I have a modest proposal. In future all regulation and legislation should be subject to a minimum impact threshold. Where either does precisely nothing of any value to anyone beyond generating mindless bureaucracy to service it, it should be quietly binned, and the minister or civil servant responsible along with it.
This surely is the only way we can tackle the blight of legischolism, a cruel disease unhappily prevalent amongst politicians of all stripes, that sees sufferers reach for the easy comfort of activity it the hope it will relieve the cravings of interest groups. The temporary respite it affords usually result in far deeper cravings later and gradual deterioration in the condition of the nation until there is chronic economic failure.
Today’s announcementof proposals for minimum alcohol pricing, something the SNP failed to impose in Scotland thanks to heroic opposition from everyone else, has been attacked on all sides as pointless.
Crudely, the level of 24p for beer and 28p for spirits means no legal alcohol can be sold below the cost of the VAT and duty imposed. This on the basis that higher prices restrict people’s ability to drink to excess. Booze however, like most socially and chemically addictive products, impacts us all differently, and in the main demand is inelastic. It takes large changes in price over time to impact consumption. This proposal though does not impact price, it provides the framework to do so in future.
It will not impact demand. If raised in future it will mainly impact low income social drinkers.
Further next to no drinks are sold in the UK at a cost to the retailer. Those that are sold below tax price tend to be from the back of white vans rolling off the Eurostar. These are not retail outlets that comply with the law, and can be linked to organised crime.
It will not impact legal supply, and if raised in future it will largely benefit criminals.
For the 2-6% minority who display a tendency to dependency (alcoholics), demand is very price-insentive. An addict, in denial of their disease, will turn to illicit sources and petty crime to fund a habit they cannot otherwise afford. We can see this in levels of crime associated with prohibited drugs. Addiction cannot be legislated away, it largely rests of the willingness and willpower of the addicted to avoid their poison.
Whether raised or not it wil not help sufferers tackle alcohol addiction.
I am generally sympathetic to the notion that the social costs of alcohol require a sin tax. For that we have duty, and duty imposed at such a level that like tobacco revenue it already excedes all but the wildest estimates of what that social cost might be. We do not in that regard need new instruments. The issue of discounted booze is principally a competiton matter between supermarkets, retailers, and pubs. It should be dealt with through current competition law.
Taxes should be simple. The law as stands is perfectly adequate to tackle unfair competition.
In conclusion I might understand this move from a Labour government. Nanny knows best and let’s prove our worth through laws were staples of the last regime. But this coalition came together promising such things as one in/one out regulation. This proposition sits entirely at odds with that principle.
Let us hope if the Commons are too addicted to the legimania that leads to this kind of gesture politics, that the Lords will help them kick the habit… for their own good.