Pa. Union Ad: Privatizing Liquor Stores Will Kill People

by Patrick Brennan

At the Manhattan Institute’s PublicSectorInc, Steve Malanga writes about the ongoing battle in Pennsylvania to privatize the state’s alcohol business, which is just about the most dysfunctional and ridiculously regulated in the nation (after Utah’s, of course). In addition to a whole lot of other bizarre regulations, wine and spirits can only be sold in the state of Pennsylvania from stores that are run by the state’s liquor monopoly, which employs several thousand organized workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Their political power, naturally, pushes up clerks’ compensation to levels higher than it would be if they worked in private liquor stores, so the union is an ardent defender of the entire existing system.

So ardent, in fact, that they’re willing to run an ad that depicts a child whose parents were killed in a drunk-driving accident pleading in favor of the state monopoly:

According to the practically stomach-turning ad, “thanks to current laws and the effectiveness of the wine-and-spirits stores’ employees, Pennsylvania has the lowest death rate associated with alcohol consumption in the nation. Tell your state senator to say no to liquor privatization. We don’t want other children to lose their parents.”

(As if it mattered, it doesn’t appear the union even has its absurd correlation right: Pennsylvania doesn’t have the lowest rates of either drunk-driving fatalities or of other alcohol-related deaths.)

This ad is in reaction to a measure Republican senator Chuck McIlhinney is about to introduce that would liberalize the system. But Malanga points out that Republican governor Tom Corbett rightly supports measures that would privatize the whole system — more like the measure that passed the state house — rather than just change the way the state-run monopoly is allowed to operate (by extending store hours, easing the purchase of beer, etc.). In April, Kevin Williamson wrote about the topic for NR in an essay called “Quakers and Bootleggers”; he touches on the same wrinkle, the fact that Corbett and some Republicans favor the idea of complete privatization — the right solution — but the powerful Senator McIlhinney is about to introduce a measure that wouldn’t really fix the system but wouldn’t peeve the unions as much, what he calls a “smart privatization.”

As Kevin concluded, “The underlying issues — crony capitalism, the baleful influence of public-sector unions on both parties at the state and local levels, the fact that Republicans will on occasion auction their free-market principles to the highest bidder — will be occupying conservatives long after Pennsylvania has figured out how to let Trader Joe’s sell a bottle of wine.” One other reliable issue, albeit a less fundamental one, is the sheer noxiousness to which public-sector unions will resort when they fear their ability to fleece taxpayers is threatened.

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