James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Liquor Licenses and Roads

Vito Congine was victimized twice. First by being denied a liquor license for his supper club. Second, because police confiscated his flag on the 4th of July just for flying it upside-down. I'm addressing the first issue here; the flag part will be addressed in tomorrow's Partial Observer column.

Liquor licensing is a gross violation of property rights, personal freedom, and freedom of association. It is a barbarous tool of the State which, by allowing some places to serve alcohol but not others, destroys economic competition at the expense of customers.

That said, I could see why people think liquor licenses make sense:

  • Disorderly conduct - to prevent fights, riots, etc. But each person is responsible for their own actions, and the owner is responsible for security of the clientele as a whole. If the owner believes he can maintain order, and even has an insurance policy against disorder OR customers are warned that they enter at their own risk, it's not the business of anyone else.
  • Noise pollution - some drinking establishments near residential neighborhoods are open in the late evenings. The music and shouting may disrupt the majority of nearby residents trying to sleep. It's a fair concern, but again the issue is keeping the noise down, not the drinking.
  • Drunk driving - this is probably the obvious concern. Not every place is like Wrigleyville, Chicago, where one can quickly catch a cab no matter how late the bar is open. In small towns, the more places that serve liquor, the more people might drive drunk and get into an accident. But what does this really mean? The liberty of property owners must be sacrificed because the government is otherwise unable to keep the government's roads safe.
As Walter Block has written,
If the highways were now commercial ventures, as once in our history they were, and upward of 40,000 people were killed on them annually, you can bet your bottom dollar that Ted Kennedy and his ilk would be holding Senate hearings on the matter. Blamed would be "capitalism," "markets," "greed," i.e., the usual suspects. But it is the public authorities who are responsible for this slaughter of the innocents.
Block suggests that if roads were privately owned,
This does not mean that, were thoroughfares placed in private hands, the death toll would be zero. It would not. But, at least, every time the life of someone was tragically snuffed out, someone in a position to ameliorate these dangerous conditions would lose money, and this tends, wonderfully, to focus the minds of the owners. This is why we do not have similar problems with bananas, baskets, and bicycles, or the myriad other goods and services supplied to us by a (relatively) free-enterprise system.
Governments at all levels have no competition in the road business that I'm aware of, except in gated communities. At the same, such communities, and large privately-owned "public" places like Disney World seem less burdened by crime and accident than government-maintained public places such as city streets. If privately-maintained turnpikes paralleled every interstate highway across the nation, its owners would have greater incentive to keep them safe from dangerous vehicles and dangerous drivers - without infringing on the rights of individuals elsewhere.

But where the road owner is government - i.e., where there is no owner - government has the power to infringe on personal freedom and property rights of those not on the road. "We can't keep our roads safe, so let's prevent property owners from serving alcohol."

Just because we are stuck with this system and this logic for now doesn't make it right.

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