A 19-Year-Old Rightly Complains That 'Prohibition Still Applies to Us'

What does a working man have to do to get a drink in this place?



I currently live in Israel, where the minimum alcohol purchase age is 18. To Americans that seems lenient, even though it is consistent with the minimum age for almost everything else adults are allowed to do, including voting, enlisting in the military, getting married, signing contracts, and buying firearms (from federally licensed dealers). From a global perspective, it's the U.S. that is weird in this area: Only a dozen countries have a drinking age as high as 21; the other 11 are Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kiribati, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Samoa, and Sri Lanka. More countries (19) have no drinking age at all, while the most common choice (the law in 115 countries) is 18 or 19. In a Vox essay posted today, Nick Tucker highlights the arbitrariness of America's strange drinking rule:

I'm a 19-year-old loose in Pittsburgh, living on my own, working in an industrial apprenticeship with a great company. Instead of college—too expensive, too much time, too little payoff—I'm attending a liberal arts academy online. I drive, pay bills, make meals, and have a social life. Yes, I'm trying out adulthood, and mostly succeeding.

But there is one huge hangup. The law doesn't allow me to buy anything alcoholic: not in stores, not at bars, not anywhere. No beer, no wine, and certainly not my favorite drink, which is bourbon. In almost every area of life, I'm expected to be an adult. In this one area, I'm not allowed to behave like an adult.

After recounting his adventures with fake IDs, Tucker notes some of this policy's perverse consequences. "People in my age group behave like children when it comes to drinking because the law treats us this way," he writes. Because access to alcohol is iffy and hard to arrange, he says, 18-to-20-year-olds have an incentive to get as drunk as possible when the opportunity arises. Hence the popularity of "pregaming," which involves drinking a lot of alcohol quickly before the evening's main activity, because you can never be sure it will be available later. The excess-encouraging properties of alcohol bans were familiar during Prohibition, Tucker notes, and "Prohibition still applies to us."

Most Americans are drinking by the time they turn 18, but the law pretends they are not. This is not the sort of environment that encourages moderation and responsibility. "I was raised in a household where civilized drinking was introduced at a young age," Tucker writes. "It's because of this that I am a responsible drinker. By comparison, my peers from families that considered the legal age of 21 to be gospel had no idea what they were getting into."

At bottom, Tucker's plea is about fairness and consistency. "I only want what anyone else wants, which is to hang out with friends at bars and be a normal person," he says. "Maybe pour up a cocktail when I get home from work. Why can't I do this? I don't abuse the stuff. I just want to be a human being who can sidle up to a bar and order a drink without the fear of being ridiculed or considered a criminal."

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  1. You’re old enough to vote for who gets to oppress whom but not to sip a beer at home with family.

    Yeah, that’s the government we have.

    1. Old enough to get your ass drafted to be shipped off halfway across the world to fight in a war, too.

  2. Learn to brew

    1. And grow.

    2. I did before I was 21, but it was still illegal to consume the product of my labor.

      1. Yes. But at least you don’t have to go out in public to buy booze.

      2. Are you sure? Check your state’s law, which likely had no provision against your possessing or consuming it, but only against others’ giving it to you outside the household.

        1. Texas has both Minor in Possession and Minor in Consumption misdemeanors. Purchase by minors and sale to minors are separate laws. From quick research I can’t find any states that don’t have some kind of law covering possession or consumption. Can you point to one? I see some states simply revoke your driver’s licenses and others where it is decriminalized but it is always illegal.

  3. Well, when you use phrases like “I’m trying out adulthood”, then I doubt your ability to handle alcohol.

    What the fuck is “trying” out adulthood anyway? You’re 19, you’re a grown ass man, stop being a bitch.

    I agree though, the law is fucking retarded, like most laws in this country. Bet you’ll still vote D or R though when it comes election time.

    1. “Well, when you use phrases like “I’m trying out adulthood”, then I doubt your ability to handle alcohol.”

      Good thing you were here to nitpick the shit out of this guy’s phraseology

      1. That’s what I’m here for.

        Mission Accomplished!

