drop in drunk driving if we only allowed people over 30 to drive.


    As with most everything else, the issue isn’t a utilitarian one: it’s a (drum fill) libertarian one. Applying stats only buries the argument that all people have the right to drink (or smoke or inject) whatever they want at whatever age they want, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.

  9. Wow…way to go! It is absolutely, unequivocally a matter of mutual respect. The government playing the role of the narrow-minded, heavy-handed, out of touch parent asking a child to bring the belt.

  10. Great article as usual, Jacob. Unfortunately Steve Chapman already convinced me the drinking age should stay right where it is.

  11. The statistics and studies are a smokescreen (they usually are); the issue is simple. Are 18 year olds adults? If they are, then a 21 year old drinking age is an affront. If they aren’t, then why may they vote?

    And if they may vote because they may also be drafted, doesn’t that give them a legitimate reason to drink?

  12. I’d love to see the minimum age for military service raised to 21.

  13. You know what else causes traffic fatalities? Driving. So if you favor teenagers driving, you favor teen deaths, you heartless bastards.

  14. At least as it relates to my experience, lowering the drinking age would have likely reduced the occurence of drink driving. As an underaged student on a dry campus, I naturally bought as much as I could when the opportunity presented itself, and not being able to legally possess any leftovers…well you see where that is going. The dry campus compounded the problem, because you couldn’t drink at a bar, you couldn’t drink at the dorm, that pretty much leaves the road.

    This was 20 years ago when a minor in possession ticket in Texas was a wink and a small fine, my understanding now is that it is a rather harsh ticket.

    I think they should make it legal to consume at 18, and legal to buy at 19. This way you minimize to some extent the ability of the 18 year old high school senior to buy for the high school crowd, yet the 18 year old college freshman could drink at a party, which we know they are going to do anyway.

    As a side-note, my college was assumed into a state system, and in the last few years they have allowed beer at tailgate parties for football games. Even as a 40 year old, in order to drink a beer before a football game, I must be in a designated area which is a bare sun drenched field, that has campus police officers at every corner. They fear the beer at West Texas.

  15. sqaurooticus does a better job making the libertarian case in around 50 words than Jacob Sullum does in his article.

    The utilitarian case works like this…if you are going to draw an arbitrary line, it should be based on the best results. A 3% decline in binge drinking may be used to justify drawing the line at one age rather than another.

    FWIW, I don’t really care where the arbitrary line is drawn, as the issue isn’t about the law it is about education and culture. As long as our culture sanctions and values binge drinking, it will be part of the culture.

  16. Using MADD’s logic I propose the following.

    Send 18-20 year olds to juvenile court.
    Raise SS registration to 21.
    Require government funded schooling to age 21.
    Declare all* contracts with 18-20 years invalid.
    Abortions will require parental permission for our newly declared irresponsible minors.
    Birth control prescriptions will also require parental permission.
    Tattoos and piercings will be forbidden to 18 – 20 yera olds as their brains aren’t fully formed yet.
    Raise the voting age to 21.
    Require all parents to financially support their children until age 21.

    *Especially marriage and age of consent.

  17. I support lowering the drinking age to 18, and repealing the federal law that withholds highway funding from sates with drinking ages lower than 21.

    Two points I would like to see emphasized more:

    1) 18 year olds are recognized as sufficiently mature to have nearly all the responsibilities and discretion of adulthood. This includes the discretion of deciding whether or not to sign up for military combat – clearly a more serious matter than the decision of whether or not to have a beer. There is no reasonable basis, therefore, to regard them as unable to grant valid consent to alcohol consumption.

    2) There are ways to combat drunk/reckless driving – including drunk/reckless driving among young adults – that don’t require taking away all 18 to 20 year olds’ freedom to drink. For example they could have patrols at night to look out for erratic drivers on roads between campuses/college neighborhoods and red light districts. They might have more available resources for this if they didn’t send people to bust victimless house/frat/dorm parties. They could also establish all night public transit in those areas to reduce the “need” to drive drunk.

  18. I think most ‘binge’ comes from attitudes about drinking in this country.I have one or two beers almost every day at home after work,mostly stouts.My wife hardly drinks during the week,yet if we go out or to a friends she’ll almost always get quite tipsy.Same with the guys I golf with.No drinking all week ,but,7-8 beers on the course.Many groups would consider me a problem drinker,yet I never get drunk.I spread my drinking out where others might drink once or twice month and end up hung over the next day.

  19. Well, in France they are raising the drinking age to 18 to combat “le binge-drinking” (that is apparently the word they use)

  20. Before I turned 21, I wanted to make sure I had the last illegal drink of my life, so I poured a rum and coke shortly before midnight and started studying for finals. At midnight, I was magically imbued with the maturity to finish the drink I’d poured when I was underage. Most of the people I drank with as minors were as responsible about it as people of legal age are, and I think it’s well worth lowering the age to accommodate people like us.

  21. Anyone with “harf-a-brain” understands that that volitional rights cannot be granted children, as they have not yet developed full rationality. They are subject to constant whim vs value dichotomy, “thinking at the pineal level”, can’t appreciate delayed gratification, etc. The problem is to determine when someone has reached a true “age of consent”.

    Like most of us, I have met some 14 year olds with more rationality than some 30 year olds. So, in lieu of a fixed/fluctuating chronological age, I hereby propose a National RQ (rationality quotient) test.

    This, of course, will require a massive bearueacracy with Federal super-funding; so it should easily pass both chambers of Congress.

    I further propose that I be nominated to head the new RDA (Rationality Determination Agency) because, well gee-whiz, I need a 200K job.

    BTW, JsubD: Kiss my ass! My children all became “renters” on their 18th birthday 😉

  22. The utilitarian case works like this…if you are going to draw an arbitrary line, it should be based on the best results.

    But that merely begs the question of how do you measure “the best results”?

    sqaurooticus does a better job making the libertarian case in around 50 words than Jacob Sullum does in his article.

    Well hey, they gotta fill up their pages with more than 50 words!!

  23. Seriously, though. Since it’s obviously impractical to individually determine when someone passes from childhood to adulthood, pick a goddamn age (for everything) and stick with it!

  24. As long as our culture sanctions and values binge drinking, it will be part of the culture.


  25. This is the kind of article I want to see on Reason about the drinking age. It is a simple logical slippery slope and really needs no more discussion after that. I would also like to quickly point out the negatives of the 18-20 prohibition, where we not only prevent some adults from drinking, but punish the ones that do, often harshly. I don’t mean a ticket, but rather multiple offenses of underage drinking getting you kicked out of school and whatnot. Can I say that MADD hates education?

    Besides, conflating drinking with drinking and driving is only the next logical step after we allowed them to conflate drinking and driving with reckless driving. Why persecute people for being irresponsible with alcohol and driving recklessly when not doing the same for someone else who drove recklessly for another reason? How about we criminalize the criminal act, and just punish people for actually driving recklessly, not for some arbitrary chemical content in their blood that may or may not be affecting their actions.

  26. I’d love to see the minimum age for military service raised to 21.

    Hell, raise it to forty, and make it mandatory. I’m safe.

  27. Dragonfly,

    You’d have the same “magic boundary” paradox if you set the drinking age at 18. For reasonable enforcement purposes, it has to be a set age rather than some more accurate measure that takes individual maturity levels into account.

    I think 18 is reasonable age though.

  28. Don’t you people understand that we must ban ___________? How else can we prevent people from hurting themselves and others? Sure, you’re responsible, but someone else might not be. Think about the children. If you support ___________, then you also support dead babies. Are you sure that’s what you stand for?

  29. We followed the European with our children, beginning at age 12 or 13. Dilute wine with dinner. We asked how they felt when they drank and all freely admitted they felt a bit unsteady and pleasantly dulled. I don’t doubt that when they were older they occasionally drank to excess. Didn’t we all? Of the four, one drinks no alcohol and the rest drink in social situations or enjoy a drink before dinner, a glass of wine with a meal.

    My family has a strong history of alcoholism which, I’m told, raises the odds for family members for substance abuse. Granted, this note is anecdotal.

    However, one think I noted while in the UK was heavy drinking on Friday nights with young people reeling around and vomiting. I’m not sure what the age for drinking is there.

  30. MADD: Another group of disgruntled parents unwilling to own up to their bad parenting and seeking a new scapegoat.

    The beer doesn’t kill people. Your taboo idolizing of alcohol and making it “sacred” is encouraging binging in colleges. And your horrible parenting is letting your children think that “following the crowd” and “doing what they want no matter the consequenses” is the way to live.

