A couple of days ago, I read that 100 sober-minded college presidents suggested lowering the drinking age to 18. “Good idea,” I thought. “About time. Whose stupid idea was it to raise it to 21 to begin with?”
I then proceeded about my business hoping that sanity would prevail against the neo-temperance activism that would have us endeavor to prevent college students from legally enjoying a few, or even several, beers. (I say “endeavor” and “legally” because I am morally certain that the law has virtually no effect in actually preventing college-age drinking: it merely drives it underground.)
I would have left it at that, but I see that Steve Chapman, who writes for The Chicago Tribune, has weighed in with “The Perils of a Lower Dirnking Age,” a column warning us against the dangers of allowing 18-year-olds to drink alcoholic beverages. “In spite of the law,” he laments, “plenty of 18-to-20-year-olds somehow [somehow?] manage to get wasted on a regular basis. But a law can be helpful without being airtight. This one has curbed not only the use of alcohol among young people, but its dangerous abuse.”
Mr. Chapman’s article is full of statements I found risible. Of these, my favorite is probably this gem: ” Maybe the most popular [argument for lowering the drinking age]is that if you’re old enough to join the Army and die for your country, you’re old enough to buy a beer. But there is a good reason to avoid such blind consistency. Among the qualities that make 18-year-olds such good soldiers are their fearlessness and sense of immortality–traits that do not mix well with alcohol.” Earth to Chapman! Come in, Steve. Horace was much closer to the truth: “Nunc bibendum est.”
Mr. Chapman points to statistics that correlate raising the drinking age with lower highway fatalities among the relevant age group. Maybe the statistics are illuminating in the way Mr. Chapman hopes. Or maybe it’s a case of what Disraeli called “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In any event, I think it’s a flawed argument. There are plenty of people out there would like to provide us all with a perfect prophylactic existence: no tobacco, no alcohol, no trans-fats, no “fast food” of any kind if they can get away with it. They want to put speed regulators in your car and ban see-saws, jungle gyms and other childhood entertainments. They love putting warning labels on things: “Carrying this refrigerator on your back may result in personal injury,” etc. They would breed roses without thorns if they could. It’s enough to drive any self-respecting 18-year-old to drink.