by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
My latest research brief looks at a question of interest in the debate over allowing freedom in liquor in North Carolina. Does government control of liquor distribution and sales make us safer?
As I explain, that idea’s been around for a long time, and it’s been wrong for just as long. If policymakers are concerned about alcohol law-breaking, the answer is to make it a higher priority of law enforcement.
Alcohol-based social and public-health problems don’t depend upon whether the government distributes and sells liquor instead of private enterprises. Law-enforcement matters are matters of law enforcement.
As my report on modernizing the state’s ABC system showed, social and public-health problems with alcohol aren’t linked to whether the state is a control state or license state regarding spirituous liquor. Two-thirds of U.S. states are license states, after all.
A 2012 study by economists Michael LaFaive and Antony Davies looked at average annual alcohol-attributable deaths per 100,000 in each of the 50 states from 2001 to 2005. In their chart, 23 license states posted lower rates than did North Carolina.
A survey of “numerous studies” on state liquor controls conducted by Davies and economist John Pulito in 2010 found “no clear evidence that privatization of alcohol markets leads to either an increase or a decrease in underage drinking, underage binge drinking, or DUI fatalities. Studies showing a positive relationship … are counterbalanced by others showing an absent or ambiguous relationship.”
Economists Donald J. Boudreaux and Julia Williams looked alcohol-related deaths, binge drinking, and drunk-driving fatalities in a 2010 report in control vs. license states. They found:
- “no statistically significant relationship” between control states and license states in alcohol-related deaths
- “no statistically significant relationship between control states and license states in the rates of binge-drinking among 12 – 17-year-olds” and “among 18 – 25-year-olds.”
- “no statistically significant relationship between control states and license states” in drunk-driving rates
Boudreaux and Williams summed it up: “The plain fact seems to be that alcohol-related problems are unrelated to whether or not a state government prevents private, competitive businesses from selling spirits to the general public. …”