I have previously written about Mongolia’s struggles with endemic alcoholism, which the political establishment has tried to address by leading by example. But as this editorial makes clear, the problem is only getting worse, with over 55 percent of the nation’s population admitting to excessive alcohol intake. Aside from raising taxes to exorbitant levels, then, what is a concerned government to do? Here’s one intriguing idea from the editoral:
Decrease alcohol content in the alcoholic beverages year by year. The majority of alcohol beverages that are produced in Mongolia has an alcohol content of above 38% vol. If the alcohol volume is decreased by 1% year by year, Mongolians will drink alcoholic beverage of 20% by 2030. Obviously this would be better than the current situation.
The assumption here is that such a slow decrease in alcohol content will be imperceptible to consumers. If that turns to be correct, what might such an experiment reveal about the nature of alcoholism? Perhaps that some people drink out of habit as much as due to physical dependence—a line of argument expertly explored in this recent tome by Friend o’ Microkhan Charles Duhigg. Lowering alcohol content on the sly could be the Holy Grail of harm-reduction strategies.
Or it could be a disaster. What if people simply consume more drink in order to achieve the buzzes they enjoyed in years past? Or, perhaps more likely, developed a black-market for higher-proof beverages?
I’m not sure where the science stands on this question, but I do know that no one has ever conducted such an experiment on such a gargantuan scale. If nothing else, it sounds more humane than the Medieval Mongolian way of dealing with alcoholism, as outlined in the editorial’s lede:
If a person arrives drunk at a workplace, the first time impose a fine of a weapon he is carrying with him, second time impose the fine of a horse he is riding, third time cut off an extremity of the body. If a fourth time occurs, expel him out of the territory.
Do massive hangovers count as drunkenness? Because if so, I would have been rendered a one-handed exile long ago.
(Photo via Rich Wainwright)