More on alcohol taxes

Powerful evidence about the social costs associated with alcohol:

Carpenter and Dobkin then electronically examined the death certificates of every 19- to-22-year-old who died in the United States between 1997 and 2005.

Young people’s alcohol consumption increases by over 20 percent as they hit their 21st birthday. Meanwhile, death rates increase by 9 percent exactly at age 21. Carpenter and Dobkin traced this further, finding that the mortality jump was largest for motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and other causes plausibly linked with alcohol use. The correlation isn’t a slam dunk, but it is close. The authors estimate that reducing the minimum drinking age by one year–as some propose–would cause 408 additional deaths every year among 20-year-olds.

…Over the past 50 years, Cook reports, the inflation-adjusted value of federal liquor taxes declined by a factor of six while the inflation-adjusted value of federal beer taxes declined by a factor of 3.6. Both taxes are well below what is required to recoup the alcohol-related “externalities” problem drinking imposes on the community.

This is crazy. Cook argues that a 10-cent tax per ounce of ethanol (the amount contained in two drinks) would reduce ethanol sales by 12 percent and would reduce motor vehicle fatalities by about 7 percent. An estimated 80 percent of these taxes would be paid by the 13 percent of American adults who are heavy drinkers. I’m not happy to impose this burden. Yet this is the very group which causes great social harm.