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November 02, 2004

Binge Drinking and Minimum Prices.

It's amazing what our Lords and Masters get up to really. In an attempt to cut binge drinking the suggestion has been made that pubs should have minimum prices, doing away with the more extreme versions of Happy Hour and the like. This then runs smack into the law on monopolies and collusionary pricing....remember when the vitamin manufacturers got fined squillions for fixing the market? It would appear that if it was the government (in one or other of its guises or levels) that set the prices, then this would not be a breach of such laws. But there is no level that has the right to set such prices, memories of prices and incomes controls and the disasters they lead to being too fresh. This Telegraph piece explains it nicely:

There's nothing this administration likes better than another headline-grabbing initiative, and the crackdown on binge drinking presents an irresistible target. It's all the fault of those greedy pubs, babbled ministers on the Today programme, with their happy hour offers. Cutting your prices is not usually considered a manifestation of greed, but never mind that, the solution is to prevent the pubs from tempting innocent drinkers with cheap alcohol.
It was pretty obvious what would happen next, and the farce we report today at Taunton Deane is the result. The moment the publicans meet and talk about prices, the Office of Fair Trading will descend on them, threatening its awesome powers to combat cartels. Of course, if the pubs are told by authority to set minimum prices, that's different, except that nobody seems to have a clue whose authority.
The likely answer is: nobody. After all, the ability to interfere with prices in the private sector is a draconian power, and there must surely still be a few civil servants left who can remember the ill-starred Prices & Incomes Board. If pubs are obliged to raise their prices, it's possible that the hooligans will drink less. It's much more likely that they'll buy their booze from the supermarket, where it is far cheaper than in the happiest hour, and carry on as before. What then: rationing?

Wasn't it one of the proud boasts of Nu Labour that they were going to bring us joined up government?

November 2, 2004 in Food and Drink | Permalink

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» Binge Drinking and Booze Prices from L'Ombre de l'Olivier
Tim Worstall links to a piece in the Torygraph where the British Government is considering trying to ban Happy Hours and other cut price drinking offerings at pubs and clubs to limit binge drinking. [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 2, 2004 10:27:35 AM

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