Since May 28, 1934, Virginia has held a monopoly on liquor sales in the commonwealth – a scheme that has been fruitful for the state’s government for over 80 years. Now, however, the time has come to relinquish the Prohibition-Era policies and get the government out of the citizen’s lives in Virginia. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, a proponent of small government and free-market principles, has repeatedly stated he will reform Virginia’s government if elected and will bring greater accountability to the ways in which the state allots and uses taxpayer dollars. Additionally, Gillespie will, according to his website, Ed for Virginia, “create a smaller, more efficient, better compensated state workforce through attrition of 1,000 state positions.” Well, what better way to slash taxpayer-funded jobs than busting Virginia’s liquor monopoly?
The Loudoun Times-Mirror reported in 2016, Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), its 359 stores and nearly 3,500 employees combined for, ” [a] gross sales of about $895 million – $106 for every resident of Virginia.” Though, what the politicians are drooling over is the cool $315 million profit margin from sales that was pocketed by the state from increased prices from the taxes stuck to the bottles of booze. That represents a profit margin of more than 35 percent of gross sales touted by the commonwealth’s executive branch. As well, the ABC monopoly also makes life difficult for Virginians trying to obtain their alcohol by making booze more expensive than it is in neighboring states, with Virginia having the third highest liquor prices in the nation.
A conglomerate of interest groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), various religious groups, state employees, and elected Democrats have come out against privatizing Virginia’s liquor sales. Nevertheless, it is of course small business Republicans that feel the government should not be in the business of vending liquor and other spirits to its citizens.
One of the arguments naysayers claim is that without the state controlling the sales of liquor, minors would be able to get hold of and consume the spirits easier. In an article from the Washington Post, Alexander C. Wagenaar, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida’s medical school, claimed after he conducted a study linking a rise in alcohol consumption after privatization in Iowa and West Virginia, “If you make it easier to drink, people drink more. And if people drink more, we have more alcohol-related problems. It’s as simple and basic as that.” However, how does privatization somehow make selling liquor to minors a factor? All subsequent age and identification requirements will remain in place, as would the hourly restrictions of alcohol sales. Therefore, the argument is unquestionably moot.
In 2010, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell stated, “All the data shows there is no difference in drunken driving or crime whatsoever between control states and between privatized states.” There is no reason that Virginians would somehow feel the need to drink and drive more when private liquor stores are commonplace. Dissenters of privatization of ABC stores forget that Wagenaar’s aforementioned statement is a logical fallacy of “correlation does not imply causation” – just because more alcohol is available, that does not mean there will be more drunk people in public. This view regarding the causality of more intoxicated people arising is purely based on experience and experience which is similarly based on the assumption that the future models the past, which in turn can only be based on experience, thus leads to another fallacy of circular logic.
Governor McDonnell’s administration failed in its attempts to sell off Virginia’s ABC stores simply because legislators were not willing to lose the revenue generated by the draconian liquor monopoly for the government. Democrats are all about state-run business, no surprise there. Instead of supplying Virginians with liquor, the state government should supply its citizens with top quality utilities, well-paved roads, efficient transportation networks, and ensure a bureaucrat-less workforce within the halls of the federal government office.
Unfortunately, I feel that the privatization dilemma has left its base of being a moral argument to a monetary argument. As the 2017 election season in Virginia comes closer and closer to its finale in November, I believe this issue is something that can catapult Republican Ed Gillespie to fire up the former Denver Riggleman and Corey Stewart enthusiasts to support another conservative candidate.
Opinion by Alex Lemieux