One point I keep hearing in the alcohol wars is that we shouldn’t end the state monopoly, since that would mean less selection and higher prices in low population rural areas.
I think the sensible response to this argument is “who the fuck cares?”
People who choose to live in sparsely populated rural areas know what they’re getting into. They’re not expecting to have tons of amenities and consumer products. That’s the trade-off you make when you choose a lot of land and privacy over living around a lot of people. Without a dense cluster of retail customers, the local market can’t afford to devote a bunch of shelf space to rare wines and liquors.
How often is a rural liquor store going to be able to sell the lesser-known fancy stuff, versus more popular products like Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels? If they do stock rarer items, they’re going to have to sell at higher prices to make up the opportunity cost of potentially having to devote shelf space to them for a long time.
People who complain that selection will suffer and prices will rise at rural liquor stores are admitting that it makes no business sense for the state to operate fully-stocked liquor stores in rural areas. They are literally arguing that the state should intentionally lose money running these businesses anyway, because…???
Why? Is alcohol a public good? Is it the government’s job to make sure everybody has access to fancy wine at low costs? What’s next, a human right to almond milk and lacinato kale? Organic peanut butter? This is nuts. People who care a lot about access to a wide variety of fancy consumer goods should choose to live where they can buy that stuff, and people who don’t care will choose to live elsewhere. There is no reason to feel bad for the people who take the “fewer choices” side of that trade-off, and there’s definitely no reason for the state to lose money subsidizing fancy alcohol in places where there’s no market for that.
The best policy option for getting the fancy booze to the Sommeliers of Bumblefuck is Number 4 on the Bryson/Geeting list of demands:
4. Allow Pennsylvanians to buy wine, spirits, or beer in other states, or through the mail/Internet from anywhere, without penalty. — End the police-enforced monopoly.
Let people buy the booze over the Internet. Local stores not stocking something fancy you want? Order it online! The US postal service already subsidizes mail delivery to rural areas. This is a better option than having the state government paying people to run money-losing physical liquor stores in markets that can’t support them.
The other reason why we shouldn’t care that ending the state monopoly would make life less convenient for rural wine connoisseurs is that this is a democracy, and we ought to do what’s best for the majority of state residents. The defining characteristic of rural areas is that hardly anybody lives in them.
It makes perfect political sense for rural politicians to oppose this. It would be weird if they weren’t fulminating against the prospect of ending the state-subsidized glut of booze flowing into their districts. But there’s no excuse for the politicians representing urban and suburban areas – the overwhelming majority of state politicians – not to do what’s best for the consumers in their districts.
The high population areas of the state – the political majority – would absolutely see more consumer choice and better prices if grocery stores and private liquor stores were allowed to sell beer, wine, and liquor. Unfortunately the majority’s interests don’t prevail on this issue because it’s all bogged down in union politics. Rural politicians vote their districts, but urban and suburban Democratic representatives vote their ideology, prioritizing the interests of a tiny tiny minority of 5000 state store workers over the interests of the millions of consumers they’re supposed to be representing.