Behind the Beer Ads

After some initial doubts, the Learning Channel has decided to air this weekend a "history lesson" on beer produced by Anheuser-Busch.

We haven't seen the half-hour television show. But we suspect it won't highlight the ill effects that drinking beer, with its alcohol content, can have on families. It is more likely to accentuate the "good times" too often associated with the beverage.

For the sake of balance, we would like to note a new study relating beer to violence against children.

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It is common knowledge, of course, that violence in families is often associated with the consumption of alcohol. About half of all cases of spousal abuse involve alcohol. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that approximately half the people jailed for violent crimes had been drinking just prior to their offense. Another study found that in 69 percent of cases of child abuse at least one parent was an alcoholic.

The new National Bureau of Economic Research study by two City University of New York economists, Sara Markowitz and Michael Grossman, finds that child abuse can be cut by increasing the tax on beer. Specifically, a 10 percent increase in the excise tax on beer will reduce the probability of severe violence - kicking, hitting, or threatening with a weapon - by 2.3 percent.

The two economists use a national survey designed to collect information about violence in the home. It indicated 14.4 percent of children (6.6 million of a total 46 million aged 3 to 17 at the time of the survey) were subject to severe domestic violence. So a 10 percent increase in the beer tax would trim the number of abused children by at least 150,000.

Ms. Markowitz and Mr. Grossman chose beer for their study because it is the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage and because most of the variation in beer prices across states comes from differences in excise tax rates. That difference enables them to relate variations in beer taxes to variances in child abuse. It is assumed that higher beer taxes shrink beer consumption.

Dutifully, the researchers note that higher beer taxes would have one negative - they would penalize people who drink beer but are not violent. That factor has to be weighed against the benefit of reduced child abuse.

But when policymakers consider the negative side of alcohol consumption, they should have little trouble concluding that making beer and other alcoholic beverages more expensive would discourage consumption and do some good.

Specifically, thousands of young children whose experience is far from the glitzy "fun" world of beer ads would have safer lives.

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