Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why 18?

We at Twenty-One Debunked realize that, over the past several years, we have spent so much time and energy trying to convince people why the drinking age should NOT be 21, that we left ourselves wide open for criticism from the other end of the spectrum.  To wit, some have asked, either honestly or disingenuously, why 18?  Why not 16, or 13, or abolish it altogether?  Until recently, we have been ignoring such questions, but we now feel that such questions must be fielded properly after having debated exactly those questions in youth-rights forums and elsewhere.  If we keep ignoring such questions, we could perhaps alienate many in the youth-rights movement, while also ironically and inadvertently giving ammunition to the pro-21 side.

For a good set of arguments as to why the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18, and not be any higher than 18, please take a look at our intro page, as this post will only deal with the other side of the question (i.e. why not less than 18?) for the most part.  We have already established that the drinking age should never be any higher than the age of majority in a free society.  So what are our arguments for not pushing for lowering it any further than 18, exactly?

First and foremost, there is the issue of pragmatism, as there is truly a snowball's chance in hell of getting the drinking age lowered any further than 18 (which is hard enough as it is).  America is truly not ready for such a massive change, as one poll found that no more than 5% of American adults support lowering it to 16 (the same poll found 30% favored 18), and the last time any state had a drinking age below 18 was in the 1930s (Ohio was briefly 16 and Colorado had no age limit for a few years).  So aiming for a drinking age of less than 18 is basically a political non-starter, and will remain so until many, many years after lowering it to 18 (which itself is no small feat).  And pursuing such a goal, at least doing so openly, would alienate a huge chunk of potential supporters.

Secondly, even if it was politically feasible to lower the drinking age to 16 or abolish it altogether, such a move could foreseeably have unintended consequences if done too quickly and too soon.  The best studies such as Miron and Tetelbaum (2009) find that the "parade of horrors" that would supposedly occur if 18-20 year olds were allowed to drink legally would most likely not occur--but unfortunately the same can't be said about abolishing the drinking age or lowering it further.  There is simply not enough evidence to reassure anyone that such problems won't happen--and if they did, even if only in the short-term, that would backfire and set our movement way, way back to where it was in the late 1980s.

Third, as the pro-21 crowd is so fond of pointing out ad nauseam, "America is not Europe".  Culturally and otherwise, that is certainly true.  America is indeed a largely Anglo-style drinking culture in many ways, as well as a car culture.  The closest comparison country would be Canada, with a drinking age of 18 or 19 depending on the province.  So that should be our model for the time being, not Europe.  And the next closest ones would be Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, all 18.  In fact, nowadays most of the world sets the drinking age, or at least the purchase age, at 18, not 16.   Note as well that several European countries are also 18, and even Spain and France have recently raised their drinking ages from 16 to 18 (despite the fact that such laws are largely unenforced).

Fourth, recent advances in neuroscience have uncovered some rather unpleasant-to-acknowledge truths about the effects of alcohol on teenage brains, as the pro-21 crowd just luuuurrrrves to point out.  Granted, such findings would apply primarily to truly heavy drinkers under 18 (and especially under 15) rather than 18-20 year olds, and not all of the evidence is 100% conclusive either, but to blithely ignore such findings regarding early to middle adolescents only gives ammunition to the pro-21 crowd.  And even if you believe that banning people under 18 from drinking for that reason is patronizing and paternalistic, you still need to see the pragmatism in acknowledging that it is not solely a civil rights issue but also a public health issue as well.

Finally, we at Twenty-One Debunked already support decriminalizing drinking for people under 18, with the penalty for the young drinkers (if any) being no more than a civil fine with no criminal record.  And we also support allowing parents to legally give alcohol to their own children (within reason) at home or other private property as well, which is already legal in many states now.  Those things, along with lowering the legal drinking age to 18, should take away most of the objections to not lowering the age further or abolishing it.  Purists in the youth-rights movement may very well disagree with us, of course, but please remember that compromise is, as the saying goes, "the art of the possible".

Keep in mind, Twenty-One Debunked is not categorically opposed to a drinking age lower than 18 at some point in the (albeit most likely very distant) future.  But we no longer consider such a goal to be worthwhile for the foreseeable future, and are thus sticking with 18 as our goal.

Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18.  If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar.  'Nuff said.

1 comment:

  1. The United States is certainly not Europe but the culture of the U.S. might become more European in the future. Neuroscience should never be used in the debate about lowering the drinking age. Anytime that neuroscience is used to justify the oppressive drinking age of 21, our movement should call it out as junk science. The movement to lower the drinking age to 18 is an equality movement and not a scientific endeavor into brain research. I also support parents being allowed to give their daughters and sons alcoholic beverages when drinking together. This is very much a European concept. Supporters of the oppressive drinking age support the drinking age because of their contempt of young people, nothing more.