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Liquor stores don’t cause domestic violence or crime

In the past I have criticised the argument that reducing the number of liquor stores will reduce the crime rate.  Police statisticians identify a correlation between the number of liquor stores and hence of drinking with the incidence of crime in a community.   They deduce that reducing the number of stores will cut crime.  Now a bone-headed argument is making the rounds that reducing the number of stores will cut domestic violence.  This is boneheaded because it ignores the fact that stores will locate where entrepreneurs assume residents will consume large amounts of alcohol – primarily in blue-collar and poor areas.  Proponents of such arguments consider demand but not the drivers of supply.   The effects of cutting stores on crime or on domestic violence will at best be modest – if store numbers are cut the more plausible response is that people will simply have to travel further to get their liquor – this might influence the effective consumption price somewhat but, given relatively inelastic demands, the effects in curbing alcohol consumption, and hence crime or violence, will be minor.

11 comments to Liquor stores don’t cause domestic violence or crime

  • fxh

    I don’t follow you Harry.

    Don’t you say that driving up the cost of cigarettes will drive down consumption?

    Why wont this work for grog.

    Most abusers of grog and people are lazy as well as stupid. They will drink less and drive less and bash less.

    I’m not sure that grog demand is inelastic.

  • Devis

    Harry goes all free market when it suits. He’s a Friedmanite when something directly impacts him in an adverse way.

  • hc

    Well FXH I think the costs of having to travel to the next suburb or buying on line or on the way home from work won’t ceteris paribus be much greater than buying from your local bottle shop. Alcohol demands are not inelastic but rather inelastic – a reason governments like to tax them.

    I favour attacking the externalities associated with boozing directly – for example heavy fines on drink driving. But alcohol taxes are indiscriminate as they attack (moderate, sensible) drinkers such as you and myself) who create no externalities.

    Devis, you are a donkey.

  • conrad

    “This is boneheaded because it ignores the fact that stores will locate where entrepreneurs assume residents will consume large amounts of alcohol – primarily in blue-collar and poor areas”

    That’s not a fact at all — Boroondara (Hawthorn, Kew etc.), for example, has an extremely high rate of alcoholism amongst females (think bored house-wives and retired women having the rather more than occasional tipple). I can’t find the real stats off hand (they exist), but this article: notes its. We just don’t care about alcoholism in that group, because 50 year old females don’t create fights, beat their husbands etc. although it would be good to locate a liquor store there, since presumably they can afford decent quality alcohol which has a bigger profit margin.

    Even amongst males (see here:, the story is more complicated as the groups that drink the most are not the ones we think about.

    I think both of these facts suggest that your ideas about who is drinking the most are wrong, and I’m sure there is is definitely a map of these things somewhere where you actually see it (someone had it at my work — or perhaps I saw someone give a talk using it), and you can get other stats like who the problem groups are.

    As it happens, I agree with you that reducing the number of alcohol outlets wouldn’t make much difference (that’s just a guess — I imagine you really need empirical evidence for this, which you could get). Alternatively, if you were into authoritarian solutions, I imagine licensing hours like they use in some of the Nordic countries would.

  • fxh

    harry – you are loose with the truth – calling me a moderate drinker!

    I’ve never been so insulted in …..

  • fxh

    conrad – I’m always suspicious of articles like that Progress Press article. I note that its quoting a PhD student – from Swinny (cough cough) who is an Alcohol and Drug person. Far from me to say self serving.(small alcohol pun – self serving …)

    I’m not always happy with a lot of the data without significant triangulation. For a start most surveys are self reporting – I doubt that anyone I know would be able to say what is a standard drink. Mind you that means they are more than likely understating their intake. In your favour I should also note that the alcohol content of a bottle of Harry’s favourite red will have shot up to around 14% these days – up from 9% – 10% a few years back – so one bottle for Harry means he’s drinking more than ever.

    I also would suggest that high proportion of older persons admissions to hospital for falls, biggest single cause of presentations, (over 65 yo) would be due to being half drunk mixed with prescription medicines. No one wants to document this with objective blood tests. Think of all the hip replacements and time in hospital – cost to society.

    conrad – I’m so good at arguing I think I’ve just convinced myself you are right. Thats the danger of posting on the Internet sober.

    I remember doing a project one and a very small country town on the way to Adelaide had the highest per capita grog sales in Victoria – and it was/is a Lutheran stronghold with a high % of abstainers.

  • conrad

    FXH — I really have seen the real Boroondara data somewhere, I just can’t remember where it comes from and can’t find it easily again (One of our guys got money from one of the Boroondara charity organizations to look into the issue of alcoholism amongst older females — this is how I know about it — this is of course one of societies “invisible” groups so it’s no surprise people don’t think about them). Perhaps it was one of those ABS graphs where they have lots of different demographic variables in neighborhoods (?).

    I must say I agree with you about the possibility that falls amongst the elderly are caused in part by booze — it would certainly be something worth looking into. I can’t help but wonder if this is yet another issue where some of the big costs are simply ignored because they don’t bother anyone except the victims (e.g., females getting cancer from booze, older people falling as you note, which would be a huge later life cost if it results in chronic injuries). This would put it in the same category as pot — Everyone scaremongers about psychogenic mental health problems when by far the largest cost is no doubt due to due cancer, strokes and and so on. Somehow if you get part of your brain blown out at 50 due to a stroke or get your tongue out due to cancer at 40 this is not a worry compared to if you go mad and can’t find the cause.

  • Jim Rose

    Harry is right in the sense that controlling the number of outlets is a pretty indirect way of fighting crime. a distraction from the main game.

    people often do not agree on what are the best options, but it hard to disagree that this is a poor anti-crime response.

    Finland and Sweden automatically sentence drunk drivers to one-year jail sentences including hard labor. In Norway, a drunk driver is jailed for three weeks and loses their license for a year. these laws are used in economics text-books as examples of the power of incentives.

  • derrida derider

    I’d have thought that this question – does having lots of drunks in an area create lots of grog pushers or does having lots of grog pushers create lots of drunks – would have long since been resolved empirically.

    There must be many thousands of natural experiments where the number of local grog pushers was varied exogenously (ie without consideration as to the number of local drunks) and the local micreconometricians then brought their kernel matching and difference-in-differences guns to bear on it. Surely it’s the sort of project that just adds to a voluminous literature and so you’d give to your graduate students Harry.

  • […] to La Trobe University economist, Professor Harry Clarke, there’s a “bone-headed argument making the rounds” that reducing the number of liquor […]

  • Jim Rose

    is the cost of driving a bit further to buy beer etc., that much more of the full price of binge drinking by teenagers. what is the known relationship that is being measured?

    would it not be better to just raise the tax? teenagers have limited budgets, but plenty of time.

    this report does admit that the evidence is mixed on outlet density and consumption

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