Juiced for Privatization

Column by Emmett Harris.

Exclusive to STR

Like the Susquehannah’s meandering waters slowly cutting through the heart of Pennsylvania, a high-proof stream of privatization is threatening to plunge the Commonwealth’s populace into a drunken stupor of Ted Kennedy proportions. This, according to the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, would be the nightmare outcome of eliminating the state’s monopoly on the sale of wine and liquor.
The task force consists of 12 medical and public health professionals appointed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bloviate on matters of concern to busybodies and sundry groups of tax feeders. In their latest recommendation, this Dirty Dozen assassinated their own prior conclusions. Way back in 2007 they found no valid linkage between increased levels of alcohol consumption and the privatization of liquor stores. Now, however, they have staggered to the new conclusion that there is such a linkage after all. Apparently the data needed sufficient time to age.
Stephen Erni found no problems with the intellectual flip-flop and will no doubt ignore the task force’s less publicized caveats admitting their findings are as weak as a Bronx cocktail. Instead, the executive director of the Pennsylvania DUI Association and a group called We Can’t Afford It PA, plans to use the recommendations to sway state legislators to his anti-privatization cause.
A key ingredient in his glass of hocus is the intellectual bait-and-switch. The initial point is served neat, to wit, the argument is about whether moving liquor stores into private hands will increase alcohol consumption. Then the dropper comes out and the concoction gets dosed. Increased consumption smoothly morphs into excessive drinking, which oozes its way into drunk driving before finally arriving at the intended destination: highway crashes and fatalities. It’s a neat trick that works surprisingly well. Good Citizen John downs it, gets all pie-eyed supportive, then looks around sheepishly the morning after lamenting, “What did I do?”
This isn’t to suggest Erni is completely wet, at least to the point of worrying about excessive drinking. Certain classes of citizens tend to be more susceptible to the grapes of wrath than others. But the problematic behavior of some shouldn’t be an excuse for the infantilization of the many.
Perhaps there is more on tap than Bert’s pal is pitching? Wendell Young, the entirely impartial public employee spokesman, thinks so. The Associated Press reported that he testified in Harrisburg in support of continuing the state franchise because it “ensures good jobs and responsible alcohol sales.” It’s easy to distill his motivation to its essence: opposition to privatization is an effort to keep state employees in the cushy jobs they believe is their birthright.
At the other end of the bar from Messrs. Erni and Young sits Rep. Mike Turzai, the leader of efforts to institute a last call for state liquor stores. Laudatory though his stance may be, one hesitates to count Rep. Turzai among principled free market advocates without further evidence to that effect. It would be safer to ascribe utilitarian motivations to his actions, such as supporting better consumer choice and convenience, but even that may be pushing it. Instead, what’s left is the primary motive force that’ll gin up spirited political support, and that of course is other people’s money. The sale of licenses is expected to bring in more than $2 billion into the state’s coffers. That’s still top-shelf money at the state level.
Whether Rep. Turzai and other Pennsylvania pols proposing privatization are truly interested in fermenting freedom, all who do favor that strong drink still should support their efforts.   Small steps are better than no steps. When the outlandish claims of doom from statists don’t materialize, their ability to besot the public will diminish. Then we can really hit it up.

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Columns on STR: 14

Emmett Harris lives in New Hampshire, home of the Free State Project.