  4. Nine years old or ninety, PCP just a phone call away.

  5. I’m trying to think if there is any monetary incentive for keeping the legal drinking age high and I can’t think of one. Which means this is probably driven by pure puritanism and envy of the youth.

    1. Ronnie Raygun — it’s his fault.

      1. Reagan may have pushed the policy, but absolutely no one is interested in repealing it.

        I guess there is one monetary incentive that I didn’t think about: running kids who break the law through the system where they get bled money all the usual ways: forced attendance to “rehabilitation” classes that they have to pay for, fines, etc. Taking away kids’ licenses even though when they were caught drinking they had nothing to do with a car, and then forcing them to pay to get it back, and so on.

        As usual, the state is one massive parasite.

        1. And Reagan pushed for that law at a time when congress was broadly in favor of it, so it’s really the entire government’s fault. Reagan shares the blame though.

          1. Like I’ve said before – Reagan said the Government only causes problems, and he did his damnedest to prove it.

            1. In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.

              Everybody forgets this part…

        2. Not to mention the “lush-shaming” that MADD unleashes on any politician that even hints at lowering the drinking age.

          1. Like most bad laws, there’s usually a joyless harpy, or group of them, behind all of them.

            Whether it’s the drinking age, “stranger danger” hysteria, sex offender registries, or any other “for the children” bullshit, you usually don’t have to look far to find a bunch of soccer moms with permanent scowls who pushed for the law and will scream bloody murder if anyone tries to change it.

        3. When has government been known to move in the direction of more liberty?
          Very rarely.

    2. Just like DUI, people busted for underage drinking have to do mandatory substance abuse counseling. Not to mention the fines and court costs. And, just like DUI, if you give a few grand to a lawyer who is friends with the DA, it all goes away. Either way, someone is going to get paid.

    3. Drug companies tend to disagree. Here, have another Xanax.

    4. It isn’t like the puritanism has stopped. MADD and the NTSB want to drop the BAC limit to .05 because drinking is so evul.

    5. I’m trying to think if there is any monetary incentive for keeping the legal drinking age high and I can’t think of one.

      Then you must be drunk.

      Every law is a monetary incentive for government and officers of the court.

      1. Not just a monetary incentive. The high that comes from the naked exercise of raw power over others is a damn strong incentive by itself.

  6. I think the primary reason that the United States is different in this regard is that in other countries–including those in Europe–people aren’t wealthy enough that teens can drive.

    In other words, consciously or otherwise, the government and the voters are trying to stop kids between the ages of 18 and 21 from being able to drink–because they can afford to drive.

    In most countries, they can’t afford to have two cars in a home–one for mom and one for dad–much less have a car available for a kid to drive. 16 year olds being wealthy enough to buy a car, put gas in it, and keep it running is extremely unusual in other countries–including the UK. We wouldn’t care anywhere near as much if 18-21 year-olds were walking home from the Pub. But most 18-21 year-old kids are driving in the U.S., and that makes all the difference.

    1. Here’s nominal GDP per capita.

      U.S. $55,904 annually

      U.K. $44,118 annually

      If your family had to live on $11,118 less annually (and nominal GDP excludes cost of living differences), then the first thing they might cut would helping Junior with his car and insurance.

      My understanding is that youth unemployment is a bigger problem in more heavily regulated European economies, too.

      1. I would say the youth unemployment is the big reason.

        Going to HS back in the 90s, plenty of students at my school had their own cars. There were a handful of rich kids driving BMWs at my High School, but the vast majority were 10+ year old beaters that the kids paid for by flipping burgers, changing oil, mowing lawns, etc.

        1. The cost of fuel is much higher in the UK, as well.

          According to this link (see pulldown menu):

          We’re paying $2.18 a gallon while the UK is paying $5.53 a gallon.

          Prices are low, right now, obviously. In the past it’s been much higher. Over the summer, in the UK, they were paying close to (the equivalent) of $10 a gallon.

          1. $1.63 here in Denver. SUCK IT BIOTCHES!

            1. Where? Bradley’s? I’m paying 1.75

              1. I just paid $1.49 at Tom Thumb in Rowlett, Texas. (It would have been $1.59 without the Reward Card discount.)

    2. This time with the link: List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita

      1. The gap between the U.S. and UK is actually larger than that because that’s nominal GDP instead of adjusted to purchasing power.

