Over at one of my favorite legal blogs, the Volokh Conspiracy, Duke Professor Phillip J. Cook recently wrote an interesting guest-blogging series on alcohol control policy. This is very much a topic of public debate, with the recent Amethyst Initiative group of college and university presidents that have argued for a lowering of the drinking age. All of Professor Cook’s posts are recommended reading, particularly because he approaches the issue in several refreshing ways that get beyond the same old rhetoric. There’s no particularly direct tie-in to the LDS Church, but given the general admonitions of the Word of Wisdom, I think Professor Cook’s conclusions are interesting and relevant.
Does the Mormon Church have a stance on alcohol control policy? There is no item on the Public Issues page of the LDS Newsroom like there is for abortion, child abuse, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research. However, last September the Newsroom issued a press release entitled “Alcohol: A Focus on Health and Safety,” which stated; “The Church has always called for reasonable regulations to (1) limit overconsumption, (2) reduce impaired driving and (3) work to eliminate underage drinking.” The statement is heavily focused on the State of Utah, where the Mormon Church has large membership and community involvement.
The LDS Church’s stance on alcohol control is a relatively pragmatic one. The same statement notes, “While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches its members to avoid alcohol altogether, it acknowledges that alcoholic beverages are available to the public.” It seems to me, then, that the LDS Church would not advocate a Prohibition-style alcohol restrictions, but rather a system of regulations that would minimize the harmful effects ofoverconsumption, impaired driving, and underage drinking.
With those goals in mind, what sort of regulatory scheme is preferable? This is where Professor Cook’s comments are enlightening. He notes that regulations aimed at the negative behaviors associated with alcohol consumption are relatively costly and difficult to enforce. His solution is to aim for the pocketbook. Professor Cook argues that the current taxation levels of alcohol are at historic lows and are insufficient to take into account the cost to society of alcohol. He follows this assertion up with some data on alcohol consumption and an interesting hypothetical:
Taxation isn’t my area of expertise, but this proposal piqued my interest. I doubt it would be a politically viable proposal, but it sounds great on paper. Professor Cook then discusses the more important question of how much each drink should be taxed. If a decrease in alcohol consumption causes a decrease in drunk driving deaths, child abuse, and crime, a purely health and safety approach would advocate a rate of taxation so high as to virtually eliminate (legal) drinking. This is obviously infeasible. Professor Cook writes:
I agree with this approach, at it would seem to fit the Mormon Church’s recommendation for a reasonable regulation to limit overconsumption, impaired driving, and underage drinking.
Photo credit: Ben McLeod.