    Learn to say no to $500 sneakers your son doesn’t need and tell your daughters to keep their shirts on in public. Don’t blame the beer, blame your children and blame yourselves.

    Take a look at Europe. Few countries even have “age” laws regarding drinking or smoking. Instead, people are held accountable for their actions, no matter the substance they CHOSE to ingest prior.

  31. I’ve been drinking since I was about 14. The legal drinking age has never impinged upon my ability to imbibe. It has not caused me any legal entanglements. It is largely symbolic.

  32. Five drinks in a row over 1 night is binge drinking?

    That doesn’t make any sense to me. IF we assume that the biological studies are right, you could drink 5 beers back to back over a course of 5 hours and never get drunk!

    Not that any college students do this, but most of us learned some moderation.

    This is absurd. Hell I went to Hampden-Sydney College, All male, middle of nowhere VA. Ya know what we did a lot of? Yup … we;d sit on the front porch of our dorm and drink in the weekends. Hell 5 drinks sounds like the beginnings of a good night at college. Now I’m more of a lightweight so 5 would hit a lot harder now than it did say Junior Year.

    Still, I think the definition of binge drinking is fucking ridiculous. I watched frat guys crush cases and cases of beer on Sunday nights and they’d be in class on Monday morning.

  33. Hey! Slate came to the opposite conclusion with the same information. One of you must be wrong, right?

    Anyway, I think we’re missing the point: It’s not really a binge unless you wake up still drunk the next day and then start drinking again immediately. It’s gotta be a good twenty-four hours to count, otherwise it’s just a good night out.

  34. I once celebrated Bloomsday by deliberately, and successfully, setting out to drink a gallon (i.e., 8 pints) of Guinness over the evening. Does that count as a “binge”?

  35. Alternate take on some of the relevant data may be found here, from the LA Times.

    If squarooticus is right, then that means that I can start fondling my infant niece at any time, right? And I can hire my 3-year old nephew to start working in my coal mine right away, right? They won’t mind … they’ll be drunk, because I can simply feed them Jack Daniels if I want, right? Hell, let ’em vote! Why not?

    The arbitrary line isn’t drawn, therefore all persons are “adults”, so no more “child” issues, right?

    Libertarianism should not equal idiocy, squarooticus. A line must be drawn, unless you can propose some kind of graduated scale that might work. Oh wait … we already have one:
    16 = (or less, in many states) okay to get married and drive a car
    18 = okay to go to war and vote
    21 = okay to drink in public

    It’s not hard to figure out that such lines exist for good reason (unless you SUPPORT child rape), so posing specious drivel about “arbitrary lines” and “I know some 14-year olds who are more rational than some 30-year olds” is just that … specious. With age typically comes experience and that sometimes morphs into wisdom. Sometimes not (hence those daft 30-year olds), but without age all you have is precociousness … and “adults” should be able to tell the difference.

  36. If squarooticus is right, then that means that I can start fondling my infant niece at any time, right?

    No, because you’d be infringing on her rights.

    But I invite you to try something like that if you ever live in libertopia. I imagine justice would be far swifter and far more effective than it is in the existing justice monopoly.

    Libertarianism should not equal idiocy, squarooticus.

    Idiocy is having the national government arbitrarily determining a drinking age, universally enforceable over 300,000,000 different people from different walks of life and living in different circumstances, when the proper level of government at which to set rules regarding individual behavior that threatens no one else is “family”.

    Let the caretaker of the roads—in this case, government—set rules for proper driving, perhaps including a maximum level of intoxication. Leave the issue of whether someone in my house can drink or not to me.

    unless you SUPPORT child rape

    Since you’ve brought the rest of us down to the level of 3rd graders, I’d respond with a hearty, “Whoever smelt it, dealt it!” Why else would you have a fixation on a non-sequitur like child molestation?

    Finally: go away, troll.

  37. No, because you’d be infringing on her rights.

    Not if she told me she wanted me to do it.
    She’s capable of making reasoned decisions like that, right?

    “Idiocy” is having no distinction between an infant and a septuagenarian in their ability to make reasoned decisions.

    Re: “Whoever smelt it dealt it!” LOL

    ..all people have the right to drink (or smoke or inject) whatever they want at whatever age they want, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.

    You failed to distinguish between people who are incapable of making reasoned choices and those who can, and that’s the problem with your logic. You seem willing to stipulate that ALL humans, regardless of age or mental capacity, are capable of making reasoned choices. I don’t agree.