        1. ^THIS. I travel to the UK for my company and even in the smaller towns, prices are outrageous on gas, groceries, etc.

    3. The chief effect of the 21 drinking age has been to delay death by a few years – fewer 16-20 year olds dying in alcohol related crashes and mishaps, more 21-24 year olds.

      Groups like MADD claim the drinking age saves 600-1200 lives a year, which doesn’t show up in any vital statistics report anywhere. Take any of them and look at just deaths for all age groups, and only looking at the numbers or chart, find the year where the 21 drinking age actually started saving lives – it should be a distinct drop that basically resets the norm and/or a few year progressive decline to this new normal. That is nowhere to be found.

      The only analyses that can show lives saved do so by inappropriately using the 21-24 age group as the control.
      Studies that use a proper control, namely one that isn’t affected by the factor being studied, show a transfer of deaths from one age group to another.

      The 21 drinking age has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, ground up countless hundreds of thousands in the justice system, and, if the study in the 1986 JAPAM by Asch and Levy is correct, actually caused an INCREASE in overall death.

      1. The 21 drinking age has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, ground up countless hundreds of thousands in the justice system, and, if the study in the 1986 JAPAM by Asch and Levy is correct, actually caused an INCREASE in overall death.


      2. I appreciate that the reasons people support the 21 year-old drinking age may not be rational.

        However, people often support things for irrational reasons, and I think the reason Americans support keeping the drinking age at 21 years-old is because they expect a large portion of 18-20 year-olds to be driving.

        Whether that’s rational, of course, is the heart of the question–but I think that’s the question people should target if they want to raise the drinking age.

        Incidentally, this is one of the first concerns people bring up in regards to legalizing recreational marijuana, as well. How will we stop people from driving stoned? That question is answered in a number of ways–some of them more rational than others. One of the ways it’s answered is by restricting the legal age. In both Colorado and Washington, you have to be 21 years-old.

        1. “I think that’s the question people should target if they want to raise [lower] the drinking age.”

          You knew what I meant, right?

          1. It would of course be expected that MADD would get on board with lowering the drinking age once self-driving cars became the norm. Somehow I doubt that though.

            1. That change will happen, though.

              We’ll see a number of big changes happen when self-driving cars become the norm.

              We’re going to need far fewer police than we did before, too. I’m sure the MADD constituency and the police will join forces and fight like hell to maintain their reason for existence and jobs, but when it’s all said and done–we just don’t need buggy whips anymore.

            2. No, they mission-creeped to opposing drinking by people under 21 due to alcoholism, binge drinking, etc.

              1. What the MADD themselves did and why and why policy makers and voters supported what the MADD wanted, that’s two different questions.

                I’m saying that policy makers and voters supported what MADD wanted, mostly, because they were concerned about drivers under the age of 21. When that is no longer a concern (because cars are driverless), policy makers and voters will no longer support MADD to the extent that they did.

                If MADD could have raised the drinking age to 24 or 35, they would have, right? So why didn’t they raise the drinking age even higher?

                The answer is that policy makers and voters wouldn’t support an age higher than that. MADD can only operate inside the Overton window, and MADD’s Overton window will close substantially when drunk driving is no longer an issue.


                1. I wish I was as optimistic as you Ken. I think that MADD will make sure that even if the cars are self-driving it will still be against the law to be in the driver’s seat of one drunk. That is because they will posit all sorts of strange edge cases where the car’s driving mechanism will fail and the driver will absolutely have to drive for some reason and they can’t have them drunk.

                  At a family holiday party this year every old coot in my clan made this claim. And they are all sympathetic to drinking. They just believe that you can’t trust these new cars and people must stay alert and sober. They are exactly who MADD will use to man the ramparts when some people try to change the laws.

                  1. It’s not going to happen all at once, but we live in a world of scarcity.

                    There are competing legitimate interests out there. Maybe it will take longer for policy to change because older people don’t understand the implications of new technology.

                    But when the cause of our current policy is no longer present, the policy will change.

                    When there are no more drunk driving accidents, someone will notice.

