Tuesday, July 29, 2014

21 Turns 30

Thirty years ago this month, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was enacted in July 1984, which coerced the states into raising their drinking ages to 21 by 1987 or lose 10% of their federal highway funding.  While Ronald Wilson Reagan (666) was originally against such a fascist power grab, he was nonetheless  persuaded by Candy Lightner and the rest of MADD to go along with it, and of course 1984 was an election year, after all.  While some states put up a fight and challenged it in the 1987 Supreme Court case South Dakota v. Dole, they lost, and all 50 states and DC eventually capitulated by 1988.  Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, however, decided to keep their drinking age at 18 despite the highway funding penalty, although Guam eventually raised it to 21 in 2010 as well.  And as they say, the rest is history.

So what has changed in the past three decades?  Public opinion sure has not, according to a recent study.  Americans appear to be just as prudish about the issue as they were 30 years ago, with 74% of adults being against lowering the drinking age to 18.  This is what we are up against, people.  However, other things have changed since 1984.  Alcohol-related traffic deaths are way down for a variety of reasons, such as safer cars and roads, tougher drunk driving laws, tougher enforcement, better education, and the fact that drunk driving is no longer anywhere near as socially acceptable as it once was.  Teen drinking is also at a record low as well.  While the pro-21 crowd likes to credit the 21 drinking age for these trends, that argument rings hollow considering that Canada saw similar or greater trends despite NOT raising the drinking age to 21.   Also, several studies cast doubt on the idea that raising the drinking age actually saved any lives, most notably Miron and Tetelbaum (2009), which found that any supposed lifesaving effect was essentially just a mirage all along.  But logic has never exactly been the pro-21 crowd's forte, to put it mildly.  And there is still that ever-popular moral panic about teen drinking these days, undoubtedly due in part to the idea that while young people are drinking less today than they did 30-40 years ago, apparently the more they do when they do.  Or something.  Thus, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So after three decades of the greatest alcohol policy failure since Prohibition, can young Americans FINALLY have their civil liberties back now?  Apparently not, according to the neo-prohibitionists.  FEH.