One of the big reasons I tend toward the conservative/libertarian end of the political spectrum is that so much of the liberal/progressive left’s instinct for public policy seems like hubris to me. A crass overestimation of the government’s ability to impose its will on the masses (and that’s setting aside the moral questions about how much imposition ought to be happening in the first place).
Our liberal friends tend to view society as a great big machine, and if that machine isn’t running properly, they can simply push the right buttons and turn the right valves and fix everything.
Case in point, this letter to the Fargo Forum from Josie Danz calling for a bureaucratic crackdown on businesses to end what she describes as “enabling over-consumption.”
“It’s time those in leadership positions stop willfully fueling Fargo’s drinking culture,” she writes.
I am not an anarchist. I am in favor of prudent levels of regulation (and yes, I’m aware that “prudent” is a subjective term). My problem with the argument Danz is making is her assumption that government policy is what’s driving drinking in Fargo.
“Inevitably Fargo finds itself at the top of every ‘Drunkest Cities in America’ list,” she writes. “The headlines get us national attention, but there’s little notice paid to how to clean up our act. Instead, we perpetuate the problem by handing out liquor licenses like candy at a parade – indiscriminately and abundantly.”
This is wrong, and not just because a lot of those lists are concocted to sell you insurance policies and credit cards as opposed to informing public opinion.
How in the hell is Fargo drunker than, say, New Orleans?
But I digress.
Fargo is a drunk city because people in Fargo want to be drunk. The city’s alleged open-handedness in granting liquor licenses – and I’m not sure that’s actually true, getting a license is an expensive and arduous task – does not make Fargo’s citizens want to be drunk.
Were Fargo a community with a cultural aversion to alcohol, it’s availability wouldn’t suddenly make them want to drink.
It doesn’t surprise me that someone with a left wing, progressive outlook would feel this way. The Depression-era prohibition policies were product of the progressive movement, and our liberal friends have always favored the strong arm of the government when it comes to imposing the social outcomes they prefer. Yet the approach isn’t any more wrong-headed.
To the extent that Fargo has a problematic drinking culture (again, a debatable premise), the solution is convincing people not to drink. Or, at least, not to drink so much or so often.
Government policies are of limited utility in that endeavor. As we saw during prohibition, people who want to drink are going to drink. We can create more bureaucratic obstacles for businesses that want to serve alcohol, and we can hire more cops to do more enforcement, but nothing will really change until the people of Fargo want to change.
I don’t see that happening any time soon, so maybe instead of focusing on trying to force people to behave the way some want them to, we should focus on public safety. That means strong enforcement for people who behave irresponsibly, yes, but perhaps also a focus on helping people get home safely if they’ve overindulged.
Societal reform works best when it’s organic, something which sprouts up through our churches and civic organizations and neighborhoods, not when it’s something thrust upon us at the point of the government’s sword.