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Alcohol regulations in the United States are — to use a technical turn of phrase — completely insane. As anyone who imbibes and has travelled throughout the country knows, sales are regulated in completely different ways from place to place. In some states, beer, wine, and spirits are all available for purchase in supermarkets; others require supermarkets to provide separate entrances for liquor sales; others severely restrict the number of resale licenses; still others mandate sales through state monopolies; others yet allow counties to prohibit sales entirely. Curiously, these rules don’t correlate well with other indices of freedom: one wonders whether any other comparison would lead one to conclude that California is a laissez faire paradise and New Hampshire a statist dystopia.
But if this Cato Daily Podcast has the matter correct, the regulations on alcohol production and distribution are every bit as crazy as those on its sale, and often more pernicious for being federal. Did you know, for instance (I did not) that the federal government has specific taxes on beer production, and that the rate of taxation depends on the size of the brewery’s output? As you might imagine, this tends to pit big breweries against small- and medium-sized ones, leading them to support different reform bills.
Moreover — and this, again, I confess I was wholly ignorant of — most states prohibit breweries from directly selling their product to consumers. Instead, they’re required to sell their wares to a wholesaler. This is generally pitched as a safeguard against alcohol abuse, but also has the effect of creating a rent-seeking lobby that impedes normal market forces.
Alcohol is, of course, an intoxicant and it’s not crazy for government to have an interest in its production and consumption (with the precise boundaries of the necessary expression of that interest being open to interpretation). But the idea that citizens are well-served by the kind of fussy, save-us-from-ourselves micro-managing we’re subjected to? It’d be nice, for once, for the government to treat us a little more like adults.
Image credit: Flickr user Bernt Rostad.