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STICERD Industrial Organisation Seminars

The surprising effectiveness of minimum unit prices on alcohol

Rachel Griffith (University of Manchester and Institute for Fiscal Studies), joint with Martin O'Connell and Kate Smith

Monday 25 November 2019 12:30 - 14:00

Many of our seminars and public events this year will continue as in person or as hybrid (online and in person) events. Please check our website listings and Twitter feed @STICERD_LSE for updates.

Unless otherwise specified, in-person seminars are open to the public.

Those unable to join the seminars in-person are welcome to participate via zoom if the event is hybrid.

About this event

All OECD countries have policies that aim to reduce the externalities associated with alcohol consumption. Policies that increase the price of alcohol face the inherent trade-off of reducing externalities while minimising allocative distortions. Scotland and Ireland have recently introduced minimum unit prices, and other countries looks set to follow suit. Advocates of the minimum unit price argue that it targets alcohol misuse and problem drinking (while limiting the impact on light and moderate drinkers), because it raises the price of cheap alcohol, which is disproportionately purchased by the heaviest drinkers. Economists have been critical of this policy; price fixing is illegal in competition law, which includes agreements not to sell something below a minimum price, and it leads to substantial transfer from government tax receipts to industry revenues. When the externalities from alcohol consumption are homogeneous, a tax levied on alcohol content is more efficient than a minimum unit price. However, if externalities are heterogeneous (e.g. if the marginal cost of drinking is larger the more someone drinks), then the relative effectiveness of policies depends on how those who generate different externalities respond to policy intervention. We find that, in the UK, if externalities are sufficiently concentrated among heavy drinkers, then a minimum unit price is more efficient than a flat tax levied on alcohol content.

Industrial Organisation seminars are held on Mondays in term time at 12:30-14:00, in person in SAL 3.05, unless specified otherwise.

Seminar organiser: Alessandro Gavazza.

For further information please contact Sadia Ali:

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