I'm delighted to report that Prof. Philip Cook, ITT/Sanford Professor of Public Policy, and Professor of Economics and Sociology, at Duke University, will be guest-blogging this week. I first got to know Prof. Cook through his scholarship on gun control, where he is one of the leading scholars on the pro-control side. As readers of this blog know, I am generally more skeptical of gun control, but I nonetheless much respect his work on the subject.
This week, Prof. Cook will be posting about his work on alcohol control policy, and in particular about his new book, Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control. I don't know much about the subject myself, but I do know that it eminently deserves serious attention.
Alcohol causes a tremendous amount of harm, including externalities imposed on nonparticipating third parties -- as well as a great deal of pleasure, and apparently a considerable amount of health benefit. The legal system extensively regulates alcohol, and it's certainly possible that it should regulate it more, or more effectively. My preconceptions are to be skeptical of such increased control (or increased tax) proposals; but it's far from clear that these preconceptions are right, given alcohol's harmful externalities. And even those who share those preconceptions should, I think, confront the arguments for greater control. Prof. Cook is one of the leading scholars in the field, and one of the most credible sources of such arguments.
Here is the quick summary, from the book's flyer; we will of course hear the arguments in much more detail in the coming week:
What drug provides Americans with the greatest pleasure and the greatest pain? The answer, hands down, is alcohol. The pain comes not only from drunk driving and lost lives but also addiction, family strife, crime, violence, poor health, and squandered human potential. Young and old, drinkers and abstainers alike, all are affected. Every American is paying for alcohol abuse. Paying the Tab, the first comprehensive analysis of this complex policy issue, calls for broadening our approach to curbing destructive drinking. Over the last few decades, efforts to reduce the societal costs -- curbing youth drinking and cracking down on drunk driving -- have been somewhat effective, but woefully incomplete. In fact, American policymakers have ignored the influence of the supply side of the equation. Beer and liquor are far cheaper and more readily available today than in the 1950s and 1960s. Philip Cook's well-researched and engaging account chronicles the history of our attempts to "legislate morality," the overlooked lessons from Prohibition, and the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous.
He provides a thorough account of the scientific evidence that has accumulated over the last twenty-five years of economic and public health research, which demonstrates that higher alcohol excise taxes and other supply restrictions are effective and underutilized policy tools that can cut abuse while preserving the pleasures of moderate consumption. Paying the Tab makes a powerful case for a policy course correction. Alcohol is too cheap, and it's costing all of us.