Brian Goldman | Put an end to 'Prohiboozetion'
The Gold Standard | The state-run monopoly on alcohol in our state must end
January 23, 2012, 1:20 am · Updated January 24, 2012, 10:41 pm·
On Saturday night, my roommate and I took a drive around campus, looking to purchase some supplies for the night ahead. But besides the staples (cheap beer, cups and ice), we decided to step outside our comfort zone and add one more to the list: a bottle of wine.
But we soon encountered a problem, a big one. We were in fact on a fool’s errand. These days, life within the Penn bubble means no wine or liquor anywhere closer than 49th and Baltimore Avenue, whether you’re of the Carla Rossi jug variety or the Château Lafite chichi type.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. We went to Fresh Grocer, where we learned that the wine machine (technically, wine “kiosk”) had shut down. We even took a visit to Evan’s Pizza on 43rd and Locust streets, an attempt that failed miserably too. We were resigned to a wine-less night.
With the recent closing of Fine Wine & Good Spirits on 41st and Market streets, our campus suddenly has nearly reverted to its Prohibition-era existence, with no access to liquor or wine, just beer.
So who’s the culprit behind the confounding policy that has rendered our campus a pseudo-dry desert? It’s surprisingly straightforward: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
The PLCB was founded in 1933, four days before Prohibition repeal went into effect. Then-governor Gifford Pinchot’s remarks about the agency’s inception are awfully telling. He said the PLCB would “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.”
Seventy-nine long years later, I can finally say, Mr. Governor: Mission accomplished!
The PLCB controls everything (and I mean everything) related to alcohol in this state. It’s akin to Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984. Want to sell liquor in your restaurant? Great. First you’ve got to get a license from the PLCB. Then make sure you only purchase alcohol from PLCB itself. Also, make sure you don’t serve or sell any alcoholic companies not on the official PLCB brand registration list.
Thank god for BYOBs.
You’d have to travel all the way out to Utah to find the only other state where there exists such stringent state control over alcohol.
Let’s not beat around the bush: the PLCB represents a state-run monopoly that controls a very vibrant and profitable sector of the economy.
You don’t have to be a Randian capitalist to recognize the obvious inefficiencies that abound from Pennsylvania’s draconian alcohol laws.
First, the money: The PLCB, by most estimates, brings in approximately $466 million annually through revenue and taxes. The most recent attempt to privatize the wine and liquor retail business — State Representative Mike Turzai’s bill, introduced last year — would, on average, bring in about $500 million annually for the state.
It’s not a huge difference, but it debunks the idea that the revenue that the PLCB generates is unattainable in the private market. But the most fallacious argument that the PLCB advocates advance is the societal one.
The Chief Executive of the PLCB, Joe Conti, attempted this line of argument last year in an interview with The New York Times. He claimed that state-run liquor stores (“Soviet-styled”, as The Times so aptly described them) “aren’t incentivized to sell” to already-drunk customers and minors.
It’s a misleading argument. A recent study by Duquesne University economics professor Antony Davies looked at the social impact of privatizing government-run liquor stores. Davies found that maintain complete control over liquor licenses, like Pennsylvania and Utah, actually have a higher DUI fatality rate than states that don’t.
Representative Turzai’s bill is still making its way through Harrisburg. It’s opposition is comprised of an interesting alliance of state liquor store employee labor unions and conservative religious figures that cling to the by-gone relics of Prohibition.
Unfortunately, the bill has already been watered down to the point where the PLCB would stay intact, yet it is still struggling to pass our state congress. Unbelievable.
We go to the only Ivy League school in the state of Pennsylvania and work pretty hard throughout the year. Evidently, if we want a glass of wine after returning from the library, we’ll have to work even harder to find a bottle to purchase.
Let’s uncork the free market for alcohol and see what happens. It can’t be any worse than this.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.