Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Satire: Government Product Restrictions

        Below is my attempt to turn a boring regurgitation of debate material from Economics class into something more interesting.

        It's Halloween. Little Johnny has just come back from trick-or-treating. He runs up to his room, measures his pumpkin basket filled to the top with goodies, and finds he has received over three pounds of candy! Immediately, his mouth begins to salivate. He rips open his first Hershey bar and swallows it down. Next, it's the Twizzlers, then Reese's, and before he knows it, the basket is almost empty. His stomach rumbles. “Uh oh,” Johnny tells himself. Without delay, he runs to the bathroom. As he regurgitates what he initially thought was sugary deliciousness, he thinks, “Well, that's the last time I do that!” His mother overhears the ruckus from the bathroom and runs inside. “Oh, poor baby! I hope you've learned your lesson!” she shouts with concern. He certainly has.
        The next day, the national news reports about the startling number of American children who overeat candy on Halloween. Politician, Guy Proviso, who is running for office that Tuesday, decides to address this concern by telling the American populace that, if elected, he will do everything in his power to make sure no more children will go through such painful and traumatic digestive issues from dangerous sugary substances. “It's the Devil's food,” he stated at the press conference.
        Now, this may not have been the deciding factor for him winning over his Republican opponent, who stated he was more concerned with the national debt, but regardless, Proviso entered office the next year. He wrote up a bill called the National Minimum Age Candy-Eating Act, which passed through Congress with help from lobbying groups such as MAHC (Mothers Against Halloween Candy) and the ADA (American Dietetic Association). This new act effectively created a minimum age of 21 to purchase and consume any substance with sugar content of over 15g per serving. All states had to either adopt this new law or lose 10% of federal funding for the highway system. Congressman Pon Raul was one of the few who spoke out against the act. “It's bogus, but I'm surrounded by constituents who are overly concerned parents, new-age health freaks, or easily paid off with free dried fruit baskets.”
        The next day, TootsieRoll, Mars, Wrigley, Nestle, and Cadbury-Adams' stocks all dropped by at least 50%. In the next few months, only Nestle and Mars were able to stay in business. CEO of Nestle reported that they were receiving mass bulk orders by random individuals throughout the US. It turns out that candy became a growing black market. More police had to be hired to monitor school districts. Mrs. Stimpleton, Johnny's 3rd grade teacher, became tired of sending students to the principal's office for sneaking Snickers to each other in exchange for cash during recess. “Now we just send them strait to Officer Thomas, who brings them down to the station,” said Principal Frankfer.
        One day, Johnny's mother got a knock on the door from Officer Thomas. “We found him at the playground eating Butterfingers again. We can let him off with a ticket, but we're going to have to search his room and confiscate any more candy products that he might be hiding.” “I don't see what the big deal is,” she retorts, “He isn't hurting anybody, not even himself. He definitely learned how to handle his sugar after last Halloween's extravaganza.” “I understand your concerns, ma'am, but the law's the law, and we make pretty good money off of all these fines.”

        Clearly, this is an exaggeration, but it is quite parallel to the laws regarding the purchase and consumption of alcohol, as well as other “hazardous” drugs. Just as Johnny learned his lesson from the over-consumption of candy, a teenager can easily learn his or her lesson from the over-consumption of alcohol, or learn the lessons of those who die from alcohol poisoning. What a paradox to find signs regarding Goodyear Hall as a dry residence hall, but also awareness posters showing dead teens who partied too hard. If the law really worked, then we wouldn't need to be warned about the implications of alcohol and drugs in health class. But it doesn't work. These restrictions are only still in place for the purposes of collecting money from fines, justifying the additional policing of the state, and, in some cases, creating more violence in poor neighborhoods.
        When the government defines what is dangerous, politicians and lobbying groups become the new parents of American citizens. However, our freedom does not belong in the hands of religious zealots, industries whose money comes with motives, or the respected upper-class who can easily keep their children's records clean with reputation. Our freedom belongs to ourselves. Only if one imposes on the rights of another should the government step in to enforce justice. It is evident that our tax dollars should not be going toward police forces that seek to break up parties or search high school lockers. It is also evident that the system we have now only perpetuates itself. Parents assume less responsibility when they are fooled into believing that the law will keep their children from even seeking illegal substances. Then, children are not properly educated and found dead at a party due to peer pressure or dead on the streets due to gang violence.
        The United States of America has the highest minimum drinking age in the world. Italy carries none. In Italy, wine is often consumed by minors at family dinners. Here, young people can learn and begin to understand the effects of alcohol first-hand without the offensive restrictions put through by over-protective governments. Germany's drinking age is 16, where, according to a foreign exchange student who attended my high school, “We are allowed to be young.” It's ironic that America preaches freedom, yet is one of the most socially-controlled countries around.
        The effects on our economy with the repeal of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act are clear. Those who are underage have easy access to alcohol as it is, but those few who are dissuaded by the law would then be able to support the alcohol industry. It is likely to see an increase in small business revenue because more people will have access to drinks at bars, restaurants, and clubs. It would then be up to the discretion of the owner of the business (who wouldn't want to let a drunk person leave his/her establishment), and of course the customer, as to the acceptable drinking age.
        The repeal of laws regarding other recreational drugs would create competition in the marketplace, impeding on the alcohol industry's profits, but, again, this is about the freedom of the consumer, not big business. For example, the legalization of cannabis, a safer alternative to alcohol, would give a new choice to teens looking for leisure. It would also open up a whole new industry filled with new ideas, production, technology, and economic prosperity, especially since the use of hemp isn't limited to just bodily effects from ingestion. It can also be used as an alternative for many products that use oil, and is one of the strongest materials known to man.
        Intelligbly, the laws we have now do not work, and, more importantly, are not respected. If our government continues to suffocate the American people with ridiculous restrictions, then the law will be obsolete. The government's involvement in our personal lives ought to be limited, so people can learn to be more responsible and productive denizens without being babied.


