News lives in the now. Sprinting from drama to drama, we rarely have the leisure to turn and look back. But sometimes a clear picture only comes into focus with the help of hindsight.
This week provided two instructive examples. First, a report marking the 10-year anniversary of the liberalisation of Britain’s antiquated drinking laws, which was met in 2005 by loud predictions of rising dissipation and disorder.
As Christopher Snowdon’s Drinking, Fast and Slow makes clear, on every measure the prophets of doom were wrong. As a nation we are drinking less per capita than a decade ago. Binge drinking is down by more than 10 percentage points among 16-24 year-olds. Alcohol-related deaths have not increased. Late night traffic accidents have dropped significantly. Greater self-regulation and more freedom of choice has not produced unbridled hedonism but allowed room for people’s decisions, less distorted by arbitrary top-down rules, to produce more optimal outcomes.
Kneejerk warnings of inevitable disaster make good headlines but need not be right. A thought that also came to mind as the outgoing CBI president Sir Mike Rake called for a pre-emptive campaign by business against the risk of Britain leaving the EU.
Back in 1999, the CBI thought it was in Britain’s best interests to join the euro. In 2003 Rake personally signed an open letter from business bosses which said “the risks of staying outside the euro far outweigh any risks of joining”. Today, as we thank our lucky stars that warning was disregarded, we should at least give David Cameron the chance to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership before rushing to judgement.