Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverages: Freedom Going Backwards

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The Government through the Ministry of Trade issued Minister of Trade Regulation or the Ministerial Decree No. 06/M-DAG/PER/1/2015, which prohibits alcoholic beverages in any level of alcohol to be sold in mini markets and retailers throughout Indonesia. Alcoholic beverages types of beer, for example, can only be sold in cafes, restaurants, and hotels. This policy is based on the argument that alcoholic beverages including the ones with lower alcohol level will destroy the younger generation, which may at any time buy beer at the nearest retailer.

The religious movements who believe that alcohol is a source of immorality and a sign of defiance against religion support this policy. Let us forget for a moment about the arguments of the religious leaders. They have the confidence to ignore freedom. But the argument that was built by the Minister of Trade, Rahmat Gobel, a former leader of a big electronics companies in Indonesia, did not put logic and common sense into account. How could a Minister of Trade appointed by the President promote trade, issue a policy that prohibit a business of profitable product in specific industries, and enjoyed by the consumers.

If the argument is about how easy it is for a small child or a teenager to buy beer, then government should implement a more effective regulation to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages with more stringent as happen in developed countries. For example, by using an identity card as an evidence of age, if someone is proven to be underage then they are not allowed to buy. Policy as such makes more sense to be applied to back this argument. It is more effective compared to the typical policy of “burning the entire field to kill small rodents”. It is true that this Decree still allow the sale of beer in restaurants, cafes, and hotels. But is it not a form of discrimination? The beverages sold at these places are at a higher price, not only because it is intended for the upper-middle class but also they are charged with a higher tax.

This government policy seemed to send a signal: “Hey, the poor ones should not be drinking. You cannot buy beer at retailers at affordable prices. If you want to drink beer, drink in cafes and restaurants at a higher price.” Such a signal could indicate that the government saw the negative effects of the sale of alcoholic beverages only occurs in the lower class of community, while the upper class may consume alcoholic beverages at any time. It could be with high or low alcohol levels. In short, the government is being discriminatory and inconsistent in applying its policy.

A law, according to Friedrich August von Hayek, should be universal. According to the philosopher of law and freedom who wrote “The Constitution of Liberty”, the law should include all people without exception, including government officials. If there is only one party who gets an exception, then the law is void as a law. Ministry of Trade is confused, because it turns out the beer prohibition is affecting tourism in Bali, and they intend to create legal exceptions. If they make an exception, then the Decree is void. Other cities like Jakarta, which relied on its role as the city of services is also affected, due to a multi-cultural and multi-faith community which cannot be treated with a single moral principle.

Elsewhere, two factions of Parliament submitted the Bill on Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverages (Rancangan Undang-Undang Larangan Minuman Beralkohol (RUU LMB) to enter the national legislation program (program legislasi nasional, prolegnas) in 2015. In this Bill, there is an effort to penalize producers and consumers of alcoholic beverages to suppress the circulation of alcoholic beverages as tightly as possible. This Bill, if passed, would ignore the great demand on alcoholic beverages. As a result, there will be black markets that are far away from government’s control. The black market is often present in a situation where restrictions applied without taking the market demand into account. Items such as alcoholic beverages will be uncontrolled, both in quantity and quality. This will lead to dangerous alcoholic beverages and the safer alcoholic drinks can be mixed.

Alcoholic beverages such as mixed or altered alcoholic beverages would be an alternative in meeting the demand of many people, which results as has already happened in areas that prohibit alcoholic beverages and a lot of deaths came this sort of beverages. Universal laws of economics (supply and demand) were ignored by politicians and government officials. Alcohol ban and black market had occurred in the United States in the 1920s, when the pressure of the clergy banned alcoholic beverages at all alcohol levels. The society did not increasingly become better in their morals, but the black market for alcoholic beverages was getting bigger. Gangsters and mafias increasingly became powerful and controlled circulation of alcoholic beverages. At this time the legendary mobsters like Al Capone reached its heyday.

A good thing is called morality if conducted freely and without force. It is not a good thing is a morality is imposed by the ban or even state’s force. If indeed drinking alcoholic beverages is an immoral thing, then it should be left to the individuals to choose according to their maturity and common sense. A person with high morality will still avoid alcohol beverages even when it is available with very easy access. Freedom is what strengthens morality in its place.

However, if an individual chooses to drink alcoholic beverages, then that individual must be responsible for the effect, for example hangover and lost consciousness. In other words, every person shall have control over the possibility of hurting others when they made the choice to drink alcoholic beverages. This is where the role of government should be implemented through law enforcement. On the other hand, the choice to consume alcoholic beverages should be respected as individual freedom and human rights in life, because only the people who are free in deciding morality could generate a collective progress.