Alcohol and economic “success in life”

March 20, 2012

by Edward Stringham*

Don Boudreaux is a great economist and a consistent defender of letting individuals make economic choices for themselves. Yet I would take a different approach than his recent post that defends drug legalization by criticizing alcohol.

Boudreax writes, “But the same is true for alcohol – another drug that ruins many lives and contributes to no one’s ‘success in life.’”

Here Boudreaux appears to have paid too much time listening to the prohibitionists, and missed “No Booze? You May Lose” coauthored by me and Bethany Peters for the Journal of Labor Research. The article, which was mentioned in numerous outlets from Time to Maxim, found that social drinkers earn significantly more than otherwise similar non-drinkers. If one’s measure of success in life includes superior labor market outcomes then drinking should be viewed as a positive rather than a negative.

Continue reading here

*Edward Stringham, Hackley Endowed Professor for the Study of Capitalism and Free Enterprise, Fayetteville State University.

8 Responses to “Alcohol and economic “success in life””

  1. N. Joseph Potts Says:

    Those of us lacking current academic connections can’t read the article – at least, not free.

    I think I’ll just have another beer.

    Alone (with my computer).

  2. Josh Says:

    Can’t you and Don both be somewhat correct? The effect that you identify in your paper is really one of social networking. It remains possible that alcohol abuse is dangerous as Don suggests.

  3. Tom Dougherty Says:

    Without reading the article and perhaps this is addressed, but just because you have a correlation between drinking and higher earnings doesn’t not necessarily mean that the drinking caused the higher earnings. Or that someones success in life is attributed to their drinking habit.

    Those successful people who drink might have been even more successful if they did not drink. But maybe I am wrong: Skip the college education and head to the bar.

  4. chidemkurdas Says:

    It is plausible that there is a positive causal effect from social drinking to earnings, but only in places where social drinking is prevalent. In other words, if people tend to network while having drinks and you don’t drink, you may lose from not networking as much. But if many people don’t drink, then non-drinkers would not have an adverse effect and may even benefit. Perhaps it’s a kind of network externality. (I have not yet read the paper.)

  5. Current Says:

    “if people tend to network while having drinks and you don’t drink, you may lose from not networking as much.”

    Another possibility is that you lose the practice of networking that socialising while drinking provides. If I were a betting man, that’s what I’d bet on as the explanation.

  6. Greg Rehmke Says:

    A friend made a comment critical of drug regulation by reference to problems caused by alcohol. He cited a study on police reports of men beating their wives due to alcohol consumption. My thought: how many men don’t beat their wives, thanks to alcohol consumption?


  7. I’m astonished no one has mentioned the extensive medical literature indicating that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with improved health outcomes. Increased social capital and better health outcomes are likely to be mutually reinforcing.


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