Mothers Against Sensible Data


Elina Tetelbaum, a law student at Yale University and Jeff Miron, a senior lecturer in Harvard University's department of economics (and Reason contributor!) have a good piece in Forbes about the useless, backwards misplaced faith in having a minimum drinking age of 21. The commentary also includes a nice refresher on the history of juvenile prohibition. Choice bits below:

Recently, however, more than 100 college and university presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative, a public statement calling for "an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age."

The response to the Amethyst Initiative was predictable:..The president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving…accused the university heads of "not doing their homework" on the relationship between the drinking age and traffic fatalities….

Our research compares traffic fatality rates in states before and after they changed their MLDA from 18 to 21. In contrast to all earlier work, however, we examined separately the impact in states that adopted an MLDA21 on their own and those that were coerced by the FUDAA.

The results are striking. Virtually all the life-saving impact of the MLDA21 comes from the few early-adopting states, not from the larger number that resulted from federal pressure. Further, any life-saving effect in those states that first raised the drinking age was only temporary, occurring largely in the first year or two after switching to the MLDA21.

Our results thus challenge both the value of the MLDA21 and the value of coercive federalism. While we find limited evidence that the MLDA21 saves lives when states adopted it of their own volition, we find no evidence it saves lives when the federal government compels this policy.

This makes sense if a higher MLDA works only when state governments can set a drinking age that responds to local attitudes and concerns–and when states are energized to enforce such laws. A policy imposed from on high, especially one that is readily evaded and opposed by a large fraction of the citizenry, is virtually guaranteed to fail.

The major implication of these results is that the drinking age does not produce its main claimed benefit. Moreover, it plausibly generates side effects, like binge drinking and disrespect for the law–the very behavior that events planned for this month's alcohol awareness theme are designed to deter.

Whole thing here.

Senior Editor Radley Balko covered the initial Amethyst Initiative story. Contributor Ted Galen Carpenter praised the two poster children of ending the MLDA21. Last year, Steve Chapman wrote about the perils of a lower drinking age. Prohibition Propaganda here.

If you are going to drink, do it right by perfecting these awesome beer pong shots: