This Letter to the Editor of the Tribune-Review sums it up:
Here’s the deal: Anyone with a simple retail business license can buy liquor in bulk and sell it at retail for whatever price the market will bear. No special deals for beer distributors. No more special deal for state employees. No big fees for licenses, no buddy-buddy arrangements. Just straight business. Sell to minors, go to jail. The market will determine which stores will prosper and which will not.
I chopped out the paragraphs bookending it that equate Americanness with free enterprise so as not to alienate my lefty friends, but there’s nothing in here that’s in contradiction with being a liberal Democrat.
Liberals like Big Government because they support the big social insurance programs, want more economic power for lower and middle income people, want less unfair exercise of political power by businesses, want protections from pollution and other externalities, and are more comfortable using paternalistic regulation and taxes to achieve these policies. That’s what distinguishes us from conservatives and libertarians.
Our endgame is not for the government to directly own or run businesses. It is not for us to centrally plan how many jobs selling alcohol the economy should have, any more than it would be to centrally plan how many grocery store jobs or yoga instructor jobs the economy should have. That’s what distinguishes liberal Democrats from Marxists.
Our interest in the liquor market is in making sure that the public harms of alcohol abuse are tightly controlled. It’s not unthinkable in theory that state control might be the best way to control the public harms of alcohol, but in practice, we know that restricting private alcohol sales hasn’t gotten us better safety outcomes than other states, minors don’t have a harder time getting alcohol than in other states, and alcoholism isn’t less prominent than in other states with private sales.
It’s time for Democrats to admit that this isn’t buying us any extra harm reduction, and shift the focus to regulating alcohol on the demand side, through taxes and penalties, rather than restricting who’s allowed to sell alcohol and how much.