    It is in my personal best interest to argue for a few rules that limit my exposure to drunken, post-coital tots in cars who might possibly put a crimp in my grocery shopping experience by crashing into the store and killing me.

    According to your reasoning, those tots didn’t do anything they shouldn’t have been allowed to do right up to the moment they crashed into the hypothetical store and killed the hypothetical me, at which point they “hurt someone else in the process”, violating your (absence of) rules.

    Straight from the 3rd grade to you: Troll is as troll does.

  38. Were you just talking about smoking/drinking/injecting things? Did you not include mating/driving/fighting/voting, too?

    Or would you agree that some things require some measure of maturity? And if so, then how did you draw your arbitrary line to exclude some things from your rules while allowing others?

  39. If Squarooticus is right [all people have the right to drink (or smoke or inject) whatever they want at whatever age they want, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process], then that means that I can start fondling my infant niece at any time, right?

    Non sequitur – he said: “As long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process”. Fondling your niece would mean hurting her.

    And I can hire my 3-year old nephew to start working in my coal mine right away, right?

    Guessing from the example you are giving, you probably do not have a very good idea of the cost vs benefit of hiring a person. A three year old would be very difficult to train for a job, so that he or she becomes productive enough to justify the cost or the risk.

    They won’t mind … they’ll be drunk, because I can simply feed them Jack Daniels if I want, right?

    Again, non sequitur – he said: “As long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process”. Giving alcohol to your nephew or niece by force would mean hurting them.

    Hell, let ’em vote! Why not?

    Why vote, at all?

  40. Not if she told me she wanted me to do it.
    She’s capable of making reasoned decisions like that, right?

    As I’ve said before, this is a judgment best made at a community level. Of course most communities—maybe even all!—would have prohibitions on sexual relations with 3 year olds. But that doesn’t therefore mean the enforcement mechanism has to be universal or centralized, which serves only to undermine local authority and autonomy over time.

    Besides, sexual relations with children involve two people, one of which is arguably harming the other. Teenagers and 20 year olds drinking-which is the subject of this blog post-is by definition victimless because drinking involves one and only one person. The two are therefore incomparable for the purposes of this discussion.

    You failed to distinguish between people who are incapable of making reasoned choices and those who can, and that’s the problem with your logic.

    I merely recognize that I am not wise enough to make the decision as to when any particular individual is ready to see R-rated films, or ready to live on his or her own, or ready to drink, smoke, or fuck. If I’m not wise enough to do that, what would possibly make me think the federal government is?

    Troll is as troll does.

    I’m not the one who brought a non-sequitur into this thread. You could have chosen another way of making your point, but instead you accused me of supporting child rape. That, sir, is trolling behavior: posting to get a reaction. You were also making a point, but in an unnecessarily inflammatory way.

    So please kindly fuck off in the future whenever you decide to flame rather than engage in thoughtful discussion. I am done with your posts.

  41. Okay… one more. (Yes, I am a glutton for punishment.)


    Individual actions and therefore victimless.


    Interactions between multiple people, which opens up the possibility for coercion.


    Who gives a shit? Let children vote: the whole spectacle is practically scripted as it is.

  42. Not if she told me she wanted me to [fondle her]. She’s capable of making reasoned decisions like that, right?

    If you want to risk it under that assumption, go for it. As squarooticus indicated, the response would certainly be swift, starting with your niece’s father.

    You failed to distinguish between people who are incapable of making reasoned choices and those who can, and that’s the problem with your logic. You seem willing to stipulate that ALL humans, regardless of age or mental capacity, are capable of making reasoned choices. I don’t agree.

    That’s not what he said – a person that decides to drink or smoke does so as a rational choice. A person that is mentally incapacitated is unable to act (i.e. to make purposeful actions). A small child is just learning to make such decisions, which means that child would still be under the tutelage and responsibility of the parents. However, I fail to see how this fits with the idea of letting teenagers make these choices – teenagers are certainly NOT toddlers, and having the drinking age arbitrarily set at 18 or 21 or whatever just serves to inculcate a sense of contempt for the law in young men and women.

    It is in my personal best interest to argue for a few rules that limit my exposure to drunken, post-coital tots in cars who might possibly put a crimp in my grocery shopping experience by crashing into the store and killing me.

