By Richard Vedder
I read in the local (Olympia, Washington) paper an AP story that announces that the presidents of over 100 American institutions of higher education have called for a lowering of the legalized drinking age to 18. For once, I agree with the prez.
The movement was organized by Middlebury College, and supported by presidents of other good liberal arts colleges like Kenyon and Colgate. But also, joining the movement were some heavyweight private (Duke and Dartmouth) and public (Ohio State) universities.
Ordinarily I do not like university presidents speaking up on matters of public policy. I think the academy should stay out of politics. But this is an issue that impacts importantly on campus life. I agree with the presidents that binge drinking has probably been enhanced by the prohibition of drinking below 21. It is ironic that we can send our kids to fight wars for us all over the world --but then say to them, "you are too immature to drink."
Whenever I travel in Europe, where kids drink at much younger ages, I note the youth are a tad more responsible. Sure I have seen drunken German university students, but I think the incidence of binge drinking is somewhat less, even though the overall quantity of alcohol drunk is perhaps close to U.S. norms. It is distributed more evenly however, and that is highly desirable. Prohibition did not work in the U.S., nor is the pseudo prohibition we now have.
My major objection, however, is that the drinking age should be established at the state and local level, according to the norms of the locality.
By the way, the CCAP staff is highly biased towards those affiliated with so-called party schools, with Jim, Andy, and myself all teaching or studying at schools like Ohio University and Florida State that are high on the party school list. We all think partying is part of the socialization process that happens when children turn into adults, and, in moderation, it is probably a good thing. It improves interpersonal skills.
The lack of moderation in contemporary American universities has actually expanded in the era of the 21 year drinking age. Telling kids that they can't drink or have sex is like King Canute decreeing that the waves must stop. To be sure, as my wife notes, the Asian students do far less drinking, because they take their studies more seriously. An end to grade inflation would do more to make American students serious about their studies than any national drinking law.