Punishing The Majority

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Punishing The Majority is an IEA Current Controversies Paper, discussing Big Temperance's tactics in attempting to reduce alcohol consumption and the alleged problems associated with drinking alcohol, and the fallacies they cite in order to support their tactics.

It concentrates largely on the fallacy of the Total Consumption Model which, briefly, "states that the amount of harmful drinking in a population is a fixed percentage of the amount of overall drinking[1]", and that - as a consequence - if you can bring down the average amount the average person drinks, then all will be sweetness and light; less drinking, less harm - or at least that's how Big Temperance see it.

Part of the fallacy is that this won't work because heavy drinkers push up the average, and getting the average person to 'drink less' won't bring down the average by as much.

A relatively small number of drinkers consume a disproportionately large proportion of alcohol. In Britain, more than 40 per cent of alcohol is consumed by ten per cent of the population. Close to 70 per cent is consumed by one fifth of the population. This distribution is not unusual in markets - it is the Pareto principle - but it indicates the extent to which per capita consumption depends on the drinking patterns of a minority. If you have more heavy drinkers you are almost bound to have a higher rate of per capita alcohol consumption. You are also likely to have more alcohol-related harm, but that is because of the heavy drinking, not because of the average.


If you can reduce the number of heavy drinkers and alcoholics in a given population - or if you can get the heavy drinkers to reduce their consumption - you are likely to see a fall in average alcohol consumption, but there is no reason to think that getting moderate drinkers to reduce their alcohol intake is going to magically reduce levels of heavy drinking.[1]

Another part of the fallacy is the thought that - individually - those that drink the most cause the most harm; they don't:

If you look at drinking patterns within the UK, it is the poorest socio-economic groups that have the lowest average consumption, but it is these groups that have the highest rates of alcohol-related mortality. By contrast, the richest groups drink the most and suffer the least harm.[1]


  1. a b c Punishing the drinking majority - Velvet Glove, Iron Fist blog