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Ivo Vegter

COMMENT: Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer

Moralistic busybodies can all rattle off reasons why alcohol is bad. They’d ban it, if they hadn’t learnt the hard way that prohibition turned out to be counter-productive. So they go after alcohol advertising instead. It may or may not help some people, but it certainly can only do so at the expense of others – and especially of small businesses, writes Ivo Vegter.

Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is unapologetic. He wants to deny adult South Africans their personal freedom, and treat them as children. He sees himself as a father-figure, responsible for our behaviour.

“Why do kids need nannies? Because there are certain things which they can’t do for themselves – they need someone to take care of them,” Motsoaledi told eNews Channel Africa recently. “We are playing that role.”

Among his alarming parenting plans is to prohibit alcohol advertising. Because if people don’t see advertising, they won’t buy alcohol, goes the theory. After all, they’re children, so they’re thick as planks. And nobody buys tik, do they? QED.

Frédéric Bastiat, a French economist, observed in a seminal 1850 essay, That which is seen and that which is not seen, that one must evaluate an economic policy choice not only by the immediate effects it might have, but by its unseen impact. So, assuming, for the moment, that a ban on alcohol advertising will reduce alcohol abuse, what are the unseen effects?

At whose expense will Nanny Motsoaledi yank drunks onto the straight and narrow? At the expense of the media industry, as independent marketing analyst Chris Moerdyk explains. At the expense of the development of sports, arts and culture, all of which depend on generous sponsorships from alcohol manufacturers. But most importantly, he’ll do so at the expense of thousands of employees of small wine farms, breweries and bars.

I wonder how he’ll explain to a mother who loses the ability to provide for her family because her employer – a newspaper, a winery or a restaurant – went out of business, that she should suck it up because somewhere, somehow, there’s an alcoholic wifebeater who will stop being delinquent. I wonder how he’ll explain that this redistribution of misfortune from the guilty to the innocent isn’t a reason to grab the nearest ethanol concoction and drown her sorrows.

Motsoaledi told Business Day that it’s okay for him to be a nanny because some other countries do it too. Even the World Health Organisation is at it, with reams of moralising exhortations such as the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

Besides being an egregious example of the tu quoque fallacy, it raises the alarming spectre that once Motsoaledi has dealt with smoking, drinking, salty snacks and fast food, he’ll propose mandatory gym attendance for anyone who is a member of the equally mandatory National Health Insurance scheme. Your ass belongs to Nanny Motsoaledi, kid!

The argument is that because government foots the bill for some healthcare, it is entitled to dictate how people live in order to reduce their burden on the state. That is an excellent argument, but not for dictating how people live.

It is an excellent argument why a welfare state is fundamentally incompatible with the individual freedom that is guaranteed in our Constitution. Of course, anyone can give reasons why alcohol is evil. In moderation, it isn’t harmful, and it can even be beneficial, but let’s not let such niceties derail our patriarchal rhetoric. It is also entirely legal, but no self-respecting nanny would be brought up short by such pedantic protestation.

The point: alcohol is sometimes consumed in excess by some people, and this can cause dependency and health problems, contribute to accidental deaths, especially on our roads, and exacerbate violence, especially in our homes…..

The Daily Maverick: Read the full article