Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Dead Hand of the Law

I learned yesterday that I'd won my first victory as a practicing lawyer (we obtained a reversal in a interlocutory appeal for which I drafted the briefs) and to celebrate I figured I'd serve some nicer wine than usual while watching the NBA playoffs with my friend Matt. Accordingly, I swung by one of DC's more well-known wine stores (which shall remain nameless to avoid providing it with any undeserved publicity--not that this site has any market power, but it's the principle of the thing) after dinner and picked out a bottle of Latour-Giraud Meursault-Genevrieres from a good but not great year (99). At which point I went to pay and was promptly carded.

When I asked the clerk whether they normally had a problem with 18-year-olds buying premier cru Meursault, he didn't seem to think that they did. I suppose in some sense this is just a minor annoyance, and showing my driver's license isn't even much of a hassle in situations where I'm already pulling out my credit card. But there's something morally objectionable about a society where controls on alcohol are enforced so rigidly that people have to produce identity documents before being allowed to purchase fine wines. Just as the government shouldn't be regulating what paintings its citizens are allowed to view, it shouldn't control other forms of aesthetic expression, of which fine wine is an example.

People under twenty-one should be allowed to drink wine as they please. If they can't, they will be unable to develop their palates. And they have a right to enjoy Meursault just as they have a right to view a painting by Titian. As best I can tell, the 21-year-old drinking age has also been entirely ineffective at its intended goal of preventing drunk-driving fatalities. To the extent that is a serious problem, the more reasonable thing to do would be to ban under-21 driving, which would likely more effective and would have other beneficial externalities (i.e., reducing driving).

But even if restrictions on teenagers were appropriate, the government shouldn't be regulating adults' wine consumption simply to prevent teenagers from drinking. Teenagers' supposed inability to drink responsibly has nothing to do with adults and doesn't justify subjecting them to identity checks, especially when the wine they're buying makes it almost certain that they're not underage and drinking irresponsibly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would you propose changing the "no drinking if you're under age 21" law to "no drinking if you're under age 21, except if you're drinking wine that Jeff has determined is sufficiently good"?