I know that there are many doctors who believe themselves to be god, and act accordingly. Having the power of life and death tends to do that to a person. Michael Crichton, who himself completed medical school at Harvard even though he never practiced, wrote about this phenomenon in a collection of essays; either in Travels or Five Patients, I can’t recall which one. And indeed, medical schools even instill this into their students, with presumably the idea that confidence begets confidence. In other words, doctors who act decisively and confidently are perceived as being better doctors. It probably works most of the time, but, of course, not always. I think it especially goes off the rails when doctors go outside their sphere of expertise, and try to act as godlike on subjects on which they’re mere mortals.
Case in point, today the senior medical doctor in the UK, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, has decided his M.D. makes him an expert in economics, too. In order to combat binge drinking, he’s recommending that the price of all alcohol across the board be raised. He may be a good doctor, but he’s an idiot at economics. You can read the full story at the Telegraph online, in the story Government’s Top Doctor Recommends Price Hike For Alcohol. If adopted, Dr. Loony’s proposal would double the price of many alcoholic drinks, including beer. With the British pub already threatened, and the world economy on the ropes, what does he think this would do to the economy?
As many have already pointed out, raising the price for everyone, punishes the vast majority who drink responsibly and in moderation. “This would hit the pockets of hard-working families who are already struggling to make ends meet, and it would not deter those people who drink to get drunk.” Said David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group.
Dr. Donadlson’s proposal addresses not one of the multitude of reasons that cause people to binge drink. And of course, the definition of what constitutes binge-drinking is as suspect in the UK as it is the US, where it’s an arbitrary calculation divorced from reality. Whatever the real percentage of binge drinkers, addicts and habitual alcoholics, making them pay more will not stop them from drinking. From the Telegraph article: “Doctors working in casualty departments and specialists in liver disease backed the proposal, but said price alone was unlikely to change an increasing culture of binge drinking on Britain’s streets.”
The main problem for binge drinking in the UK, at least according to many, is that grocery chains are offering beer at below cost as loss leaders to lure customers in the store, where they hope they’ll buy other, more profitable, stuff while they’re there. But there’s no reason why they can’t just restrict that practice, if it is believed to be one of the causes. In many U.S. states, like California, it is illegal to sell alcohol at or below cost, presumably to stop just the sort of problems the UK is experiencing. Why not at least propose that first and see if it helps, instead of going straight for punishing everybody for the sins of a few. Even if I thought what he’s proposing might work — which I emphatically do not — is the cost to society of the binge drinkers greater than what it would do to tens of thousands of people in the form of businesses going under, people out of work and greater harm to the already fragile economy? Because that’s what would surely happen if overnight the price of a drink doubled. What industry could afford to cut its revenue in half? It’s preposterous in the extreme and not very well thought out, just a knee jerk reaction to a problem without considering the consequences. Luckily, I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Government sources said ministers were aware of Prof. Donaldson’s views on alcohol prices, but one said “I cannot see any way that we will accept Liam’s recommendation on this”.