It’s time to privatize state liquor stores
Of America’s 50 states, 18 are control or monopoly (as of 2005), meaning that their citizens can buy alcoholic beverages, including wine, only in state-owned stores. This is a result of the Repeal of Prohibition, when Congress decided on a states-rights approach, as opposed to a national policy, for governing the sale of alcohol.
The system of state monopoly stores has never worked well, depriving consumers of choice and, in many instances, resulting in drab, poorly run venues. It’s odd, too, that so many monopoly states are solid Republican, given that party’s traditional defense of free markets and suspicion of Big Government. For many complicated reasons (not the least of which is that the public hasn’t clamored for an end to monopoly control), changing the system was never high on anyone’s agenda.
That has now changed, for a simple reason: The economy. Nearly every state in the union is bankrupt or close to it. Governors and state legislatures are desperately seeking new sources of revenue. Loathe to raise income taxes, they’re looking at “creative financing,” such as fee and license hikes. Some officials in control states also are thinking what once was the unthinkable: privatizing alcohol sales.
In Washington State, lawmakers have introduced a bill “that would have Washington get completely out of the liquor business, allowing an unlimited number of people to buy licenses to sell liquor, as is done in California.” The idea is that, by selling the state’s warehousing facilities, and by allowing the market to determine prices, Washington could nearly double the $320 million alcoholic beverages brings in annually.
Down in Mississippi, which is suffering from its worst budget crisis since the Great Depression, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has called for legislation “to privatize the wine-sale functions” of the state’s Alcohol Control Division. In Vermont, a state Senator has introduced a bill “to disband the department of liquor control.” In Virginia, “Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s new Republican governor, made privatization of his state’s liquor stores a key plank of his campaign last year,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which also reports that McDonnell’s idea “is opposed by the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists.” And in neighboring North Carolina, the state’s Republican candidate for Governor, Pat McCrory, similarly “said it’s time for North Carolina to get out of the liquor business.”
Sounds like a road to Damascus moment for Repubs. One of the reasons opponents are against this entirely rational, self-interested plan to privatize alcohol sales is that minors would supposedly have easier access to liquor. If you think about it, that’s a bogus argument. It presupposes that a state store employee is less likely to sell liquor to a minor, and that a private store employee is more likely to. It seems to me the chances are about equal in both cases, and incapable of resolving further.
It’s time for America to do away with state-run liquor stores. I mean, where are we, the U.S. or Syria? It would harm no one, and will help financially embattled states raise a little extra cash. I am calling on all politicians in control states to put their money where their mouths are. Are you in favor of market-based capitalism, or of the heavy, controlling hand of government?