The Worm Turns

There has been quite some debate both within and outside of the alcohol lobby this week over a recent article by Klaus Makela. Why? Well, the article takes to task the now seemingly orthodox view that cost-of-alcohol studies are an accurate model for governments to base policy on.

These sorts of studies-that try to quantify in monetary terms the adverse effects of alcohol-have become increasingly popular in recent years and have largely supplanted the traditional type of social study.

The reasons for their popularity aren’t hard to understand. Politicians love having figures to play with. For one thing, putting a figure on anything makes it easily identifiable as a problem. Our own government, for example, claims that “alcohol related harm” now costs society £21bn annually. And if you can quantify a problem with cost, you can be seen to be tackling the problem by making savings.

This lazy approach is easily sold to the media which loves simple stories that feature big numbers that they can highlight. Thus we face a barrage of stories about minimum pricing, alcohol units etc that highlight just how much the cost to society is and how much better off we will be in terms of pounds saved, Brilliant, eh?

But Makela basically rubbishes the notion of monetising societal harm. And this is important because it’s not just me-or even some less influential blogger-pointing out the flawed methodology. This is a heavyweight peer review of 30 studies carried out since 2000. It’s published by the Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and will make for some uncomfortable reading in certain quarters.

What I found particularly satisfying is his demonstration that the controversial University of Sheffield study that advocated minimum pricing is only fir for wiping your arse with. Their model, based on guesswork and unsupported assumption states that a minimum price of 40p will see a reduction in unemployment of 25,000 in the first year.

But of course there are too many factors in play to justify this assumption. The economic climate for one. And it’s laughable to assume that 25,000 vacancies are just waiting to be filled when minimum pricing miraculously cures the stricken. In the real world, if a position is unfilled due to alcohol abuse, then it will most likely be simply filled by someone else.

So we cannot take seriously this “saving” of 25,000 jobs. And yet that accounts for 75% of the total savings credited to minimum pricing in the Sheffield study. Oops. The truth is that all of these cost-of-alcohol studies, from minimum pricing to monetising unprotected sex are built on a house of sand.

You can read the full article here

One thing that also struck a chord with me is how these so-called scientific studies only focused on the negative aspects of drinking and ignored the positive benefits. Politically inconvenient?


Ed said…
Excellent, I think it was him I heard on the radio but I couldn't find out more.
Anonymous said…
Briliant but you should have called the piece Research My Arse.
Tyson said…
Hmmm. Maybe: Research. My Arse.
RedNev said…
I have used some of your post to have another go at the BBC person who sent me a bland reply to my complaint about the Panorama programme about older drinkers, which quoted figures from Sheffield University that they later had to admit were wrong. I asked for an on-screen correction, but was ignored.

I hope you don't mind; I'll forward any reply to you, if I receive one. If I don't, I'll bang in another formal complaint.
Tyson said…
No prob, Nev, and thanks for the email.
Cooking Lager said…
I agree that quantifying alcohol harm is difficult to impossible but there is a cost to society.

Society picks up the costs of ruined lives and broken families through welfare.

Town centers need clearing up in the early hours of the morning due to late night drinking or shoppers will think the area is a grotty place to shop.

A&E departments enjoy increased business at 2am Sunday morning, paid for through taxes.

You can either accept a basic fairness that booze ought to be taxed to cover these costs or that they come from general taxation.

What level of tax is fair, where it ought be applied etc may be a matter of debate but an attempt to quantify it is understandable.

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