    Certainly, you must have realized that rules do not guarantee your safety – in fact, they create a false sense of security. Teenagers will drink, and by forcing them underground, they will drink in ever increasingly dangerous situations or spots, making them and you less safe, not more.

  43. Just to get it straight:

    1) Judgments made at a community level for the benefit of those who are incapable of making such judgments are good and necessary.

    2) We can decide when another person is capable of being reasonable, such as when we determine that they are mentally incapacitated or “too young”, according to the definitions of those labels that we composed.

    3) 13 is as reasonable as 19 because they are both “teenagers”.

    4) Rules create a false sense of security. Beyond that, they force precluded activity underground, into situations where such activity is likely to be even more damaging than it would have been, otherwise.

    5) Even is she were to demand I do it, I should probably avoid fondling my infant niece, because her dad will kill me, and we can all agree that his actions would be “just”. Maybe I can do it with my own infant daughter, but not my niece, because if it’s in the privacy of my own home, and if everyone agrees that its not hurting them, it must be okay, even if the community disagrees.

    And, lastly:

    6) 3-year olds are no damn good at coal mining.

    I see, now. Thank you all for enlightening me, and saving me from future troll-dom (one hopes!) I now go to learn more of this convoluted logic of which you speak.

  44. And don’t get me wrong … this is an intellectual exercise. I’m disputing the ignorance exhibited by a few of the statements posted, here. Claims about underage drinking are remarkably similar to claims about underage sex, which makes my “niece” canard relevant. I just switch from “underage drinking” to “underage sex”. You could use “underage Olympics gymnastics” if helps you to see that some things ARE damaging to young people, even if they think they are not, and that it is our job as a community to help protect them until such time as they are capable of exerting reasonable prudence in their own defense. Sure, it’s an arbitrary line, but it’s one we need to draw.

  45. James Butler:

    The problem with your argument is that you are trying to compare sex, which requires two people, with drinking, which affects one person.

    A more reasonably comparison would be masturbation. Like drinking, it is something done by – and to – one’s self for their own enjoyment.

    Like drinking, it is really hard to masturbate while driving safely. In fact, if you try to masturbate while driving, there’s a good chance that you’ll get in an accident.

    So, with all that in mind, is it masturbating while driving that should be illegal, or should all mastrubation be illegal for the simple reason that you could theoretically do it while driving?

  46. I’m sorry for being unclear, Mr. Haskell:

    My argument has nothing to do with either sex or drinking, and everything to do with the age at which someone is capable of making reasonable decisions.

    I submit that infants are not capable of making reasoned decisions about either sex or drinking; that teenagers are similarly immature in these types of decisions; and that as a community, we have the obligation to make rules that hold the possibility of helping to protect them.

    That is all.

  47. as a community, we have the obligation to make rules that hold the possibility of helping to protect them.

    Agreed. The question is, how do you define community? Or; whose job is it to make those rules.

    There are two extremes in the spectrum of answers to those questions.

    One is leaving the issue up to the federal government, where some bureaucrats in Washington get to decide when you and/or your children are responsible enough to drink. The main problem with this argument is that it is predicated on the idea that if the federal government doesn’t outlaw it, parents will start doing shots with their three-year-old.

    These people, you included, are forgetting that there are other possible ways to make these decisions.

    The other extreme, which I support, is that the “governing body,” if you will, that should make the decision is a person’s parents. I think that if a parent decides that their child is responsible enought to have a glass of wine with dinner, some senator shouldn’t be able to overrule that judgement.

    Of course, that’s not good enough for those people that are convinced that they should be able to force their own parenting decisions on someone else.

    The middle ground between these two extremes is the solution outlined in our constitution, which leaves this type of decision up to the states. Individuals have a much more direct effect on state laws, and those laws can be tailored more directly to the communities which they affect.

    Perhaps more importantly, that system allows the ability to test different laws. If one state decides to raise/lower the drinking age, the other states can observe the effects it has before choosing whether to follow suit.

    This solution worked for over 200 years before the federal government took it upon itself to throw that tried and true system out the window with the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (and abuse of the commerce clause, etc.).

    Back to the issue at hand, all these university presidents are saying is that we should have a conversation about the drinking age. And the best way to do that at the moment is to bring the decision closer to the people – by leaving it up to the states.

    Of course, this won’t make anyone completely happy. MADD will object to states that don’t prohibit alcohol altogether, while we libertarians will object to a law blocking someone’s right to make their own decision regarding their own kids.

