The fourth chapter of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Bureaucrat: Writing on Governing is “Governing the Drunken Commons”, and includes an essay I wrote on my reflections on the difficulty of alcohol policy.
For 7 years between 2006 and 2013 I was directly responsible for alcohol and drug policy in Victoria (Australia). I remained connected to alcohol and drugs to the end of my career. I dealt with everything from the alcopops tax, alcohol advertising, liquor licensing debates, the 2am lockout (see featured image of protest against this folly), treatments for alcohol and drugs, responding to the ‘scourge of ice’, and proposals for supervised injecting rooms. It is a contentious field, and it was a personally rewarding field. But it is a field in which many common problems of governing are revealed.
It is difficult to get people to do things they would not voluntarily do, but that is what governing is all about. People like their bad habits. They are hard to change. Many proposals to change them are little better than diktats and statements of faith. The USA experience with alcohol prohibition from 1919 is one such example. There have been many more. They often fail. Many people look for rationalizations for why governments do not act in the way they would prefer, or if they do why those solutions do not work. Generally, they do not come to terms with the intrinsic difficulty of governing. Alcohol and drug policy is difficult, because it encapsulates the difficulty of governing as a whole. It is difficult to govern the commons, but that is the tasks of the state. How much more difficult is it to manage a drunken crowd on that commons?