The NZ economist Eric Crampton said yesterday that a widely cited Australian study had relied on incorrect economic arguments to support ''paternalistic'' policies to combat excessive drinking.Usually the burden of proof is on those wanting to change policy to come up with studies showing why they're right; I would have thought that simply showing the evidence in favour of further restrictions to be highly flawed would have been enough. But perhaps not.
Dr Crampton, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Canterbury, has had a paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal stating that only a fifth of the social costs of alcohol abuse asserted by the Australian study could be ''plausibly counted''.
He said many of the costs totalling $15 billion in that study were inadmissable in a standard economic framework.
''My worry has been that while the $15 billion is economically meaningless, it is policy meaningful. If people expect this is a cost to … their back pocket because of other people's behaviour, that increases the demand for certain types of policy,'' Dr Crampton told a briefing in Canberra hosted by the National Alcohol Beverage Industry Council.
Questioned about his independence, given his research and visit was financed by the alcohol industry, Dr Crampton said he was subject to his university's strict controls to ensure academic freedom. [What, would SMH have paid to have me come over and talk to their journalist? Airfares aren't free!]
The chief executive of FARE, Michael Thorn, said the study Dr Crampton questioned was in accordance with the approach laid down by the World Health Organisation.
He challenged the alcohol industry and Dr Crampton to generate a new estimate of the cost of alcohol abuse.
Coming up with a new estimate of the social cost of alcohol use, using a sound economic method, falls pretty heavily into the "this is going to be a pretty big job" file.