                2. But in this case the window was a narrow one. One of the reasons 21 was considered “the age” to put it at then was that it had been 21 in many states until about a decade earlier when it’d been lowered to 18. I think over the past century in most of the USA it’s been 21 far more time than it’s been lower. I think that acc’ts for much of the reluctance to make it even higher, & will produce more resistance than you think vs. lowering it.

        2. Huh. Because people stop driving when they hit 21 YO?

      3. The 21 drinking age has cost hundreds of millions of dollars,

        For regular people it’s a cost. For government and lawyers, it’s revenue.

      4. When I look at these statistics ? drunk driving laws, gun control laws, etc. ? the decrease in deaths usually starts before the laws went into effect.

      5. That’s OK, because the “traffic safety” people, consider any amount of alcohol in a dead driver’s system to count as alcohol related, regardless of if impairment had anything to do with the accident.

    4. not just about the can drive… often have need to. a lot of the US is more spread out, and we don’t have the most usable public transit service.

      there is something to be said for how dumb kids can be…. shining exceptions aside… most 19yr old kids are practically retarded. but overall, i think i have to say that the law is bad… because you could follow that logic to argue for 25 (ever tried to rent a car under 25?).. or further… the older i get, the stupider i realize i used to be.

      the bigger aspect of alcohol overuse is culture. and a lot of that culture is the same taboo we attach to it that leads to us having a drinking age of 21. the more we make drinking taboo, the more people go for broke when they do it. and we already proved that getting rid of it completely was not possible. (what the puritans would really love)

  7. 18-to-20-year-olds have an incentive to get as drunk as possible when the opportunity arises.

    That’s not how it’s supposed to be done?

  8. Rheclaw is retarded, but the argument against stupid drinking behavior only goes so far. I have seen plenty of european 18-20 year olds behaving the same as Americans. The big difference is they are drunken idiots in public.

  9. Rheclaw = the law

    1. That’s what you get for using alien phone technology.

      1. Oh. I thought I’d missed commentary by someone whose pseudonym was a variant on Jesse Reklaw, who does “Slow Wave” & insists he is not Jesse Walker & vice versa.

      2. I thought cell phone technology came from the mirror universe.

  10. “almost everything else adults are allowed to do, including…enlisting in the military…”

    Wait, Israeli adults are “allowed” to enlist in the military?

    I think it could be phrased a bit stronger than that.

    1. I thought the implication was clear that it is consistent with almost everything Americans are allowed to do.

  11. I’d say the possibility of the drinking age being lowered is near zero especially considering the fact there are places are raising the smoking age to 21

    1. I completely agree. The age of majority is going to be steadily ratcheted up as time goes on.

  12. Texas used to 19, but then they had a libertarian moment and cranked it up to 21.

    1. I thought they ratcheted up to 21 because if they didn’t they wouldn’t get any federal highway money, not just because they wanted to.

      1. At least Texas made its true principles known.

        1. And the SC upheld the bill that made it so because FYTW.

  13. Instead of college?too expensive, too much time, too little payoff?I’m attending a liberal arts academy online. I drive, pay bills, make meals, and have a social life. Yes, I’m trying out adulthood, and mostly succeeding.

    Good on ya, it’s how most young people should start adulthood.

  14. My two boys are 8 and 10. There is an ongoing negotiation between them and us (me and wife) regarding how much time they are allowed using electronic devices and behavioral norms that when not met would restrict their use of electronics. The youngest says there should be no rules because ‘it’s a free country.’ I explain that even in our free country that there are rules that are to be followed. The older one mentions that there are a lot of laws in this country and I agree. He then says, unrelated to the household rules we are trying to impose, that ‘the country has too many laws. Many of them are unnecessary. Don’t you agree?’ I smile and agree while resisting going on a rant on the topic.

    For a young person, it’s hard to explain my near absolute rule over him while still maintaining that I have a right to willfully ignore many of the laws imposed upon me. He’s going to be trouble as he gets older and starts to make these logical connections.

    1. ‘ I explain that even in our free country that there are rules that are to be followed.

      I use the Tony Soprano line on my daughter:

      “Outside, it’s 2015. Inside my house, it’s 1954!”

