Here comes the bollocks again

Tough measures to tackle drink-related crime, antisocial behaviour and illness – including a politically controversial minimum price for alcohol – will be recommended by government advisers this week.

The message to ministers from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) will reopen the debate on alcohol policy.

Sigh.

Minimum pricing is illegal under EU rules. EU law trumps UK law.

This is thus illegal.

A group of experts convened by the organisation – its programme development group – has spent almost two years studying how best to reduce alcohol-related disorders, which between them cost an estimated £27bn a year.

That figure covers the cost of healthcare, crime, disorder and lack of productivity attributable to alcohol, including the £2.7n the NHS spends treating the chronic and acute effects of drinking.

The direct costs are more than offset by the £8.4 billion HMRC gets in booze duty.

The indirect costs have to be offset by the joy and glory that people get from consuming alcohol. Estimating this is not simple but we can indeed put a lower bound to it. As people voluntarily hand over their cash for the buzz from having drunk the alcohol, this joy and glory must be worth at least what is paid for the alcohol which produces the joy and glory. That\’s somewhere north of £50 billion a year.

The benefits are therefore larger than the costs: we do not have a problem here.

Action is needed because one in four people drink dangerously high levels of alcohol that can damage physical and mental health, Nice believes.

That level which does start do do damage….well, let\’s define damage actually. If you drink no alcohol then there is some level of nastiness that can happen to you. As you start to imbibe, those nastinesses decrease. We only get back up to teetotal levels of nastiness in the 50-60 units a week range.

No, NICE is not stating that 25% of the population drink at those levels. They are using some other numbers which were randomly pulled out of someone\’s arse a couple of decades back.

So, they\’re lying, we don\’t actually have a problem and their proposed solution is illegal.

Didn\’t we just change governments so that we didn\’t have to deal with this sort of thing any more?

12 comments on “Here comes the bollocks again

  1. The most reliable guide to booze-pricing is Henry George.He would lower prices drastically by pell-mell competition through getting rid of the licensing laws.Booze would be so unprofitable that the pushers would have to diversify into providing food and entertainment: the mythical (in GB) cafe society.
    One of the few instances where freeing the markets would obviously do some good.

  2. Tim has posted the most wonderful analysis, with good conclusions.

    Personally, on such things as alcoholic drink, tobacco, other ‘recreational’ drugs and sexual services, I am content that they should be taxed (especially as a Pigovian tax) and subject to age limits on purchase (for the protection of minors). I am also content that such products, being those with potential for personal physical and moral harm (if indulged to excess), should each be sold in special shops/establishments providing no other goods (or a very limited range of other goods). However, I can see no good reason to interfere with the pricing of such goods, beyond a Pigovian tax.

    As an aside, and especially on the issue of sale through licensed and otherwise restricted outlets, I think Mr Tesco should ‘put that in his pipe and drink it’.

    Best regards

  3. @JuliaM “We thought we did. But we forgot we were just changing the face, not the body…”

    Not even that. The body has no face, it just swapped mask.

    @DBC “The most reliable guide to booze-pricing is Henry George”

    You are beginning to sound like a fanboi. What HG says in that area is hardly new. You will be quoting Major Douglas next…

  4. It’s because Britain is, politically, a puritarchy and has been since the mid nineteenth century. As is the USA, which became one as a direct consequence of the Civil War, and indeed making it into one was the actual purpose of the Civil War. You think an institutionally racist (© The Progressive Movement) society would sacrifice hundreds of thousands of young men to free the despised niggers? (Or over a tarriff dispute, come to that?) Pull the other one.

    So anyway, this is puritarchy in operation. Everybody was kind of distracted by the dalliance with marxism for a few decades, but that’s gone now and it’s just puritan reformers vs. everybody else. That’s the narrative now. Facts and rational analysis don’t come into it. This is about saving souls, not money.

