The revelation that the two boys who made headlines a few months back did not in fact die from mephedrone has left a number of people feeling rather smug. A few months back, many people were outraged that the government had not heeded the advice of experts, and had pressed ahead to ban mephedrone regardless of evidence.
At the time I opposed the criminalisation of mephrodone, yet I also opposed the calls for an “evidence based drugs policy”. As I said back then, the regulation of drugs by the state is not simply a bio-chemical or evidential question, but a political question. Even where a drug or substance can be shown to carry risks, questions still remain about whether the state should intervene to protect people from themselves, or whether adult citizens should be free to weigh up potential health risks against pleasure and enjoyment. There are no prizes for guessing that I towards latter.
Back when mephedrone was being banned, the demand for evidence based policy was naturally appealing. Today, however, is a good day for those of us who are recalcitrant about bowing down before expert and ‘evidence based’ policy recommendations. And that’s because today the National Institute for Clinical Excellence have recommended a minimum price for alcohol.
Such a move would be assymettical in it’s impact – restricting the lifestyle choices of the poor far more than the rich. It would financially punish people for what is still a legal lifestyle choice. The evidence they upon which NICE allegedly base their recommendation centres on two things: that alcohol consumption is currently generating harm and that minimum pricing could substantially reduce consumption. The serious political principles at stake – liberty, paternalism, relations between state and citizen – are subsumed into health economics, and philistine utilitarian calculations.
A case in point: amongst the arguments NICE offer is that intitiatives to reduce alcohol consumption will increase productivity. I don’t dispute this. Yet the idea of pricing people out of drink to improve their productivity raises a whole number of questions: in particular how far should people be expected to gear their leisure time towards making sure they perform well at work. I mean optimum productivity might be achieved by the government setting peoples bed times. What is at stake here, is the relations between capital and labour. The government should not be coercing us in our leisure time so as to maintain profitability.
So, if like me you would like to see a more permissive and free society then please, stop expecting the experts to do it for you, and have the balls to argue for it politically.