Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DRINKING LICENSE?....Here's a coincidence. A few days ago I read a post somewhere wondering why people object to national ID cards. Aside from vaguely libertarianish worries about Big Government intrusion, what concrete damage could they do?

(UPDATE: Here it is, over at Asymmetrical Information. I didn't even look there because I figured this question would never have come up at a libertarianish site.)

Now, I myself have never entirely understood the Big Brotherish revulsion that many people have for national ID cards, but in America it certainly goes back at least to the New Deal, when people worried that Social Security numbers would become national IDs which, in practice, they have, of course. But really, what's the harm?

Then last night I ran across just such an example. Mark Kleiman, musing about the problem of drunk driving, suggests that instead of revoking a person's driving license, why not revoke their drinking license instead?

How would it work?....California, for the convenience of alcohol sellers, issues to those over 21 drivers' licenses with the bearer's photo in full-face, and issues to those under 21 drivers' licenses with the bearer's photo in profile. Similarly, someone who loses his drinking license for some period of time as a result of an alcohol-related conviction could have his existing driver's license taken away and receive a new license, with some marking showing that it is not also a drinker's license.

There are many advantages to this proposal, as well as a number of problems that Mark enumerates. But there's one that he doesn't: when a driver's license starts becoming overtly more than just a driver's license, where does it end? Once people get the idea that it can be used to regulate more than just driving, why not use the same card to regulate and track sex offenders? Or resident aliens? Or handgun licensing? Or criminal records? It would be mighty handy to have all that stuff in one place, wouldn't it?

Would this happen? Who knows? Does it count as "concrete" harm? I guess it depends on your outlook. I'm not normally much of a fan of slippery slope arguments, but I suspect that if Mark's idea were ever implemented, drinking wouldn't be the last thing that ended up getting regulated by your driver's license. Ditto for a national ID card.

POSTSCRIPT: I have to say that I'm a little more skeptical than Mark that this would work anyway. If junkies can get heroin, surely an alcoholic could pretty easily get liquor even without a license?

UPDATE: Atrios says that a driver's license is already an effective "drinking license" for anyone under 30 anyway, so what the heck. But I think that misses a couple of points.

First is the slippery slope argument I made above. Drinking is one thing, but would we mind if this opened the door to adding lots of other prohibited activities to driver's licenses?

Second, there's nothing prejudicial about being under 30, which is all that a driver's license tells you right now. But do you really want your driver's license, which you have to display in public all the time, to indicate that you've been convicted of drunk driving? Or that you're a paroled sex offender? Or a felon? Or not allowed to carry a handgun? Etc.

Maybe you think that's fine, but I'm not so sanguine about having a public piece of identification that can potentially reveal so much private information about you to strangers.

Kevin Drum 7:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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