Sunday, February 22, 2009

Letter to the editor: Why regulate alcohol sales?

From: Bill Starr
To: editorial @
Subject: Letter to the editor: Why regulate alcohol sales?

I have seen several recent articles regarding the need for alcohol sales licenses for owners of food and beverages businesses. The point of the articles is that the government limit on licenses seems to be interfering with the ability to start and expand this type of small business in the downtown area.

One thing I have not seen much addressed is why government should even be in the business of regulating the sales of alcohol. I see that the 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution delegates to state governments substantial authority to regulate the distribution and sales of alcohol within each state, but that does not mean that it serves Indiana well to impose a heavy regulatory burden on its citizens who would like to start a small business and compete in this market.

The most obvious beneficiaries of government regulation that I can see are the politicians who pass and administer these laws, the government treasury itself, and the existing businesses to whom an oligopoly is granted by government decree.

But how does government regulation serve the businessman who wants to enter this business, or his potential customers? I don't see how it does. It appears that government regulation through licensing primarily has the effect of harming the consumer as well as the small businessman trying to enter the market.

Does government claim that licensing benefits the consumer in some way? Surely the customer can tell after one or two visits to a business whether the business provides him a good value for his money, without any need to see a license issued by a supposed "expert" from the government.

If it comes down to the interests of the consumer versus the interests of the existing businesses, do the interests of the existing businesses win out because they are better at getting the ear of the legislators, and perhaps better at filling the campaign coffers than are the would-be competitors?

I think it's time to ask what alcohol regulation buys for the Indiana consumer other than reduced competition, higher prices, and bigger government.

I believe the intemperate use of alcohol and other intoxicating substances is more effectively addressed as a social issue than as a legal one, much as we might handle the intemperate use of food. We already have sufficient laws to punish those who cause actual harm to others while their judgment and capabilities are impaired by intoxicants.

If we, as a fallen people, are apparently relegated by God to be governed by other men, rather than by our own conscience, then I believe our public servants in government serve us best when they limit their governance to the fundamental role of protecting the lives, liberties, and property of all citizens, without discrimination based on who pays up.

The free market is the best form of business regulation. It is ruthlessly fair about rewarding those who serve customers well and about punishing those who do not, without any need for the racket of government protectionism through licensing.

Bill Starr
Columbus, Indiana
Sun, 8 Feb 2009, 6:42 pm EST

You have my permission and encouragement to publish this as a letter to the editor.

Note: After submitting this letter, I heard back from "The Republic" as follows.

"Prior to the election in November, we published several notices that we were only going to publish one letter per writer per month. We want to make sure that all contributors are given an equal chance to be published. Since we received a letter from you on Feb. 5, we will hold this one until next month."

1 comment:

John said...

Texas alcohol laws are complex, as I imagine they are in most states. You can buy this but not that from this kind of store during this time on these days but not from this other store except ...

The most egregious legislation is the "sea mammal theme park" exemption. A company cannot both manufacture and distribute alcohol in Texas, except at "sea mammal theme parks," i.e. at Anheuser-Busch's Seaworld in San Antonio.