It’s getting increasingly difficult to defend the Democratic Alliance (DA) from the allegation that it seeks a ‘return to Apartheid’ when the party keeps pursuing policies reminiscent of those of the erstwhile National Party. Alcohol policy is the latest culprit.
The DA government in the Western Cape has adopted its Alcohol Harms Reduction Policy White Paper, a draconian, anti-liberal, and paternalistic set of policy proposals which are unbecoming of a supposedly-liberal political organisation.
In light of the fact that naysayers will immediately try to rebut this article by calling me an idealist who doesn’t understand the great harm alcohol abuse has been causing in the Western Cape, I must say that I am fully aware that there are reasons for this policy.
But all policies have justifications. Affirmative action is based on the very noble premise that black South Africans should also be able to participate in the economy. The War in Iraq was partly based on liberating the people of Iraq from the brutal yoke of Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. Apartheid itself was based on the dual reasons of ensuring Afrikaner Calvinism is protected from totalitarian Bolshevik communism, and (ostensibly) ensuring that none of the racial groups in South Africa dominate one another.
But, like the road to Hell being paved with good intentions, the mere fact that a policy has noble justifications does not in and of itself justify the policy.
This is why principles are important. Principles guide us and give us a standard by which we measure whether a policy is justifiable, and whether the various reasons that might exist for a policy are relevant. For example, from a liberal perspective, the Apartheid goal of prohibiting mixed marriages so that ‘racial confusion’ is avoided would be completely irrelevant, due to the principle of individualism. Similarly, from a more libertarian perspective, the goal of eliminating wealth inequality so that ‘social conflict’ is avoided is also irrelevant, due to the fact that free markets and free individuals by their nature produce unequal results.
The DA has all but abandoned principle, and, according to its supporters, has embraced pragmatism. Surely, however, for pragmatism to truly be pragmatic, it must work. Prohibition, to whatever extent, does not work. Alcohol regulation has been an absolute joke on the face of Western civilisation for a century, with youngsters laughing at age limitations on drinking from the moment they reach adolescence. This brand of ‘pragmatism’ – assuming pragmatism as commonly understood can exist (it cannot) – is useless and avowedly not practical. A return to principle will produce far more satisfying results.
I will address the Western Cape provincial government’s reasoning for the alcohol policy in a followup article.
The policy proposals
The Sunday Times provides a useful list of the Western Cape alcohol policy’s most controversial proposals, which I will analyse from a classical liberal (the supposed roots of the DA) perspective.
1. A provincial tax to increase the cost of alcohol
I don’t have to tell the reader what the classical liberal position on taxation is. Any tax levied on anyone, especially on businesses, ends up being borne by the consumer – not only for that product specifically, but for everything. Sin taxes are quite direct in making life more expensive, but if you are a drinker, you won’t let it stand in the way. Consumers will be poorer, and won’t drink substantially less.
The correct position is to lower taxes, lower state spending, and put more money in the pockets of the people who earn it. Whatever the supposed ‘noble’ purpose of the policy is, the money the people of the Western Cape earn by working is theirs by right. That government wishes to increase revenue as part of some grand social engineering programme is arrogant and borderline thievery.
2. Restrict trading hours
Because central planning always works out so well.
Of course, the Western Cape is already known for its quirky alcohol trading hours policy, putting it significantly behind the rest of South Africa as far as liberal policy goes. But to further reinforce this antiquated notion that government can tell people when to trade is a slap in the face for consumers.
It is quite debatable whether this is compatible with South African’s section 22 constitutional right to freedom of trade.
3. Remove all bottle stores attached to grocery stores within five years
Nothing says ‘party of entrepreneurship’ like prohibiting stores from selling certain things. Entrepreneurs have made life easier for consumers by having alcohol outlets nearby, and government, which supposedly is also committed to protecting consumers, is going to undo that.
Now consumers will need to drive to other locations to get their alcohol – and drive, they will – meaning more expenses on fuel and, accumulatively, more expenses on car maintenance. Thanks government!
4. Reduce the density of alcohol outlets in certain areas
The DA is doing a bad job of distancing themselves from the Apartheid mentality, apparently.
This is the policy that was pursued under the National Party government: Licensing only one or very few alcohol outlets per area. This led to a marked decrease in competition and thus a rise in price (which is obviously what the DA hopes to achieve, and will), in other words, geographical monopolisation.
Don’t fall for it when proponents of big government try to claim that one of government’s roles is to combat monopolies in the market – the government creates them.
5. Prohibit under-21s from consuming (any) alcohol if driving
Presumably, this means that if you are under 21, you may not drink at all if you plan to drive soon, as drinking and driving is obviously already illegal. Thus, it would not matter if your blood-alcohol level is below the legal limit.
This proposal is the embodiment of paternal statism. A liberal party should not engage in ageist collectivism by targeting individuals under 21 with a particular policy. It violates both the section 9 right to equal treatment of the law found in the Constitution, as well as the Rule of Law principle that the law must apply equally to everyone without regard to their individual characteristics.
