“Greed kills,” warns the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 in a new TV commercial attacking efforts to reform Pennsylvania’s regulations on alcohol sales. Governor Tom Corbett, as Katherine Connell noted recently, is taking another stab at reforming the Keystone State’s Soviet-style liquor distribution system, which includes state ownership of stores, arcane prohibitions against mixing the grain and the grape, and other famously Draconian restrictions. Pennsylvania has made attempts to drain this swamp in the past, with alcohol “kiosks” and other innovations; but then as now, state apparatchiks and unionized liquor store employees have united in a modern baptist/bootlegger-style coalition to defeat reform plans.
The “Greed Kills” spot boldly defies contemporary production value by mounting a “Babs’ Uvula” -style PSA in which two women recite talking points, but with worse acting — though to be fair to the thesps, Barbara Stanwyck herself would have had a hard time breathing life into dialogue like, “And I heard wine and spirits stores generate hundreds of millions in profit and taxes. It saves us money!”
Those hefty profits are of course what the union is actually trying to protect, but “Greed Kills” makes a pitch that keeping the liquor monopoly prevents a slaughter of the innocents. “I read the same kind of law in North Carolina is killing one child every week,” says one woman. “It only takes a little bit of greed to kill a child.”
The only fit response to this dumb ad is a stiff drink, but it should be noted that the union’s safety claims are as phony as a bottle of O’Doul’s. By its own logic, Local 1776 is doing a really lousy job of keeping Pennsylvania children safe. Compared with the six states that border it, Pennsylvania’s rate of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities — 3.2 per 100,000 population — is much worse than New York’s, New Jersey’s and Maryland’s, and just a hair better than Delaware’s and Ohio’s. The only neighboring state that does substantially worse in drunk driving deaths than Pennsylvania is the moonshine-and-meth paradise of West Virginia.
As to the specific claim (taken hilariously out of context from a public radio story) that North Carolina’s liquor laws murder a child a week, you could say the exact same thing about Pennsylvania. According to 2012 statistics maintained by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (a national alcohol safety group composed of licensed distillers), the Tarheel State’s rate of underage drinking deaths is 1.7 per 100,000, or 45 minors killed per year (presumably this is close enough for the “one child every week” claim). Pennsylvania’s is 1.3 per 100,000, or 44 minors killed per year.
Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws are far more restrictive than the ones in all of these states, but to a great extent the differences are as meaningless as the “tastes” of different vodkas. The entire East Coast is a primitive land whose mindless liquor laws induce justifiable loathing, disgust and contempt from visiting West Coast residents. In California you can buy beer, wine and spirits right off the shelf in every supermarket and grocery store; and even in the most expensive cities booze prices tend to be lower than anywhere in the east. The Golden State is also the land of King Car, which according to Local 1776’s logic should make the state a practical free-fire zone of drunk driving fatalities. So how does the most populous state stack up? At 2.1 deaths per 100,000 and 0.9 underage deaths per 100,000, California is substantially safer than Pennsylvania for both kids and grownups.
Pennsylvania’s liquor laws are a well known national joke and should have been thrown out decades ago. History indicates they won’t be, but Local 1776’s reasons for maintaining the status quo are the mental equivalent of drinking Sterno. The buzz is no good, and it will give you violent stomach pains and vomiting.