Sometimes I wonder if we should not strengthen the rule of "unintended consquences" into "opposite consequences". Recent news that "it's the rich wot is doin' the boozin' " brings to mind a conversation with a local publican trying to ameliorate the consequences of the smoke-free legislation.
General early consensus in the pub trade was that the way to bring punters back in from their huddled mass on outdoor pavements has been that you re-vamp the pub kitchen, buy 'er indoors a new apron and start selling gourmet nosh to make money.
Sadly it doesn't work too well. "People wot like boozin' " said my publican friend "ain't people wot like eatin' good nosh. And people wot like eatin' won't trot along to a place that may have a sign outside that says White Swan, but everyone calls the ****ing Mucky Duck." (He has a certain turn of phrase my publican friend.)
Further searching questions by your intrepid TPA reporter established that his real problem is that his overheads are so astonishingly high that his only recourse when aiming to make a profit is to target the lowest common denominator and spray gallons of alcohol at them. 11% NIC, 17.5% VAT, local business rates, booze duty, what he calls "the environmental stealth" and trading standards all add up to a ferocious financial negative against his current income.
"You want to do binge drinking?" he asks. "Well no ... " I begin, but realise he has begun on a rhetorical crusade that needs no response. "Tax me more", he says. "I put the prices up, and the decent people go home and drink in peace and quiet at their fireside. The riff raff left are the young and needy. The young because they've got no-one else to spend their money on and the needy because there's nothing else they want to spend their money on. Stands to reason dunnit?" I nod at his sagacity. "And another thing", he adds, "that binging wouldn't be half as bad if we had a mixed bag in the house, the proper people are a brake on the louts and drunks, I tell ya. We can make money in a different way with them."
My small glass of (sour) house red sipped, I slink home and ponder. He has a point, to what extent do high taxes actually create binge drinking by self-selecting those who gravitate to the solace of over-imbibing into Hogarthian excess. The government response to binge drinking is (as always) to punish drinking with taxation. Some of us, the wealthy, can buy out of binging because we have nice homes and neighbourhoods. Maybe the rich do over-indulge at home with a steady torrent of fine Chateau down their domestic gullets, but spare a thought for those who have damp homes and squalling kids (courtesy of the appalling Town and Country Act - another story for another day) who escape down the "Mucky Duck" for a good knees up, whatever the price. Their taxes probably go to counsellors, advisers and bureaucrats who want to get them out of their drinking dens, using policies that got them there in the first place. Mad!