  1. You made good points with the parable, but I think another likely outcome would be if Proviso was bought out by the pharmaceutical and candy lobbies (or a former/potential drug company board member) and started pushing a new drug that supposedly cancels out the harmful effects of high fructose corn syrup. This drug would of course not be properly tested and would lead to a variety of harmful side effects.
    Anyway, also good points about prohibition laws. It's a shame that California's prop 19 was defeated.

  2. This is a difficult issue for a libertarian to rationalize in his/her mind. At what age can one truly consent and make rational choices? Surely we would agree that a 5 year old can't make these choices but can a 14 year old? A 16 year old? It's a difficult question to answer.

    That being said, the 21 year old drinking age is an utter joke. Our society allows us to consent to nearly all other behaviors at 18, why not alcohol?

    The flawed arguments against eliminating a drinking age altogether are that (a) children cannot consent to dangerous behavior (which is a ridiculous argument because we all know children don't buy anything on their own until they reach about 14 years old) and that (b) children wouldn't understand the implications of drunk driving and thus would endanger others by driving drunk. This is a better argument but it is still flawed. First off, nobody is driving until they are 16 so we don't have to worry about 13, 14 or 15 year old kids running off the road drunk. Second, perhaps if children experience intoxication when they are young they will realize what it does to reflexes, judgment, etc. (as you alluded to in your post).

    However, there is one good argument that I find hard to overcome and am curious to know your response. Being that alcohol is addictive, how do we protect against a young child becoming an alcoholic because they experimented with alcohol before they could truly understand the dangers?

    Perhaps this dilemma would dictate we have a drinking age of 18? Or is there another solution?

  3. Now plans are being made to have Four Loko and similar alcoholic energy drinks banned. Most kids were taught that prohibition ended in the 1930's but try to set up a still in your backyard. If you want to make jello shots with Everclear, well you won't be able to buy a bottle of that grain alcohol in a few states legally. Great post!

  4. Hey Phil,

    How do we protect against a young child from being an alcoholic? Parenting.

    Like you said most children don't buy anything themselves until about 14 (but I'll be even more generous and say they can at 12). Is this too young for them to understand the dangers of alcohol? I don't think so. I was taught in 3rd grade about the dangers of smoking, so I'm sure this can be done with drinking as well.

    Hope that answers your question,

  5. I don't mean to sound too critical, but its hardly a clear-cut or water-tight allegory, and I would go as far as to say that its even a bit of a petty argument.

    Firstly,I think that any decent school would ban the consumption of alcohol on school grounds. I'm sure you will agree. But if we are to favour this, then why should we challenge the idea that government should simply, as an expression of disdain for the idea of children or adolescents drinking, place some restrictions on drinking.

    I think there's a movement among some of the independent thinkers (and don't get me wrong independent thinking is a very good thing) to say "oh look, the government's trying to control us" ( which is true in many cases, like body-scanners, the fed etc), and because its "GOVERNMENT CONTROL" it must be evil, and "they have no right to control us".

    In fact, its not like people under the age of 21 aren't allowed to drink. They aren't allowed to PURCHASE alcohol, and the penalties for people under the age of 21 driving under the influence of alcohol, are very harsh. But there's nothing stopping citizens under the age of 21 from asking someone of legal alcohol-buying age, to procure some booze for them. The "legal-drinking age" is therefore nothing but a nominal and, complimentary boundry, a statement of warning, by government to kids and adolescents about the need to drink alcohol sensibly, ie its not just about recreation, its about responsibility too.

  6. The legal drinking age, which is effectively just the "legal buying age" is just one boundary, just one reminder about the serious side of alcohol. Kids learning the hard way is another boundary to alcohol abuse, and parental "control"( or "discipline") is yet another, provided of course that the kid is brought up in a stable home. And yes, health education is another boundary. But kids under 21 think they are immortal and beyond most health risks, So the latter 2 examples are not as relevant as we might think. eg:

    "Studies of zero tolerance laws indicate they reduce crashes among drivers younger than 21. A study of 12 states that passed zero tolerance laws reported a 20 percent reduction in the proportion of fatal crashes that were single-vehicle nighttime events (crashes likely to involve alcohol impairment) among drivers ages 15-20."

    There are many astounding statistics just like that, and they aren't hard to come by.

    Yes, Prohibition of alcohol WILL cause a black market to arise (like underground businesses that specialize in delivering alcohol to kids' parties etc) but why throw the baby out with the bath-water?

    I think that everyone should express disapproval for the idea of kids abusing alcohol, and I see the "legal drinking age law" as nothing but a nominal affirmation of that idea which happens to be BY government.

    Theory and Practice are two different kettle of fish. In Theory, it might be plausible to suggest that cops would explode into Johny's house without a search warrant, and rummage through his room for bottles of whiskey that he's stashed away under his bed, but a quick reality check reminds us that, indeed, this is nothing more than a flirtation with paranoia.

    And its also quite clear, that any mother who lets their 12 year old smoke methamphetamines, or drink whiskey till he's piss-drunk (without giving him a darn good hiding or at least denying him his long-awaited christmas present) has got rocks for brains, or is probably smoking rocks.

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