    But it’s the best solution that has ever been devised, and these University Presidents are right in saying that it’s time that we repeal the NMDAA, and open up the conversation once again in the way that the founders intended.

  48. That’s more like it!

    I’m all for State decisions trumping Federal decisions in these and many other matters, if for no other reason than it is because that is how our government was set up, prior to the 14th Amendment. The other reasons have been nicely rounded off, thank you, Mr. Haskell.

    The University Presidents’ attempt to encourage discussion is working, it seems. Remember, also, that this has to do with the carrot of Federal funding for infrastructure and an artificial try-in to the State drinking age. If a State decides they don’t want Federal dollars for their roads, they can put the drinking age at whatever they want. It’s just that most State’s didn’t follow that path in 1984.

    I still do not agree that the parental units are the “community” that needs to be setting the standards, however. Consider: parents who are children, themselves; those who would profit from exploiting their children; Caylee what’s-her-name’s mother; that group in Texas; etc.etc.

    And, squarooticus et al., nobody is talking about encouraging alcohol education at home, or about giving your kids a glass of wine at dinner. The whole purpose of bringing this up at all is to address the dangerous extremes of underage drinking, like so-called “binge drinking”.

    You can still give your kid a beer, or help them learn what a hangover feels like without incurring the wrath of the law, unless they are not your kid or they like to spread it around school that they’re getting hammered at home.

    But if you are encouraging, allowing or ignoring underage “binge drinking” at your house, then my niece’s father will have something to say about that. And it won’t be nice.

  49. Well, for me, it comes down to this; people are always going to make stupid decisions. And while I, personally, have no desire to impose my will on those people, the line does become fuzzy when you get to the point of defining the rights of parents to raise their kids their own way vs. the rights of the children.

    Either way, the question is; is it just to punish everyone, under the assumption that someone will do something stupid?

    Or, to put it another way, is it just to take away the rights of an innocent person in order to also keep someone else from abusing those rights?

  50. According to Bill Clinton and to many threads in these esteemed comment sections, including this extra-fine thread, it depends on what “rights” means. Do you mean “right to possess a firearm” kind of rights or the “right to freedom” kind? Does a baby have the right to self-determination?

  51. Oh … I’m thinkin’ that drinkin’ is more of a “right to possess a firearm” kind of right. Not that the government can trivially take the right away, but more like they can set some kind of controls in place.

  52. A troll that knows how to SpaceAndPunctuateCorrectly? A troll that doesn’t CaPiTaLiZe InDiScRiMiNaTeLy? I’m…confused.

  53. Penance for the Chapman article? You are forgiven, I absolve you of your sins.

  54. You should send this article to Steve Chapman.

  55. I’m contiously puzzled this is even an argument. Our ever so wise government has declared that 18 is age in which one is seen as an adult, able to enter contracts and free from mandatory schooling. Why the fuck are there still limitations on what 18 year olds are allowed to do in comparison to 21 year olds? Ignoring Mr. Butler’s rediculous arguments, full of non sequitars, there is no reasonably sound arguement (even based on statistics) why 18 year olds are not allowed to drink. If you’re recognized as an adult in every other aspect, you should be recognized as an adult in this small, insignificant part. If you want graduated rights, start them earlier, not later (unless, as J sub D pointed out, you want to juvenilize 18-21 year olds). By 18, you should have full rights, not 95% rights except for some personal enjoyment. These laws just breed contempt for rule of law anyway and reduce the effectiveness of other laws. I wish our lawmakers were not so shortsighted as to fail to see this.

  56. OK, here is someone weighing in from Europe. I’m an American living in Germany. My 17 year old son has been able to legally drink beer and wine for over a year now. No problems so far. I have no reasons to belive that rates of alcoholism or of drunk driving are any higher over here. Drinking and driving are highly discouraged. A drunk person who accidently kills someone with his/her car is likely to be punished more severely than if that same person killed someone with a knife.

    My son just recently got his drivers license, which requires much more training (around 1000 euros worth) and a much more thorough test than is typical in the US. Plus, unitl he turns 18, he can only drive with a licensed (and sober) person next to him – someone over 21.

    What I can’t understand about the American attitude toward teens, is that on the one hand, they are too young to drink at 18, yet on the other hand, if at 15 or 16, they have sex with someone a day under the age of consent, they are branded as a sexual predator for life. If an 18 year old cannot be treated as an adult, then how can someone still younger?

