Blaming alcohol

While there is no harm in a select committee inquiry into issues, the reality is that simply blaming South Auckland violence on the number of liquor outlets is, well, simplistic.

Whale Oil has done some research:

In Manurewa ward there are 33  off licence liquor outlets for a population of 80,000 or one booze outlet for 2400 citizens. H0wick has 22 off licence liquor outlets for a population of 40,000 or one booze outlet for 1800 citizens.Clevedon has 11 off licencecs for a population of 10,000 citizens or one for every 833 citizens.

Going by Clark’s ridiculous suggestion by rights there should be blood in the streets in Howick because of the higher booze outlets than Manurewa. Also going by Clark’s suggestion there should be three times as many bodies piling up in the streets of Clevedon than Manurewa.

Colin Espiner is also doubtful:

But I’m a little perplexed about Helen Clark’s decision to launch into the liquor industry. At her Monday post-Cabinet press conference Clark said she believed there were too many liquor outlets in Manurewa. That much most people seem to agree on. But she also said it was time to review the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act, which ushered New Zealand out of the dark ages of the bottle shop and into a more enlightened view of alcohol consumption, which was that supermarkets and dairies could sell wine and beer, but not hard liquor.

Since then the number of liquor outlets in New Zealand has almost doubled – hardly surprising, since every supermarket in the land now sells it. The Prime Minister says there is evidence of a causal link between density of liquor outlets and criminal activity. Therefore, she says, the density should be reduced.

What springs to mind when I hear this, however, is the old caution about not implying a causal relationship between two inter-related events. Is there more crime in suburbs with more liquor outlets because of the outlets? Or do the outlets naturally gravitate towards lower-socio economic areas where drinking is a way of life and there just happens to be more crime?

I’m not saying alcohol doesn’t cause huge harm in society – most people accept it does. But it is also something that is hugely enjoyed by a majority of the adult population. It is our social lubricant, whether we like it or not. Whether or not it should be is another question. Personally I would find life pretty wretched without a glass of wine at the end of the day, but I’m not into binge drinking.

But whether or not we as a society have a problem with alcohol – and if we do, how you solve it – isn’t something that can be tackled by some knee-jerk crackdown on liquor outlets.

Reduce the number of liquor outlets and you will make it harder for people to grab a bottle of wine or a six pack, but I suspect will make no difference at all to those with alcohol and violence issues.

If there is an inquiry I hope they will look at actual facts and figures such as how much alcohol is purchased at various off licenses. I suspect people will find the corner dairy doesn’t really sell a significant amount of alcohol compared to the dedicated bottle stores.

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