Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Challenge for my "true free-market conservative" readers

Glen Warchol:

The Guv dragged Utah's liquor laws into the current millenium, but his replacement Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert has no intention of continuing the modernization. He tells the Deseret News that he will not take the next step to push for more liquor licenses statewide. Virtually no licenses are left and Salt Lake City in particular needs more to create a visitor-friendly entertainment district. Says Herbert:

Let's let [new liquor laws] play out in the marketplace before we … cue up again for a change in the liquor laws [including an increase licenses]. Let's see what the results of the current liquor laws are.

I don't know much about free-market economic theory — help me out here Rep. John Dougall and Sen. Steve Urquhart — but doesn't an artificial government cap on liquor licenses prevent the market from doing its thing? Basically handcuffs on the ol' Invisible Hand?

I agree with Glen. If there is enough business to run out of liquor licenses, then the market is proving the need for more, right?

Come on, conservatives. Prove Glen and I wrong.


From The SideTrack


Jesse Harris said...

The vast majority of us who are "free market" do not believe in a completely unregulated "might makes right" kind of market. Allowing such usually has extreme costs as we've seen from the housing market implosion. There has to be some regulation in favor of the public good. Hopefully we can both agree on that.

I think the "wait and see" approach has merit so long as it isn't just a stall tactic. Maybe the middle ground is to issue a limited number of liquor licenses while the new law changes play out.

Bob said...

Crazy Liberal! :)

So, why is this regulation OK, when other regulations are not?

Jesse Harris said...

I don't think there's any kind of hard-and-fast rule. Those tend to trap you in a position where you can't do something good without someone calling you a two-faced hypocrite.

There is definitely a high public cost to unfettered access to alcohol. I spent 14 years in Nevada, a state where liquor licenses are more-or-less rubber stamped and most estimates are that 1/4 of the drivers on the road at any given time are intoxicated in some way or another. This has lead to high auto and medical insurance rates, long traffic delays from accidents, and a higher rate of alcoholism. I think that Nevada's extreme example makes a case for reasonable regulation.

In this case, waiting to see how the changes in the law affect drunk driving rates and accidents helps us measure the effects of the existing changes before we go making any more, including increasing access to alcohol. I'd personally have no problems with more bars (so many of them serve great food), but I think Herbert has a good point. Again, so long as he isn't trying to stall.

JHP said...


I think what Herbert is saying is that we've just loosened regulation on liquor laws, so let's allow the market to work within those new bounds and then decide if more action is necessary. Sounds like prudent politics to me.

Also, I think you're confusing free market conservatives with free market libertarians.

A libertarian would say that people should be able to buy/sell anything they want without restriction--including alcohol, marijuana, organs, and sex. I've heard many libertarians joke about having heroine in candy machines.

As Jesse said, a conservative free market doesn't mean free-for-all commerce, it still includes regulations that benefit society to help the markets and people remain free.

Thanks for posing a very interesting question. It is one I ponder often...where to draw the line for those difficult issues.