  57. < sigh >

    Either you are able to support your arguments, or you are not.

    By branding the logical conclusions of your own propositions as ‘non-sequiturs’, you are avoiding the application of what little logic you use, even as its result is plain to see.

    You say “no minimum drinking age” then you say “except for those who are too young”. You say “if they can be an adult for military purposes then they can be an adult for drinking purposes” while saying “unless the community agrees otherwise” and follow that with “the community is the parental units” which is not the community by any definition of the word. You say “too young to make their own decisions” but “old enough to decide about drinking”.

    That’s not logic, that’s bullshit.

    And at no time do you let the facts and statistics get in the way of your opinions and anecdotal evidence.

    Show me one single bit of evidence to back up the most common, spurious claim here: That laws breed contempt for the rule of law. Or are you so disingenuous as to proclaim that it is only THIS law that does that … every other law is okay and does not have that effect?

    Must be nice to be in your elite little club … no brains required, just big mouths. Back where I come from, the appropriate response to people like many in this thread is, “Put up or shut up.” I’m not confident in your abilities to do either.

    And, Lost_In_Translation: It’s “ridiculous” and “non-sequitur”, should you care to educate yourself. Read the statistics you ignore. I posted a link to just a few of them in my first entry.

  58. James Butler,

    Honestly, I don’t understand why people are calling your argument a non-sequitor. It is a very important question to be asking when discussing the drinking age, or any age for that matter. Put plainly: What are the rights of children? Obviously they differ from adults in many ways, but those ways are not really defined.

    I agree that there is a distinction between your individual rights as a person, which are basically passive, defensive rights. Rights which may not be violated by others. On the other hand, as you mentioned, there is the active right to do as you please if you do not infringe upon the rights of others. This infringement includes any of the rights that individual possesses. I think we generally consider children to be in possession of the passive rights, but not the active rights.

    This then begs 2 questions:
    1. Why do children not have active rights?
    2. At what age are you no longer a child and why?

    To answer the first question, I think it is easily acknowledged that children have passive rights. You can’t imprison them, hurt them, etc. Yes, a parent may ground his child, but that is not imprisonment. If you locked your child in a room for a long period of time, I think the courts would have something to say about it if they found out. Children do not have active rights because of the fact that children do not have the decision making capacity of an adult until a certain age. Some decisions require the ability to use reason that only comes with a certain level of maturity. Until that time, children may not make important decisions that could negatively affect them. The reason this is necessary to legislate, rather than leave to the parents, is that we view it as a violation of the child’s passive rights to let their poor decision making violate their own rights. Parent’s are charged with making the decisions for them, and if they do not make decisions in the best interest of the children, and the children are hurt because of it, the parents (or guardians) are liable.

    The second question is a tough one. I’m not sure there is any objectively justifiable answer as to what age you are considered an adult. I think in cases where arbitrary lines cannot be avoided, that is the point of having a democracy. We, as a country, originally set the age of majority at 21. Then it was later agreed that it should be lowered to 18. This is the age agreed upon by the community where a human is considered adult enough to now be responsible for protecting his/her own rights, and is no longer the responsibility of the parent/guardian. After this age, any decision the adult makes is their responsibility, and should therefore be their decision to make. Once you are an adult, you enter the libertarian world of “Do whatever you want, just don’t infringe upon the rights of others doing it”.

    The final question that could be asked is: Are there some activities which could be allowed to children earlier, or shouldn’t be allowed until later? The way this needs to be approached, to avoid a slippery slope, is to set a level of adulthood for decisions that will clearly impact the decision maker’s life, such as contracts, joining the military, etc. Then, you may go backwards and grant additional rights to anyone under that age. The age at which you can vote is the age where you are recognized as being a reasonable adult capable of making decisions, implicit in allowing you to make decisions on the country’s behalf. If you are a reasonable adult, no activity should be denied to you unless it infringes upon others. For this reason, setting any privileges above the age of majority implies that the age of majority is set too low. Like it was earlier said, if we make drinking 21, voting, the army, etc must be as well. We have deemed this not to be necessary. Anyone denied privileges over the age of majority, once the age of majority is agreed upon, is being discriminated against based on age, no matter what age group is being singled out.

    For these reasons, the drinking age should be 18.

