Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Drink?

OLD ENOUGH TO FIGHT, OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK?….Since I don’t like the taste of alcohol and therefore hardly drink at all, the question of whether the legal drinking age should be 18 or 21 has always seemed a little academic to me. Naturally, then, I’m attracted to the academic approach of public policy dude Mark Kleiman, who says that although a drinking age of 21 really does reduce the level of youthful drunk driving, it also encourages disrespect for the law and encourages young adults to acquire and use false ID. So what to do?

To address the specific problem of youthful drinking and driving, we could — as some states have already — change the drunk-driving laws so as to forbid drivers under 21 to drive with any detectable level of alcohol. (These are called “ZT” [for “zero tolerance”] laws.)….To address the more general problem of excessive drinking by teenagers (not to mention the still more general problem of excessive drinking, period) we could raise alcohol taxes.

….The combination of a lowered drinking age with ZT laws and a modest tax increase could give us less drunk driving and less false ID than the current policy mix. What’s not to like?

Yes, of course you could have even lower youthful drunk driving rates by doing ZT plus a tax increase and leaving the drinking age where it is. But at what cost in disrespect for the law and loss of liberty? Not one, I think, that we should want to pay.

Sounds good to me. But what do all the former youthful binge drinkers in the blogosphere think?

UPDATE: Darren Grant, a professor of economics at Sam Houston State University, emails to recommend a new paper he’s written on ZT laws. It’s not for the faint of heart, but basically he says that a detailed look at the data shows that in places were ZT laws seem to reduce alcohol-related fatalities, those fatalities are also reduced in control groups. This suggests that ZT laws don’t, in fact, actually have any effect. (Though note that the particular ZT laws he studies are ones that mandate only extremely low blood alcohol levels, not quite zero.) The paper is here for anyone interested in the gritty details.