6. Fine outlets that repeatedly serve underage drinkers or breach other laws
Presumably, the Western Cape government already does this. But it is problematic that the word “underage” instead of “under 18” is used, given that national government intends to raise the drinking age to 21.
The supposedly-liberal DA shouldn’t make itself complicit in taking away pre-existing freedoms. If you are old enough to vote, join the military, sign contracts, and have sex, you should be old enough to drink alcohol.
Besides, those under the legal drinking age have never, even during far more conservative times, cared about the legal drinking age. It is one of the most-ignored laws, and by virtue of that is a bad law. When the populace neigh-unanimously rejects a particular rule, that rule is probably best scrapped.
7. Hold alcohol outlets responsible for the drunken conduct of patrons
This is a particularly anti-liberal position, even compared to the other proposals in this list The DA now proposes to engage in collective punishment. Government proposes to transfer the personal responsibility of the drinker to the innocent entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs and businesspersons are not the keepers of their customers. They sell a product. What consumers decide to do with those products is not the business of the entrepreneur.
8. Legalise illegal shebeens
This is the only good proposal in this list. But in light of the rest of the policy stating that the number of alcohol outlets are going to be reduced, I assume some of these shebeens will simply be ordered and forced to close down.
9. Force neighbourhood watch groups to report illegal sales of alcohol
It is one thing when government oppresses the people by itself. But when it conscripts fellow citizens into its authoritarian programmes, a whole new level of tyranny is reached.
I am all for privatising law enforcement and elevating neighbourhood watch organisations to the level of a law enforcement agency with powers of arrest and detention. But when private organisations are simply used to make government’s enforcement of its meddling laws easier, something is terribly wrong.
Government has already conscripted businesses into being unpaid tax collectors; so it best leave neighbourhood watch groups alone.
10. Create a court for alcohol offenses
Create new law, and a new court to go along with it and enforce it? What a great way to delegitimise the judiciary.
11. Lobby government to ban alcohol advertising to under 18s
This is retarded, as it would amount to banning alcohol advertising nearly absolutely: From television to billboards to magazines. This brand of prohibitive liberalism is nothing I would want to be associated with.
12. No Western Cape government venues or events will allow alcohol advertising
This is fair enough. It is just a shame that my taxes still pay for the provincial government’s events and venues.
13. Encourage manufacturers to reduce alcohol in their drinks
This is also fair enough, as long as it is not obligatory and that no special government ‘favours’ come with cooperating. The Rule of Law would not like that very much.
If these manufactures receive tax exemptions or get fast-tracked for alcohol license renewals, not only will government be acting unethically, but also illegally, as my upcoming book on the Rule of Law will set out.
14. Increase education of social harms of alcohol
Fair enough. Just be careful to not depart from actual, biological facts, and venture into opinion. We already know how harmful compulsory ‘diversity’ and ‘anti-racist’ education can be to the psyche and self-confidence of the apparent ‘bad guys’ the education is aimed at.
Any kind of anti-alcohol education should be limited to the cold, hard facts about how alcohol works and what it does to one’s body. Domestic abuse should not even be alluded to, given that the vast majority of drinkers are not domestic abusers. There has also not been any indication that individuals who drink before reaching the legal age are any less successful than those who do not.
15. Compulsory training for people who need a liquor licence
This ‘compulsory’ training will likely come with a price for the trainee, regardless of whether or not they actually require any training.
South Africans have too easily and readily bought into the notion of ‘compulsion’ so soon after the end of Apartheid. It is quite baffling that we can suffer from such widespread historical amnesia. The permission society that seeks to license and train everyone for everything is the slow-boiling-frog approach to tyranny.
16. Encourage metro police to use legally admissible mobile breathalysers
Rather abolish the metro ‘police’. But I have an article specifically for that coming out sometime in the future.
17. Introduce community service for drunk drivers who haven’t caused harm
Being a liberal party, the DA should be acutely aware of the notion of ‘victimless’ crimes?
If someone drives, while coincidentally being drunk at the same time, and causes no harm, then no real crime has been committed. Drunk driving is a mala prohibita not a mala in se. Mala prohibita are crimes which are created by conscious human legislation, i.e. they are opinion-based crimes. Mala in se are crimes by their nature, such as murder, fraud, theft, rape, etc. The liberal position is to regard only mala in se as crime.
Nothing in this article should be construed as me denying the effects of alcohol abuse. I am a lifelong teetotaler – I don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes or do drugs – because I appreciate the destruction these things can bring into one’s life.
But I am a classical liberal, and that means I appreciate the fact that neither I nor the wise experts in government know what is best for other people; only individuals themselves can decide what they want to do with their lives. Having freedom means that responsibility cannot be socialised or nationalised: Personal responsibility is key. Liberty therefore means affording people the ability to destroy their own lives.
The Democratic Alliance continues down its march toward paternal statism away from the principles which led to the establishment of its predecessors in the dark days of Apartheid. For someone who truly wants the DA to be a great, liberal party, this is very unfortunate.
In the second part of this series I will address some of the ostensible justifications for the Western Cape’s alcohol policy and some of the resulting Rule of Law implications.