  59. Thank you for your eloquence, Robbie. It is good to read an argument with solid thought behind it. Here is how I have always understood graduated rights endowment, in this context:

    16: Basic “Adult” Rights
    – No longer a “child”
    – Able to be prosecuted as an “adult”
    – Able to get behind the wheel
    – Able to go to work

    18: Secondary “Adult” Rights
    – More exposure to the world than a child
    – Has a couple of years of quasi-independence
    – Fully past puberty and its chemical imbalances
    – Still lives at home with parents
    – Responsible enough to volunteer for the military, which is not independence,
    but rather more like the oversight provided by an extended parental unit
    – Responsible and potentially informed enough to vote

    21: Full “Adult” Rights
    – Well-distanced from childhood
    – Fully engaged in the world as an individual
    – Has been living on their own for a while
    – Responsible enough to add alcohol to the mix

    My bullet points may be fudgy, but I hope my point is clear (even if obfuscated by my hair.) Personally, I was out of the house by 15, so they don’t quite work for my life, however it is easy to see how similar reasoning, in line with near-universal, practical American experience, could have produced the current graduated investment.

    Now, I rely on the national experience as illustrated by hard data to inform my position that rolling back the Federal minimum drinking age to 18 would be foolhardy. Particularly when the means to accomplish the goals of the Amethyst Project are within the University Presidents’ grasp, even if they are reluctant to or incapable of using them.

  60. Once you argue that there are rights above the age of majority, which represents your ability to make responsible decisions for not only yourself, but for others, you enter a slippery slope. This also must be the age where you can be charged as an adult. Otherwise we would be charging children for crimes while saying they are incapable of making responsible decisions.

    The slippery slope here is that once you say a person is capable of reason enough to make decisions about his/her own life, and the lives of others, represented by the right to vote, they becomes responsible for themselves in every respect. This means they can do to their body anything they please, including drink, since it now lies on their shoulders.

    To agree with you about the 21 drinking age, I would say you must also raise the age of majority, and all the other rights granted at 18, up to 21 as well, because either you can be responsible for your decisions or you can’t. Some rights, such as possibly sex and driving, could be said not to require as much world experience, and therefore have lower requirements in age, such as 16. Driving, for instance, does not require much deep reasoning about your future, and is more of a reflex-based activity. Sure, a level of responsibility is necessary, but not the reasoning capabilities of an adult to make decisions about their life. Anything that could impact your life greatly, such as the army, or intoxicants, should be reserved for adults, whatever that age is. But after that age, you can’t deny adults their full rights as citizens, regardless of the statistical consequences. Otherwise all age discrimination is justified.

  61. Nice. Something to chew on …

  62. wait, 5 drinks in one night is considered binge drinking?

    this must be a cultural definition.

    in czech republic, 5 drinks is ‘taking a night off’

  63. Why do people on here seem to think that binge drinking is somehow unique to American culture?

    It’s not.

    The English are notorious for binge drinking.

    Some people like to get really drunk, but whether or not they drive is usually dependent on available public transportation, or whether or not they came in their own car.

    It’s not about wanting to drive drunk, it’s about finding a way to get back to your Goddamn car.

    To me, the issue of binge drinking is moot. Either an 18 year old person is an adult, or not. What they choose to do after they binge drink is between them, and the law.

    Once again, MADD proves themselves to be nothing more than a scapegoating horde of meddlesome twits.

    1. You would think that at a COST of 175 Billion a year because of the USE of this POISON that is CONDONED,Advertised,SOld where children are Present,WOuld be Banned,,,But America is loaded with ALCOHOLICS,Drug addicts,Pot Heads and SO what do they Do…..TAX the Living hell out of SMOKERS who MAY ONLY HARM THEMSELVES…MAAD is right they have a good case,Just the BOOZE COmpanies are too big because most of the POLITICANS ARE DRUNKS TOO……..

  64. You gotta be kidding me right ? With alcohol costing this NATION 175 Billion a year just because of its use and gets tax 300% less than smokers and they want to LOWER THE AGE ??? Thats Putting a NUKE IN A FIRE,Booze Kills,Maimes,Murders ,Rapes,causes many many DISEASES and KILLS OTHERS unlike SMOKING,And keeps all the HOSPITALS and JAILS busy 24/7

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  67. But people have examined the issue. This isn’t news. The information that Red States have been hypocritically taking tax dollars from the google Blue States while complaining about taxes (that they lead the country in NOT PAYING) has been around for years.

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