Here’s the key section from my op-ed with Commonwealth Foundation director Matt Brouillette, running in a local newspaper near you:
Alcohol can be a dangerous drug in the hands of the wrong people, so crafting smart state alcohol laws and regulations is a balancing act: on the one side, minimizing the public harms of problem drinking, and on the other, maximizing freedom for the supermajority of adults who are not alcoholics.
Unfortunately, the laws in Pennsylvania do not pretend to strive for balance, reflecting the fact that former Gov. Gifford Pinchot — the Prohibition-era architect of our Rube Goldberg alcohol market — did not believe in maximizing freedom for responsible adults.
His stated goal was to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible” to shop for alcohol. While Pinchot failed in the former, he succeeded in forcing Pennsylvanians to drive more and pay more for their good cheer.
Unlike 48 other states, Pennsylvania’s state-owned monopoly controls selling wine and liquor, and its wholesale operation ensures the selection everywhere is stunted while retailers are slow to embrace new brands. A licensing cartel scheme further gives beer distributors exclusive control over the sale of beer cases and kegs, and gives “taverns” (a group that includes large supermarket chains) exclusive rights to sell poured alcohol and six-packs of beer. In other words, Gov. Pinchot’s legacy lives on!
The left and the right would likely disagree about privatizing the state’s liquor cartel if the late governor’s public health strategy proved correct. But his premise that protectionist, anti-competitive regulations effectively manage the public harms from alcohol abuse has been disproven by Pennsylvania’s pathetic public health rankings. Pennsylvania routinely ranks near the top of the list of states on drunken driving, alcohol-related fatalities and binge drinking. It is clear the inconvenience state lawmakers have forced consumers to endure is simply not delivering the promised results on public health and safety.
If there were any hard evidence that anti-competitive regulations were buying us good public health outcomes, I would have a different view of this issue. But the fact is that PA does really poorly on the major alcohol-related public health metrics. The truth is that we don’t need anti-competitive regulations to deal with the public health problems. We just need higher beer taxes, tough marketing regulations, and Do Not Sell lists for problem drunks. We do not have to limit who can sell alcohol to deal with the public health issues.
What I hope to accomplish with this poll is to continue to force the pro-cartel team onto much weaker terrain in this debate. Basically the voters are receptive to messages about public health issues, and are put off by the whining about preserving monopoly wages. If this becomes a debate about whether to keep special protections for a lucky handful of protected businesses and retail workers, they lose.