Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Binge Drinking

MPs want local councils to be given the power to set minimum bar prices to prevent binge drinking. Beyond my initial thoughts that local councils should not get involved in the actual pricing decisions of private companies, I can't help but think that the so called "experts" are moving in totally the wrong direction. As my friends will confirm, I have been known to enjoy my beer and so would like to think I'm a bit of an *expert* on the subject!! Economists will tell you the solution to a problem such as binge drinking is to raise the price through taxation and the problem is solved and that is clearly what the councils are doing. However, I believe that by increasing the price, the problem will only get worse.

Drinks in the UK are traditionally bought in rounds. This works fine when there are two or three people in a round, but it can potentially be unfair if five or six people are in a round. The first two or three drinkers reaching the bar could easily pay £15 for a round of drinks. If the drinkers finish the night having had "just" three rounds, there is a potential free-rider problem as some of the group will not have bought a round that evening. To stop such "freeriding", the other drinkers will normally be obliged to buy a round too, even though three to four drinks could be their respective limits. As a result, it's not difficult to see that everyone in the round can easilty end up drinking five or six drinks, even if they only wanted three or four to get their money's worth. If drinks were cheaper, "free-riding" would not be such an issue. For example, a friend's girlfriend recently bought two glasses of wine for the price of one at a bar. As we were about to leave the premises, my friend asked if she was going to drink the second glass of wine, as she declined, he drank it, not because he wanted the wine (he wqas drinking beer) but because the wine was "worth" £3 and so he couldn't possibly leave it behind!! Had the wine been worth 50p, it would not have been an issue.


Binge drinking friend said...

Actually I would have drunk the wine had it been only 50p. It was after all a free promotional glass of wine. I just don't like seeing things go to waste.

I think binge drinking is more of a cultural problem in the U.K. which taxation alone will not solve.

Albion Blogger said...

I have to agree. The demand for alcohol is not greatly affected by price and those who want to get loaded but can't afford it will simply start at home with Sainsbury-bought beer and 'progress' from there.

Tryng to control criminality via price mechanisms is ridiculous anyway. Criminality is affected by (a)people's innate sense of right and wrong, (b) people's fear of the punishment if caught and (c) their estimates of the liklihood that they actually will be caught.

Part (a) goes out of the window after a certain level of drunkeness if reached.

But if being drunk and disorderly got you 10 years, no questions asked, and you were certain that, if being in that state you would be caught then there would simply be none. I'm not advocating such a severe punishment at all but am making the point that people will modify their behaviour when perceived cons exceeds perceived pros.