Monthly Archives: January 2016

Drinking age: What the U.S. can learn from Europe

My family has been living in Switzerland for just over two years. There have been many adjustments to our lifestyle since moving from suburban CT to semi-urban Zurich. One of the first was around the different ages you are allowed to legally do things in Switzerland.

My about to turn sixteen-year-old son: “Dad, do you know that now that we live in Switzerland I won’t be allowed to get my driver’s license until I turn eighteen?”

Me: “I’m sorry about that but we will have lots of  new experiences here in -”

Him: “But I will be able to buy beer or wine in a bar!”

In Zurich, sixteen-year-olds don’t sneak liquor from the liquor cabinet, use fake I.D.s, binge drink in hiding or get behind the wheel of a car drunk, because they are afraid to tell their parents they have been drinking.

If you make drinking a big deal, kids won’t learn how to drink socially and responsibly. They are encouraged to associate drinking from their earliest experiences with it as something illicit, rebellious and subversive. What a flawed system we have in the U.S. that says you are responsible enough to vote, serve in the armed forces, drive a car and yet you somehow shouldn’t have a beer in a bar.

Here is a smart piece from FEE’s website:

What good would lowering the drinking age do? It would put an end to the perverse culture of secretiveness and abuse that has grown up around underage drinking. It would allow bars and restaurants to become “safe spaces” for college-age students to drink and Uber home if they need to. Proponents will undoubtedly also emphasize the revenue gains for the state that would come from legalization.

But the longer-term gains would be cultural. We could begin to foster a more European-style culture of drinking that promotes responsibility and civilized sobriety. People are more likely to act like adults if you treat them as adults. Prohibition has promoted a horrible childishness with terrible results for everyone.

Read the whole thing.

Don’t take my word for it. College presidents have seen the unfairness and unintended consequences of the U.S. drinking age. See here. They seek a reasoned and rational discussion.

The Amethyst Initiative states that, in their experience as university presidents, they have observed, “Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students,” and therefore they urge lawmakers “to invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol”. 

Europe can teach the U.S. many things to avoid but it can also provide some positive examples of personal freedom and responsibility. What should a young person learn how to do first, drive a car or drink responsibly?

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Filed under Europe, Politics

Multiculturalism: Lessons not to follow

The US has been steadily drifting away from its heritage of being the greatest culturally inclusive and unifying nation in the world’s history – E Pluribus Unum. Our unique ability to assimilate citizens from every corner of the earth and to allow anyone to become an American is a crucial underpinning of American exceptionalism. But the rise of identity politics depends on balkanizing communities, creating mindless voting blocks and keeping them that way – E pluribus, semper pluribus.

When charges of “cultural appropriation” are given credibility and seen as a negative not a positive feature of American society, we are drifting towards an approach to immigrants and immigration more and more like the approaches of Western Europe. Foreign Affairs has a thoughtful take on three different approaches to multiculturalism/assimilation, each well-meaning and all unsuccessful.

There has also been a guiding assumption throughout Europe that immigration and integration must be managed through state policies and institutions. Yet real integration, whether of immigrants or of indigenous groups, is rarely brought about by the actions of the state; it is shaped primarily by civil society, by the individual bonds that people form with one another, and by the organizations they establish to further their shared political and social interests. It is the erosion of such bonds and institutions that has proved so problematic—that links assimilationist policy failures to multicultural ones and that explains why social disengagement is a feature not simply of immigrant communities but of the wider society, too. To repair the damage that disengagement has done, and to revive a progressive universalism, Europe needs not so much new state policies as a renewal of civil society.

Kenan Malik’s analysis of multiculturalism in Germany, France and the UK is insightful, thorough and balanced. Read the whole thing.

For over 200 years, the US has successfully welcomed the world’s huddled masses and become stronger and richer because of their contributions. But this has succeeded because immigrants came here to become Americans and to fully participate in our country’s unique freedoms and commitment to liberty. Smart immigration reform will depend on continuing this tradition of inclusion and assimilation. Europe has shown us clearly that other models do not work.

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Filed under American exceptionalism, Balkanizing minorities, Immigration reform, Multiculturalism, Politics