      Speaking to your particular issue, my niece and nephew have their faces buried in their phones every waking moment of the day. It’s annoying. I specifically got my daughter a tracphone for making calls and sending texts to us for update status. We’re now considering getting her a regular smart phone now that she’s older. I’m worried that she’ll have her face buried in the phone as well, so I’m figuring out how to set some limits.

      1. My wife and I are aghast at some of the things we see regarding this. Most appalling are the kids simultaneously eating and using their phone while dining with their parents in restaurants.

        My kids will watch Youtube videos of someone else playing a video game. Being that I never wanted to get them a gaming console in the first place, I can’t believe that things have gotten so ridiculous that I am now encouraging them to use it rather than do what they have chosen to do.

        1. Handing my 2 year old a phone at the local mexican restaurant (the only place we go, pretty much) allows my wife and I to get in that 2nd margarita. We will revisit this decision as our expectations of his attention span are revised.

        2. Honestly, I’d rather them play video games on a console. I’m somewhat of a gamer so it actually makes for fun family interaction with so-called couch-multiplayer. And believe it or not, it gets their faces out of their phones and we interact with each other.

          I get the modern phenom of people watching other people video games… to a limited point.

          There are a few (very, very few) youtubers that provide genuinely funny commentary while playing. So far, of the ones my kids watch, I’m saying that amounts to about two (2).

          However, the idea of watching someone play when the commentary is neither interesting or funny (or instructive– I’ve watched people give tutorials), I don’t get it.

    2. “Unfortunately, I am held responsible for your behavior until you reach an arbitrary age. While that is the case, I will be externally imposing on you what I believe will give you the best chance at being happy when that is not the case. And also some bullshit rules because I am not made of money and lawyers are expensive. I’m sorry about these other rules, but I’d rather spend it on vacations for all of us. You may prefer otherwise when I am not financially and legally responsible for your actions.”

      1. That’s basically what I tell them. And I make it a point to laugh manically whey they trot out the ‘That’s not fair!’ defense.

      2. I just repeat the same thing my father said to me and my sister: “You and the way you behave are a reflection on me, and I will not look bad.”

  15. Being given the vote before being allowed personal responsibility – it’s almost as if the governing classes want sheeplike, dependent voters.

  16. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Im using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I do,


  17. Americans are smart enough to vote at 18, too dumb to drink until they’re 21, and so dependent on others that they can stay on their parents’ medical insurance until they’re 26.

  18. Only a dozen countries have a drinking age as high as 21; the other 11 are C?te d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kiribati, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Samoa, and Sri Lanka.

    ..and half of those aren’t real countries anyway, just names he made up for this article.

    1. Remember that list when modern prohibitionists tell us that drinking under 21 causes irreversible brain damage.

  19. Congratulations on your new home, Jacob.

  20. Random somewhat related anecdote:
    Been to the US Northeast coast last year for a couple of weeks and the enforcement of drinking age in Massachusetts has pretty much been the most ridiculous I have encountered in the US of A so far. Went into a liquor store with my friend to pick up some beers. Showed my EU driver’s license: no dice. Friend shows German federal identity card: ain’t gonna fly. Grab my passport from my bag and show it to clerk: “Well that’s okay. But I still need to see the passport of your friend”. Sent friend outside and promised that next time two passports will be provided or my friend will just stay outside. Finally got the booze.

    Seriously? I can somehow see why they need to see a passport from foreigners (but only somehow… it’s not like those cards we showed are easily fakeable and the federal id also features English) but I really don’t get requiring each person of the party to show their id. Who the hell thinks that this will deter people from drinking? People can just wait outside. I was kinda surprised that NYC was much more lenient in this regard (didn’t get carded once and I look pretty young).

  21. When BarryCare says you’re still a child at age 25 (and on your parent’s policy), why should you be considered an adult for any purpose?
    Either 18 makes you an adult, and able to drink and purchase handguns, or it doesn’t.
    Call you Congressman/Senator and explain it to them.

  22. The 21-year-old rule for legal drinking was stuffed down the throats of the states by the Feds, who threatened to with hold highway monies if it wasn’t enacted. The Feds, themselves, were reacting to a panic about high-schoolers driving drunk.

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