40p per unit of alcohol: Lessons in social engineering


Today’s news that David Cameron seeks to introduce a law to make booze at least 40p per unit highlights the failure of social engineering and, more importantly, the secular state.

The government acknowledges that binge drinking, not to mention problem drinking and alcoholism, is a major issue. Socially, city centres are no-go areas on Friday and Saturday unless you plan to get bladdered, try to get laid, step in someone else’s vomit and risk getting into a fight. The secular state spends millions of pounds of tax payers money on policing city centres, providing referees for pissed-up clubbers. The church has got involved too, with Street Pastors, lending a caring hand to get people home safely. Then there the spiraling medical costs of increased rates of liver disease and other health related issues. Cameron wants to draw a line under the faffing around over the minimum price of a unit of alcohol.  This measly piece of social engineering won’t work.  Binge drinkers will unthinkingly spend more on booze and get into debt or make cut backs elsewhere.  That’s what I once used to do.  Alcoholics will steal to bet the fix they need.  The bottles of Frosty Jack Cider that littered my front garden last year were generally not paid for.

Like the problem of income tax (see yesterday’s post), at the heart of this problem lies the human heart. Fiddling with the minimum cost of alcohol won’t make people want to stop getting bladdered. It will just cost more. People who live for fun and the chance of a getting laid in our hedonistic generation won’t stop being hedonists just because it’s more expensive. I’ve been there, binge drinking with the best of them for 6 years and I know that cost was never an issue.

What if there was a way that hedonism could be overcome? What if people who previously lived only for the endless pursuit of cheap thrills found a new purpose for living?

The secular state is impotent in this matter because there is no way that the government can say “we don’t want you to have fun.”  What else is life for under the secular worldview? To tell people not to have fun makes the state feel like a bit of a monster. The confessionally Christian state, on the other hand, can point to the gospel of grace as the primary motivation to live for another purpose, let’s say, the glory and enjoyment of God, because that’s what life is for. The gospel tells us that hedonists live as they do because they suppress the truth about God in order to have “fun” (Romans 1:18ff). Those who reject God will face his judgement and eternal death (Romans 1:31). But, God has made a way for sinners, government officials and even vicars to get right with him and so live eternally, through his love, justice and mercy demonstrated on the cross. Christians stop living as hedonists because they find enjoyment and satisfaction in Christ and want to be useful to the God who saved them.

We don’t need a Prime Minister who fiddles with the minimum price of a unit of alcohol, we need one who confesses Christ and reminds people of the love of God in the death of Christ.  We want a PM who tells people that we should use our lives to transform and renew the world in the way that Christ directs us. And, we need a nation filled with believers, whose hearts have been turned inside out by Christ, so that we think about the poor, needy, sick and elderly and not about the next cheap thrill.

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