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A Tax to Make Campuses Safer

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In not many days, about 14.5 million college and university students will return to their campuses in the United States.

Sadly, surveys find, 31 percent of them get into trouble of one sort or another - date rape, dangerous fraternity pranks, fights, property damage, and so on. Often the violence stems from too much alcohol.

Students may regard heavy drinking as a sign of maturity, a rite of passage, or whatever. In fact, it really proclaims immaturity. At best, it may be participation in a useless cultural tradition or submission to peer pressure. The result, as we sometimes read in the news, can be tragedy for the student or others.

How can alcohol-related violence be reduced?

Parents can try to infuse their offspring with the moral courage to exercise genuine independent thinking, and resist the subtleties of social pressures. Schools can institute tougher rules on drinking and emphasize the ills it can produce.

Two economists offer a third method: Simply raise the price of alcohol.

A study by National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) associates Michael Grossman and Sara Mark-owitz finds that a 10 percent hike in the price of beer would shrink campus violence by 4 percent. Students consume less beer when it is more expensive. Make it a 20 percent price boost, and violence drops 10 percent.

That projected reduction is not insignificant.

Nationwide, a 10 percent price hike would mean 200,000 fewer cases of violence. For a 20 percent boost, 400,000 fewer incidents.

The Grossman/Markowitz research is based on comparisons between states that have substantial price differences for a six-pack of beer. This year, for example, prices range from $3.23 in Texas to $6.11 in Pennsylvania. The difference is due primarily to varying state taxes.

Presumably, to trim the campus ills, states or the federal government could boost the taxes on alcohol.

Other NBER studies found that higher alcohol prices for all consumers would substantially reduce spouse and child abuse, homicides, assaults, and other crimes. In 1997, it might be noted, about 45 percent of state prisoners convicted of assault or murder had used alcohol just before committing the crime.

The alcohol industry portrays drinking as associated with conviviality and fun. It should be recognized that alcoholic-beverage consumption too often leads to destruction and sadness. Outright national prohibition from 1919 to 1933 slashed many ills from alcohol. But it also stimulated crime and corruption. It was eventually rejected as unworkable.

Short of that, a price hike for booze might at least reduce the damage.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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