I’m voting “No” on Massachusetts ballot Question 1

I’m voting “No” on Massachusetts ballot Question 1

In Massachusetts, alcohol is sold at liquor stores (called “package stores” here) and at a limited number of grocery stores. Most other states have more liberal rules than we do about where alcohol can be sold. It’s the norm in the US to have alcohol sales in supermarkets.

Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot asks voters whether to expand the number of licenses that can be issued to grocery stores to sell wine. Predictably, grocery stores support the measure while package stores oppose it. There’s nothing principled about their arguments, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t merit to some of what they say.

Supporters, led by Grocery Stores and Consumers for Fair Competition argue that a Yes vote will reduce prices and provide consumers with more choice. They cite the experience of other states.

Opponents, led by Wine Merchants and Concerned Citizens SAFETY (Stopping Alcohol’s Further Expansion to Youth) argue that a Yes would make it easier for kids to buy alcohol, which would increase the number of alcohol related problems such as drunk driving fatalities. This is especially likely because there is no provision to increase resources for enforcement of minimum age laws.

I agree with the wine merchants more than the grocers. I don’t believe that Massachusetts will do a good job of keeping grocery stores from selling to underage buyers. I don’t doubt that the owners of the stores will try to avoid selling to kids, but when a large part of the checkout staff are themselves underage I think it will be hard to stop.

A better idea might be to hold the package stores to a higher standard, putting them at greater risk of license forfeiture for underage selling.

October 27, 2006

4 thoughts on “I’m voting “No” on Massachusetts ballot Question 1”

  1. Expand the market so it can clear at a more optimal point.

    The current law is a give-away to wine merchants.

    As for protecting the youth, I am wary of any policy that “protects” anyone. Let the new law pass as it is, not as it should be – if there are additional questions to be answered, let the political economy respond. Our focus should be more on harm-reduction anyway, instead of attempting to stop a market which will occur regardless.

  2. Flea, we can still be friends!

    Anonymous,

    I’m a free-marketer myself but in this case I think restrictions are warranted. Not only are youth protected from themselves by making wine harder to buy, we all get some degree of protection if there are fewer drunks on the road.

  3. David,

    That is true; but displacing that cost in the market (and creating a black market) is not the optimal scheme. A much better approach would be some sort of positive or negative licensing for alcohol consumption (licenses that cost money). That way, all retailers would be on equal footing, instead of a special few getting a handout.

    Or, we could have a tax on alcohol that is tied to age combined with positive licensing, or some other scheme. I’m all in favor of alcohol taxes being much higher. The “seller” approach in this bill is just not very elegant – it leaves many things to want…when we could have a better solution that also creates tax revenue. This revenue could be diverted to any means.

    Personally, I’d use to to educate about alcohol consumption in a harm-reductionist type manner.

    When a market fails to clear, you can re-align it and make people better off by increasing Pareto efficiency. In this case, we can do a split: make people better off and capture some of that extra value in tax dollars. The only people who would suffer are the merchants that have been getting an unfair market advantage anyway.

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