    1832. Great Reform Act. Its solitary purpose was to allow the “reformers” to mob Parliament. Great mistake that. Oh yes.

  5. This blog, too, is fatally flawed. The most important is on the “lower bound”. There’s the small matter of addiction. Purely for the point of illustration, let’s substitute the word “heroin” for the word “alcohol.”

    “As people voluntarily hand over their cash for the buzz from having injected the heroin, this joy and glory must be worth at least what is paid for the heroin which produces the joy and glory.”

    Doesn’t sound quite so convincing, now, does it? And this is no small matter. Alcohol addiction is probably the biggest addiction there is.

    Tim adds: For most users of heroin, yes, that is how it works. This mantra of one whiff and you’re hooked for life is nonsense. Most people who use it (and indeed any other drug) take it a bit, for a bit, and then stop as they find something more interesting to do in life.

    “The proportion of the UK population taking illicit heroin is small. In 2000, the British Crime Survey found that 2 per cent of men and 1 per cent of women reported trying heroin at some time (Drug misuse declared in 2000, Home Office Research Study 224, 2001). Most people who try heroin do not go on to become regular users. However, some become ‘problematic’ or ‘dependent’ heroin users. The total number of problematic heroin users in the UK is thought to be around 200,000, but such estimates are acknowledged to be imprecise. Various indicators suggest that the number of heroin users has increased. ”

    From here:
    http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/prescribing-heroin-what-evidence

    Please also note that heroin is not physically addictive, it is psychologically so: as with alcohol.

  6. Not sure about the relevence to the current government – a 2 year “study” would have been set up under the previous government.

    Now is the time to say thank you very much, and goodbye to them.

  7. Nick-

    1) Most alcohol consumers are not addicts.

    2) Addicts are unlikely to be dissuaded by price manipulation (see also, er, heroin).

    3) Light casual alcohol users are most likely to be dissuaded by price manipulation, but they are not the ones identified as a “problem group”. This illustrates the gross error of class-based thinking, that is, to define a particular class (e.g. alcohol consumers) and then fiddle with something that may change an aggregate statistic.

    4) Anyway, whether you consider some product users to be not in their right mind does not affect Tim’s analysis. An “addict” is still making the same judgment as any other consumer; that is, that the product is worth equal or more to him than the price he has paid. The statement that alcohol availability has a value to the people who comprise the economy of at least the amount of money they are prepared to spend on it is simply an economic truism. You can’t exclude people from that simply by saying that in your personal judgement they assign that value for some “wrong” reason or other.

  8. It makes me smile to see DBC having another dig at the idea of more freedom in the market. It is a further reminder that these Henry George fans are just socialists/statists in drag.

  9. @JP
    Actually I am speaking up for market freedoms in the booze industry. Grown-ups do that: see the merits on both sides.
    “in drag”?What are you implying? I am not even in disguise.Just and old-fashioned mixed-economy Socialist of the post-war type.Pity you can’t argue on the issues and resort to ad hominems.
    How’s things back at base? Some spectacularly ugly buildings and cars on display last I looked on Samizdata.
    Do you really believe Georgites are all statists?
    Try Mark Wadsworth .Or come to think of it Tim Worstall .

  10. It’s not entirely clear that minimum pricing is contrary to EU law – it might need careful structuring, that’s all. It would almost certainly be permissible to prohibit the sale of alcohol at below cost price, which would go some of the way the prohibitionists would like.

  11. It’s interesting that Nick brings up addicts as those are the people whose health will likely suffer the most if minimum pricing ever gets through.

    How many addicts does the new temperance league believe will shape up and get their lives back on track as a result of this legislation? And how many does it think will switch to alcohol products not dsigned for human consumption or make other sacrifices (i.e. food) in order to continue drinking? And ultimately how many lives will this cost.

    Laws based on puritanism rarely saves lives. How many heroin addicts have died as the drug is enirely unregulated? And how many of the poorest alcoholics will die when their cheap sherry is priced beyond their means and they start turning to turps or meths (it happens already, minimum pricing will onyl ensure it become MORE common).

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