Monday, August 23, 2010

What next? A national bedtime?

The government will be unveilling its liquor policy today, and a core element seems to be national opening hours, with off-licences restricted to opening between 7am and 11pm, and bars and nightclubs between 8am and 4am. According to the government, people shouldn't be hanging around in bars at 4am - they should be tucked up in bed, getting a good night's sleep so they can get up for work in the morning. While I loathe the phrase "nanny state" and the propensity to apply it to any measure which advances equality, this seems to fully deserve it. What next? A legislated national bedtime?

In a liberal society, insofar as we do not cause harm to others we should be free to live our lives as we please. It is none of the government's business when I drink, and it is none of the government's business when I buy that alcohol. If people want to spend all night partying, then they should be allowed to. The state only has licence to intervene when that behaviour causes harm to others - when it causes assaults, vandalism, drunk driving etc. Restricting everyone's liberty to prevent these harms is like arresting people at random to prevent burglary - utterly unjust and a gross intrusion on liberty.

This is just lazy authoritarianism on the government's part. But the alternative - higher excise taxes to make drinkers pay the full long-term costs of their activities, actual enforcement of the law against serving intoxicated people, and stripping liquor licences from bar-owners who serve drunks, might really affect the profits of the hospitality industry. And National wouldn't want to offend that possible source of donations, would they? So instead we get lazy, knee-jerk policies, which victimise the innocent rather than punishing the guilty.