Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Not even wrong

Some policy proposals are just so end-to-end nonsensical that it's hard to know where to start.

Today's example:
Tagging booze products with "irremovable stickers" to track where problem drinkers get their grog is being debated for Wellington.
The city's district licensing committee mulled over the idea as police and alcohol industry groups debate issues around booze-fuelled crime, litter, and disorder.
Let's start by assuming the thing could be done. Should it?

Suppose you found that people who go on to litter or cause other trouble primarily buy their liquor from Retailer X. The best you might then hope for would be some checks that that retailer is upholding standards on not selling to drunk people. But beyond that, what do you want them to do? Refuse to sell to people who they think might go on to litter? How should they judge that?

Look at it from another perspective. Everybody knows, but nobody can show, that at least some opposition to new liquor licenses comes from agents of those who have existing licenses. What happens if a licensee knows that it could get its competitor in trouble by leaving some of that competitor's bottles lying around in playgrounds. Might be tempting.

This really seems a "if you could push a button to magically implement the policy, it still wouldn't be a great idea" thing.

And then we start thinking about practicability.
Stephen Palmer, Medical Officer of Health, said the idea emerged at a licence renewal process for Liquor King in Kent Terrace.
Palmer said a neighbour objected to the Kent Terrace licence renewal, using photos of littered booze products at a nearby school.
Both the retailer and Lion queried suggestions that any particular outlet could be blamed for the garbage.
"It's very easy to put a sticker on things at the point of sale ... that seems to me to be the most simple thing," Palmer said.
It might seem simple to people who've never, say, bought a case of beer or seen anybody else ever buy a case of beer or seen a case of beer at a store. Everybody else in the world might recognise that the retailer would have to open each case and label each beer, either at point of sale or when it's stocked.

A couple other notable problems:
  • In my cupboard at home is a beautiful bottle of a Garage Project beer that's wrapped in paper, tied at the top. Would the retailer put a sticker on the paper that might be discarded before point of consumption, or on the bottle underneath? Would they have to rip open the packaging for the useless label's insertion?
  • If the labels are put in at time of sale, that causes queues. If it's done when the product's received at the store, you lose flexibility: stores can shift product across outlets if something sells unexpectedly quickly at one shop rather than another.
The Police figure that the labelling could be done by the producer:
Wellington Police alcohol harm reduction officer Sergeant Damian Rapira-Davies said it was important to understand the "causal nexus" connecting liquor retail, consumption and abuse.
People breaking alcohol laws or bylaws were often committing "gateway offences", which led to fighting, sexual assaults or domestic violence.
"It's about looking at a range of things that create a lot of problems we've got."
He was confident brewers or distillers could comply with any requirement for tracking labels. "If there's a demand for particular packaging, then the industry will meet it."
The only way I can imagine this working is numbered bottles and cases, with a back-end database matching bottle numbers to case numbers through to distribution. And where the producer sells directly to a retailer, that might work. But you'd then be requiring that all the distributors keep logs on which batches wind up where. It really quickly looks like an administrative nightmare.

But it's all simple, so long as you don't start thinking about it too hard.

Even if we assume this mess could be done, to what good purpose could the stickers really be put? And if it's such a great idea, why not:

  • Tag houses with the last real estate agent who sold it, then have the cops lean on any realtor who sells to somebody who uses the house for selling or making P.
  • Tag cars with the car dealer, so that cars bought by dangerous speeders can be tracked back to the real criminals: the person who sold the car to somebody who went on to speed.
  • Tag police officers with the name of the university that gave them a sociology degree, so we can appropriately assign approbation when things like this came up.  
Fortunately, there's no way that Wellington Council would go for this. 

Unfortunately, given the police's recent behaviour, we may reasonably expect that the police will start leaning on off-licenses to 'voluntarily' sticker their products as part of license renewal processes.

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