The 2023 Thomas Edward Cliffe Leslie Prize was awarded to Nathaniel Bailie for his research on the effectiveness of the minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland.
The prize is awarded annually to the best undergraduate dissertation in economics at Queen’s University Belfast. Bailie’s work was highlighted as exemplifying the potential for comparative economic research to hold actionable policy lessons.
This year’s prize was sponsored by the Centre for Economics, Policy, and History (CEPH), a Government of Ireland-funded cross-border centre of excellence linking Queen’s with Trinity College Dublin.
The prize is named for Thomas Edward Cliffe Leslie, who graduated from Trinity in 1846 and went on to be the first person to hold a chair in an economics-related discipline at Queen’s in 1853. Cliffe Leslie was an early advocate of economic history as a discipline. Much like CEPH, he insisted that historical comparison was the bedrock of effective economic research.
In his dissertation titled ‘Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in Scotland: An Analysis of the Short-Term Impact on Household Alcohol Expenditure and Consumer Welfare’, Bailie examined the effectiveness of Scottish government’s 2018 policy to impose a minimum cost of 50p per unit of alcohol. The policy’s aim was to make low cost, high alcohol drinks more expensive, and thus to discourage budget binge drinking and improve the health of Scotland’s population.
Bailie found that while consumers spent 3.25 per cent more of their income on drinking following the policy’s introduction, there was no significant decrease in consumer welfare. Bailie said that “minimum prices for alcohol in Scotland appear to be reducing consumption without causing unnecessary harm to consumers, suggesting that government intervention to resolve market failures of this nature is justified.”
Bailie judges that the policy was a success, but cautions governments against deploying minimum unit pricing in isolation and suggests that it is best employed alongside education programmes that teach young people about the potential dangers of binge drinking.
As the Government of Ireland introduced a minimum price of 10 cents per unit of alcohol in January 2022, Bailie’s research offers a useful touchstone for a comparable situation. There is an ongoing debate in Ireland about the effectiveness of such policies, and whether they disproportionately tax the less well off. Furthermore, the Irish example has the added complication of the Irish border, with Northern Ireland offering a potential source of cheaper alcohol for those willing to make the trip.
Chris Colvin, CEPH’s director of Outreach commented that ‘Through high-calibre, policy-aware economic research such as Bailie’s, economists can contribute to important debates and ensure that the discipline remains at the forefront of consultation and policy information in an evolving governmental landscape’.
Having excelled at undergraduate level, Bailie is about to undertake postgraduate studies in medicine at Ulster University, where he plans to ‘use the skills and methodologies he have learnt from studying economics at QUB to enhance the practice and organisation of medicine.’ CEPH wishes him all the best and is excited to see economic research applied to a new disciplinary area.