Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Ratchet Turns

The prohibitionists have won a significant victory recently. Not only that but it's a textbook example of how these people argue. What's happened is best summed up in the quote below:

Local councils take responsibility for licensing from February and are keen to introduce "saturation zones" in areas that are already packed with bars and blighted by trouble...

Within a saturation zone, no licence will be granted unless the applicant can prove that they will not contribute to the violence blighting many city centres.

One objection, from the public or the police, would be enough for a refusal.
Yes, indeed. One objection. It's a fanatics charter. But even if it were not so ludicrously unbalanced, it would still be objectionable, both practically and morally. If we believe in the free market, then we believe people have the right to trade. To announce that this right exists at the whim of politicians is to announce that it's no kind of right at all.

As for the practical objections, this kind of system exists in Sydney and it has produced all the effects basic theory would lead you to expect. Artificially restricting the supply of something far below demand simply means two things: the price will shoot up and consequently, once obtained, the resource must be ruthlessly exploited. So expect to see the landlord of the Red Lion sell out to the big pub chains. Or to put it another way, this legislation will see the market tilt even further towards exactly those 'drinking factory' establishments where trouble is most likely.

But that's not what really annoys me. Look at the headline and text of the story that quote came from. The word 'implied' is not strong enough to describe the suggestion here that drinking and violence are inevitably linked, as though it's an outrageous demand for people to be expected to have more than two drinks in the same week without glassing someone.

No wonder the prohibs are in the ascendancy right now. Their rantings mesh perfectly with modern Liberalism: the demon drink climbs out of the bottle, hurls itself down someone's throat and forces - forces! - them to give someone a good kicking. The L3 were never big ones for personal responsibility anyway, even without considering the embarrassing fact that many more plausible causes for the current wave of urban chaos trace back to policies vigorously advocated by the L3.

Not only does the demon drink make a good scapegoat for personal failings, it also takes the rap for corporate ones. As if to prove the hypothesis of a direct correlation between how awful a public service is at its real job, and the readiness of its top brass to pontificate on side-issues, here's Steve 'Gunsmoke' Green, the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire and the chief member on licensing for the Association of Chief Police Officers:

We are in favour of saturation zones as I am not satisfied that the industry will restrain itself, because its intention is to make a profit.
Is there no end to this evil ? The brewers are giving the public what they want and getting paid for it. How do they sleep at night ? Ol' Gunsmoke may not be able to do anything about Nottingham's high-velocity lead pollution, but he's sure got whining about the demon drink off to a fine art.

But this is the genius of the prohibs position. On the one hand, just as the anti-smoking fanatics - many of them the same people, of course - had to pull a passively-smoking rabbit out of the hat, so the prohibs have realised that they can't lead the public on a witch hunt against boozers without convincing the sane majority that some blokes down the White Lion constitute a grave threat to all right-thinking people. It works - consider that the article above is from the Telegraph, supposedly a Conservative paper, yet the terminology used seems to border on the hysterical. Too many G & Ts down the nineteenth hole and your family GP will be roaming the streets torching cars.

Yet, amongst the hysteria, there's something fundamentally reassuring about the prohib's position. Let's not worry that our society really is becoming more violent, let's not worry that increasingly large parts of the public think it's OK to behave like animals. Nope - it's all the fault of Scottish & Newcastle and the rest of their fellow low-lifes. They make people put shop windows through. Let's not blame the criminals. They're victims too. They need lurrrrve, and a big hug, and a ….

No, enough already. Let's hear no more about the epidemic of 'binge drinking'. Contrary to enemy propaganda, there was never a time when working men went out for a night and returned home after two lager shandys. The story of Britain is a story of collective drunkenness. We could have stayed sober, we could have built the kind of exemplary society now to be found in Iran, but we didn't. We got hammered, but never in their most drunken moments did our ancestors think that downing a few pints was a reasonable excuse for getting together with six mates and kicking some guy to death. Now, it appears, we increasingly do. Yet, staggeringly, violence has gone through the roof. Who'd have thunk it ?

No comments: