Thursday, September 17, 2009

America at Odds: Fiscal Federalism and Drinking Age

Fiscal Federalism
is the power of the national government to influence state policies through grants. In 1984, when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed, it essentially created a national drinking age of 21. States could still make it legal for those under 21 to drink alcohol, but it would forfeit federal highway funding.

In America at Odds By Edward Sidlow, Beth Henschen, the author's outline the "Bridging of the Tenth Amendment" by fiscal federalism. The education reform (ie: testing requirements) in the No Child Left Behind Act rely on fiscal federalism. States receive block grants and in return must meet federally imposed standards relating to testing and accountability. Many state officials express concern that the fiscal federalism used to put NCLB into practice is the beginning of a fundamental shift toward the national government's assumption of control over public schools. This might also be known as marble cake federalism.

Why bring this up now? Well, there may be a growing movement to challenge the National Drinking Age Law. The presidents of 135 colleges across the country have signed a public statement calling on elected officials to "support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age." The statement, as detailed on The Amethyst Initiative website, reflects their belief that it is time to rethink the drinking age, that 21 as a LDA is not working, and that an unintended consequence of the 21 LDA is dangerous binge drinking.

It may be layered in a constitutional question. There are those who believe that fiscal federalism and its marbe cake mandates, are basically against the 10th Amendment that gives the power to make all non-constituional policy to the states. They argue that federal highway funding should be allocated in a layer cake format ie: highway funding and drinking age laws should not be mixed.

There are many special interest groups (ie: MADD) that will influence state legislatures and the Congress on this issue. The Tribune reports that more than two decades after the U.S. set the national drinking age at 21, a movement is gaining traction to revisit the issue and consider allowing Americans as young as 18 to legally consume alcohol.


morganh said...

I don't understand why they would try and bring up this issue now. I believe that the drinking age that we have right now at 21 years old is a good midpoint of where the age should be. If I could have it my way, the age would be higher, but too many people would fight against that. Too many people already fight against it being 21.

I personally think it would be ridiculous to lower the drinking age, having seen the horrors of what could happen. I think Mothers Against Drunk Driving is an amazing organization and I would hope they would work as hard as they can to stop such a thing from happening. 21 is a good age where people are starting to really mature and become responsible adults, although not all of them are, and teenagers are even worse.

The last thing in the human brain to develop is the ability for us to predict the consequences of our actions and our brains are not even done growing at 18. I do not think the government should even make lowering the drinking age an option. I mean just to say that the states won't receive funding for highways...that is not good enough. there should not be any room for negotiation.

In the memory of some of my late friends...and victims of drunk driving and under aged drinking... this is ridiculous.

Mr Wolak said...

Well said by Morgan. So is the expansion of the national government OK on a case-by-case basis. Or should we have to wait for states to do the right thing. When I was in high school, Wisconsin had 18 as its drinking age.

And certainly as a WVHS community was hit tragically hard by drunk-driving tragedy in the late 1990s. So was the Fiscal Federalist expansion create a national drinking age of 21 good government?

What if a state government decides it could bring in more commercial revenue by letting 18 year-olds drink legally? Could they do it, citing the 10th amendment?

Darkside DM 305 said...

Technically, the state can raise funds by any means necessary as long as they don't violate Federal laws/guidelines. I would argue, however, that the Government (whose job is to protect the citizens) ought to enforce the 21+ law, to discourage early drinking and loss of life.
However (Devil's Advocate), it could be argued that the Federal Gov't ought to totally eliminate alcohol, as it IS harmful, judgment impairing, addictive, etc. They tried that, though, and we all know how it turned out.

In regards to state funding - consider prostitution. Illegal, but potentially profitable if the state could regulate and tax it. Also potentially dangerous. Marijuana - same deal. Forget Liberty vs Security - try Profit (a greater American value) vs Security. Where do we draw the line?

Ryan Peltier said...

In response to the question of "Where do we draw the line?", Americans draw the line when we decide to draw the line. Sure, it's legal to smoke cigarettes, only because we've been smoking tobacco since colonial ages. Sure, the same is said for marijuana, but it's not as highly supported as cigarettes are.

Cigarettes kill about half the smokers who use them regularly, by that meaning any problems said person dies from is an effect of smoking. But does the government prevent the smoking of cigarettes? Not a chance. My guess is that so many people smoke, and the taxes are so high, state and federal budgets would lose a good amount of money from the banning of cigarettes.

Gabi said...

Personally I think American should place even more emphasis on the driving rather than the drinking, and keep the fiscal federalism. In Europe they can begin drinking earlier, but they have better systems in place to protect those who have consumed alcohol and bystanders. Car accidents remain the number-one killer of American teen, while in Europe drunk driving accidents are more common among people in their mid-20s. While most European countries issue driver's licenses at age 18, the difficulty of passing the test, high insurance costs and wide use of trains and buses all mean that young people generally begin to drive much later than in the United States. American teenagers had a higher rate of intoxication than did their counterparts in half of the European countries. American teenagers were more likely to have been drunk in the last 30 days.

Ryan Pen said...

I agree with Gabi's post. Drinking and driving I feel is the main underlying issue when people talk about alcohol in today's society. Since many accidents today involve teenagers with alcohol, there should probably be harsher penalties for those getting caught. I feel that also the source where teenagers get their alcohol from should have strict punishment because they are the ones promoting this habit. But also I feel that the drinking age should be the same for all states. I think that if we had different ages for different states, problems like drunk driving would be even more controversial then they are now because of the whole age dilemma.

Isha said...

I agree both Gabi and Ryan, because the high drinking age only increases the appeal for drinking. In countries that drinking is culturally normal, teenagers are not irresponsible. Driving laws should be refined, rather than keeping a high drinking age.

Sai said...

Going back to the whole fiscal federalism subject, I believe that it is a great way in order to enforce federal policies and keep the strength of the federal government over the state's. By offering funding to states the federal government is able to dictate its views and policies in the country much more easily and with less controversy as well because now the states have an incentive to follow these policies.

Rabiya said...

I also believe that it is good to refine the driving age rather than the drinking age. Underage drinking occurs no matter what the legal age is but it is much more difficult for illegal underage driving. Since the driving age at such a young age right now that it adds to the increase in drunk driving accidents. Therefore, the drinking age will not make much of an impact but a change in the driving age may have a great impact on the future.

Tina said...

I believe that this issue is really a complicated one as most teens are already educated in schools on the risks of drunk driving, driving irresponsibly, and the horrid effects of drinking. Thus, the fact that driving under the influence with teens still occurs implies change is necessary. Yet, I know that it will have a huge uproar if either the driving or the drinking age. I especially think that in this country, increasing the driving age would cause a great stir. If kids could not drive to school, then more buses would be needed. If kids cannot drive after they turn 16, how can they drive to a job etc? Parents would need to be their child's constant chauffeur and they may not be happy about it.
Also, since once a person is 18 they do not require a driver's ed class and could immediately obtain a license, driver's ed companies would lose many of its students. And the list could go on & on...

1018400 said...

Highway funding and drinking age laws should be mixed in together for the sake of safety on the roads. In my perspective, lowering the drinking age would increaes the death toll of drunk-driving due to the fact that many teenages will abuse their alcohol privelages by driving under the influence. The fact that many teenagers in the U.S drive is a reason why highway funding and drinking age should not be mixed. Foreign countries have relatively lower drinking ages because teenagers do not have the convenience of a car, or a license, at hand like Americans.

Anonymous said...

They say that the 21 year drinking age is "facilitating binge drinking" among those of the 18 year age and thats a reason to lower it...what happens then when the 16 year olds start binge drinking? this is rediculous

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