Friday, February 10, 2012

Interesting Parallel to Oversupply of Guns Lawsuits

The February 10, 2012 USA Today reports on a lawsuit that is quite similar to lawsuits filed against gun stores in big cities, a few years ago:
The Oglala Sioux Tribe is suing some of the world's largest beer brewers, saying they knowingly have contributed to devastating alcohol-related problems on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court of Nebraska, seeks $500 million in damages for the costs the tribe has incurred in dealing with crime and providing social services and health care as a result of rampant alcoholism among the 20,000 tribal members.
The first two paragraphs don't sound like much of an argument.  However:
 It also targets four beer stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a tiny town in northwest Nebraska at the South Dakota border near the reservation. Despite only about dozen residents in town, the stores sold almost 5 million cans of beer in 2010 -- almost 250 cans per Pine Ridge tribal member. Alcohol is not legal on the reservation.
It turns out that there is no legal place to consume alcohol for miles around Whiteclay, unless you live in Whiteclay--and not many people do.  By itself, that four stores sell beer where it is legal--and Indians come in to buy it--isn't much of an argument.  But part of the argument is suspiciously similar to the claim made against gun makers, ten years ago:
The lawsuit's defendants include the distributors and brewers and Whiteclay retail outlets because those higher up the sales and distribution chain exert pressure to maximize beer sales, White said. In hearings before the Nebraska Legislature in the past, distributors have argued their contracts with brewers require them to sell all the beer they are supplied.
"If the brewers say that to their distributors, then they all deserve it," White said of including brewers in the lawsuit. "These guys have an obligation to control their distributors."
 So the brewers are intentionally oversupplying beer--forcing their distributors and retailers to sell beer just in Whiteclay?  Unless the brewers have some intentional goal of destroying the Sioux (which beer clearly is doing), this just doesn't make any sense.  It makes more sense that the brewers are selling beer to any distributor or retailer that can sell it--and unfortunately, demand is high among the Sioux.

Here's a really ugly aspect of this: alcohol is destructive for many Americans; for Indians, it is vastly more destructive than for the general population.  It isn't just because Indian reservations are poor; it is because for  at least hundreds of generations, whites, blacks, and Asians, have been drinking, and removing from the gene pool those who are especially prone to serious alcohol problems.  While the Aztecs had alcohol (and limited it to their elderly), what are now the ancestors of the American Indians did not have alcohol.  The results are devastating today.  I can understand why many Indian reservations, and many largely Indian towns in Alaska, ban alcohol.  I am hard pressed to see any legal basis to take up their very real suffering and expenses against the brewers, unless they can demonstrate a genuine effort to artificially increase sales to the Indians.  Short of a smoking gun email, that is not going to happen.


AlanKH said...

If there were more colleges located near the Oglala the excess beer supply problem would be solved...

AlanKH said...

But seriously...if there's a clue as to how to ameliorate the alcohol abuse problem, first thing I'd want to know is what drinking rates were at various points of history (excluding the Prohibition Era, which artificially boosted alcohol abuse), and try to determine the cultural differences between the better times and worse times.

Having read Staruss and Howe's Generations, I'm quite certain that substance abuse of all types peaked among chaotic, self-absorbed Reactive generations (e.g. Lost Generation, Gen X, etc.). They are the antithesis of the hyper-conforming Adaptive generations (e.g. Silent Generation). Each of the four recurring generations represents a different culture; logically, combating substance abuse requires a different strategy for each.

My earlier jest points to a separate problem: fraternities push alcohol abuse to levels exceeding even the worst of the bar scene. Frats are a unique phenomenon in this regard; I'm not sure how to change them for the better. Not that I have any ideas on how to change any elitist institutions.

Clayton Cramer said...

It turns out that alcohol consumption fell during Prohibition. The evidence is what happened to cirrhosis of the liver death rates, which fell about in half within a few years of Prohibition going national, and returned to 1920 levels by the 1980s.

Fraternities are part of the problem, but also the abandonment of in loco parentis (in the place of the parents) by colleges means that alcohol abuse by students is very common.