Monday, January 03, 2011

Fringe thinking about binge drinking

A professor at Chicago University has advised the Government on how to deal with binge drinking.

I suspect this guy - Richard Thaler - knows nothing much about the British drinking culture....

But that is just one factor of this story. I thought this kind of 'State knows best' advice mindset had been deposed at the last election. "Behavioural economics", as the story calls it, is questioning what is not merely 'tradition' but polite, ordinary behaviour. Rounds at the pub is probably the best way to keep checks on outgoings - the additional cost of buying for a small group should persuade most sensible people out of drinking excessively. If you don't want to 'keep up' with the people you're drinking with, then don't.

Pubs are closing at a record rate, and whilst I don't want to encourage people to get ratted just to keep the local open, I can't see how previous or current Government policy is helping to stem the tide. There are numerous threads to the problem - the smoking ban, the Licensing Act and its tangled bureaucracy, increased duty on alcohol and little support for small/micro-breweries...I am against 'minimum pricing' on booze because the costs can be soaked up (if you will) by supermarkets whilst hitting publicans hard. There's no incentive for landlords to stay open outside city centres, and even within busy towns traditional pubs are shutting at an alarming rate.

This professor seems to be interesting in 'engineering' social behaviours. If I'm out with some mates around town, it's up to us to decide when the next ales are bought. I don't see suggesting some kind of tab system in a city centre pub is feasible for this situation, never mind the endless combinations of groups going out for a quiet 'un or an all-day bender. This idea seems targeted at young first-time drinkers, but as ever with Government advisers, is stretched out to fit everyone. "Prevention is better than cure" shouldn't be advice outside the Department for Health.

I understand why Governments need to deal with 'binge drinking', and the related problems of pubs closing and supermarket buying power. It seems, as ever, the best advice tax payers are ultimately charged for is 'micromanage'. Tab systems in British pubs as a 'solution' to a round-buying 'issue'? It must be a slow news day. It just has to be. The sour taste in my mouth after reading this just won't go away, I need a stiff drink...