Yesterday, we poor taxpayers paid the ABC to reprimand us for stockpiling alcohol in case of a lockdown. This prompted me to plop down at my home computer with a large glass of wine and say a few things about the nanny state.
With continuing uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic, government officials and health experts alike have much more to worry about than what individuals choose to consume while cooped up in their own homes.
If potential coronavirus carriers isolate themselves, the government shouldn’t care if they subsist solely on rum and ice cream, or if they take full advantage of Pornhub’s free premium option.
Unfortunately, though, Australia already has a plethora of taxes and regulations designed to impact the choices individuals make in their daily lives. Australians pay nineteen times more alcohol tax than Germans, seven times more than Americans, and twice as much as Kiwis. If anything, the bulk-buying of wine, beer, and spirits may help soften the blow to federal revenue. For every $8 beer sold in an Australian pub, the government collects $3.50. With beer making up 1 per cent of GDP, that tax revenue funds much of the government.
Policymakers apply the same logic to cigarettes with plain packaging and to petrol use with the excessively high fuel tax. But when taxes and convoluted regulations fail, the government often resorts to outright bans such as the ban on vaping, rules against cycling without a helmet, and now restrictions against going to the beach.
In some cases, such as the impact of coronavirus or drunk driving, intervention is required to stop individuals from harming others. Travellers are required by law to self-isolate lest they unintentionally transmit the virus to others and through their negligence, kill someone.
But when the only person harmed by an individual’s choice is the individual themself, politicians, bureaucrats, and government-funded writers need to reassess why they are taking a stand.
Young people passing their time in isolation by knocking back a few cold beers does not qualify as a public health crisis. While it is possible a handful are drinking to cope with coronavirus related trauma, many are drinking because they are bored or they need a way of distracting themselves from the temptation to free themselves from their voluntary imprisonment.
People are understandably stressed as they watch businesses shut down around them and hear horror stories from other countries. Still, Aussies aren’t stockpiling booze because they want to drink away their stress. Rational people are buying extra alcohol because no one has told them when this will end. Businesses are closed until further notice. People are advised to stay home without knowing how long they will need to avoid the outside world.
I, for one, highly recommend making sure your liquor cabinet is stocked, and you have mixers in the fridge. From what I have seen online, self-isolation can get very dull and trying out new cocktail recipes doesn’t seem like the worst way of passing the time.
This article first appeared in the Spectator on 27 March 2020.