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Great Debate VII: Drinking Age Discussion

Eisenhower Auditorium heated up last night with the Penn State’s Economics Association’s Great Debate VII. Sponsored by the Economics Department, this year’s topic was alcohol and whether the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18. Economics professor Russell Chuderewicz moderated the debate.

First, the audience was shown a video with comments from random bystanders about lowering the drinking age. It mostly depicted teenagers who were in favor of lowering the drinking age and said things like, “If I can vote or fight in the military, I should be able to have a beer.”

A disclaimer was made saying that the views taken by debate participants do not reflect their personal opinions; they were just the outcome of drawing straws for which side they would have to defend. Each team would have an introduction, 3-4 minute presentations by each student, and then a closing statement. Then, each team could rebut comments from their opponents and answer audience questions. The team who wants to keep the drinking age at 21, cleverly named the “Liver Savers,” was made up of professors Mark McLeod and Travis Letellier and students Rachel Haber, Ted Pease, and Ashutosh Malgoakar. On the opposite side of the stage sat the “Common Sense” team, fighting to lower the drinking age. This team was made up of professors Dave Brown and the James Hager and students Joshua Zalasky, Fernando Aristeguieta, and Evan Parana.

Liver Savers was up first with its introduction, saying that decreasing the minimum drinking age will increase economic costs like heath care and societal impacts, which include low productivity and other negative consequences. Younger age groups will have higher levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking will increase, potentially leading to even more illegal activity. For example, younger people will be able to use fake IDs more easily. Since the body and brain are not fully developed until 21, there will be profound long-term effects on the brain structure, function, and critical life decisions. They compared heavy drinking in United States and Europe, and the graph showed that every country besides Turkey was above the US with increasing consumption with younger ages.

Another concern was alcohol costs caused by underage youths. These amounted to $52.8 billion due to property and damage costs, mostly by college students participating in events like State Patty’s. Alcohol-related car accidents are the number one killer of teens, and 39 percent of traffic accident fatalities involve alcohol. Other points included that lowering the drinking age could cause increases in drug and substance abuse, depression, and violence. The Common Sense team had a lot to say in response to the Liver Savers’ arguments.

This team used its common sense by saying that the current system is not working to prevent underage drinking; why is 21 the perfect age? They claimed that many studies have faulty or old data, and explained that due to the fact that they have a math professor on their side, that they cannot be wrong.

Opening with the “forbidden fruit” argument, team Common Sense said that banning alcohol increases its appeal and that other countries do not have this problem due to the lower drinking ages. Some of their big points were that younger legal drinking will encourage responsible drinking, and that parents should be able to choose how to educate their children. Their claim was that drinking would be safer because it will not be hidden. Teenagers will not be drinking in unsafe places like cars if they can drink in bars. The key to controlled exposure and consumption is proper education. Furthermore, they argued that this would increase revenue and create jobs.

After both teams rebutted and some audience questions were answered, the closing statements were made.  These were followed by a slideshow by the Common Sense team and a song by the Liver Savers, with lyrics like “’cause I’m 18 I can get as drunk as I want,” “his future is drowning in the bottom of a glass,” and “my liver is ruined.” The audience was then asked to vote on which team had stronger arguments, and whether or not they think the drinking age should be lowered or kept the same.

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