Thank you for Olivia Wannan's reasonably balanced piece on alcohol policy.
I would make one note of correction. In 2009, Matt Burgess and I released a report critical of BERL's $4.8 billion estimate of the social cost of alcohol in New Zealand. That report was entirely uncommissioned; we simply did not like that what we viewed as a bad statistic was influencing policy. We concluded there that social costs were instead on the order of $760 million. Late in 2010, Matt and I were commissioned by an Australian alcohol consortium, NABIC, to produce a similar report examining the Australian study that formed the basis for BERL's report. In doing so, we discovered a substantial error in our prior work on BERL: one not noted by BERL in its response to our critique, by Brian Easton in his paid report for the New Zealand Law Commission evaluating our work, or by Australian consultants Marsden Jacob and Associates, who were paid $60,000 by the New Zealand Law Commission for their report critiquing our unfunded paper. We consequently updated our estimate of the social costs for New Zealand to roughly $967 million. NABIC did not request this addition to the paper we produced, but we did not want the error in our prior work to stand once we discovered it. The net effect of our doing funded work on alcohol was to increase our estimate of the social costs of alcohol in New Zealand.
Aggregate social costs are a poor basis for policy. We can easily imagine worlds in which alcohol's harms are tiny, but where particular measures could reduce those harms without offsetting costs to others; we can similarly imagine worlds in which alcohol's harms are enormous but where no measure could reduce harms without doing even more harm to moderate consumers' enjoyment of alcoholic products. A more relevant assessment would consider the benefits of any particular policy along with the harms imposed on moderate drinkers and others by the policy and simply recommend those policies doing more good than harm.
Monday, September 3, 2012
This time to the DomPost consequent to Olivia Wannan's article on alcohol minimum prices. Olivia's piece is one of the better summaries I've seen out there. But I did want to make a couple of points. Here they are.