As someone familiar with cutting edge science and those who work at the frontiers of medical research, I have always been struck by the backward totalitarian nature of public health. In a world in which hard science and enlightened medical opinion is positively buzzing about personalized medicine and the benefits of treating people as individuals, public health continues to push ideas that are more in keeping with early 20th century totalitarian doctrine then 21st century medicine.
ASH is of course one of the biggest culprits. Completely closed to the concept of constructive debate it spreads its misery through quasi-religious adherence to strict dogma and increasingly ridiculous attempts to claim that all opposition to its policies are the result of tobacco industry conspiracies. The similarities between the rhetoric of ASH and the propaganda of the former Soviet Union is quite uncanny at times but as far as I know, ASH has never actually advocated Soviet policies. I am sure that its employees would do if it suited the cause and involved more free money from the taxpayer but the opportunity seems not to have arisen.
However, the same can no longer be said for their cousins in the neo-prohibitionist movement who are now openly advocating that the UK government take its lead on alcohol policy from the Soviet Union. In an academically inept, blatantly political piece published in The Lancet, a group of liver doctors who in their conceit, believe themselves experts on the causes of alcohol abuse rather than its consequences, propose Gorbachev’s 1985 crackdown on alcohol in the Soviet Union as a template for alcohol control in the UK.
The Lancet article is a rework of last year’s effort in which the authors made the embarrassingly simplistic claim that the decline in French liver deaths was down to an alcohol advertising ban. Both were uncritically covered by the BBC whose representatives have assured me that they have no bias when it comes to public health despite the fact that they showcase minimum price campaigners however obscure on what feels like a daily basis.
This year Gilmore et al wax lyrical about Soviet Russia and how it achieved a 12% reduction in alcohol related mortality in just two years. The implication being that our government would see similar results if only it would do what the neo-prohibitionists ask of it. Minimum pricing is of course at the top of their list because such a policy, although likely to be utterly ineffective in the form currently advocated, will give them a powerful lever with which to control the proletariat as they ratchet up future campaigns.
History sees Gorbachev as a heroic reformer in many senses, but he had no qualms in using the full power vested in him as an autocratic dictator to press home an aggressive anti-alcohol policy. Measures included:
- Closing vodka distilleries
- Destroying vineyards in the wine-producing republics of Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia
- Restricting the times during which shops and restaurants could sell alcohol
- Banning restaurants from selling hard liquor
- Raising the legal age for alcohol consumption from 18 to 21
- Effectively increasing prices by over 75%
- Creating a state sponsored temperance society that grew to 14 million members
His policies were as our neo-prohibitionist friends tell us immediately successful and he achieved a short term significant fall in alcohol related deaths. The price of vodka rose by 25% in 1985 alone and by a similar amount in the following year. The Lancet article unsurprisingly fails to mention the longer term consequences of the campaign.
Although Gorbachev did theoretically reduce legal alcohol consumption by 50% according to some estimates, the Russians have a long tradition of distilling their own firewater known as Samogon. The state crackdown:
- Stimulated the illegal alcohol industry
- Galvanized organized crime to take advantage of a burgeoning black market
- Led to an increase in deaths from poisoning caused by illicit alcohol.
By the third year of the campaign, despite severe custodial sentences being in force for home brewing, illegal Samogon was being consumed in larger volumes than legal alcohol, the policy was hugely unpopular, it was costing the government a fortune in lost revenue and it had significantly benefited organized crime. It was abandoned in October 1988.
Some will argue that had the Soviet Union persisted with its vigorous campaign, the fall in deaths during the first 18 months would have continued and the end would have justified all of the repression. So it is worth pointing out, bearing in mind the UK activist’s obsession with price, that the increase in alcohol related deaths in the early 90s took place against a background of high prices for legal alcohol that was a legacy of the Gorbachev campaign. Although some aspects of the campaign were reversed, the price stayed 75% above 1985 levels during the Russian mortality crisis of the early 90s.
Others, including some who claim to be liberal, will of course assert that the Soviets did not go far enough. Perhaps they never thought of putting vodka in olive drab bottles with massive pictures of diseased livers on them? You can be sure that Ian Gilmore has.
By Chris Oakley. Chris has previously posted on Liberal Vision: Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, A Liberal Tolerant nation? and What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes the plaything of political lobbyists.
Our thanks to englishrussia.com for the poster.