Liquor Privatization: Rube Goldberg Style

For most Americans, picking up a bottle of wine for dinner is as simple as turning into the wine aisle of their local grocery store. However, Pennsylvania’s convoluted liquor control scheme has long prevented grocery stores from selling the culinary staple. Now, for those part of a new pilot program, this is about to change. In a noble effort to loosen the state’s grip on liquor, legislators have approved a new “wine kiosk” program designed to sell wine in large, self-service vending machines.

Rather than the outmoded shelf and cash register system of other states, the machines will employ “state-of-the-art” technology to control the sale of wine and protect citizens from the evils of alcohol. First, customers must insert their ID into the kiosk. Their photo will be scanned and relayed to a liquor control board facility where employees will monitor every transaction via the kiosk’s built-in camera. Customers must then submit to a breathalyzer test–if they blow a .02 or below, they will be allowed to complete the purchase. The kiosks will not be open on Sundays.

While this may seem like an invasive, inefficient, and draconian approach to liquor control, for one special interest group the approach goes too far in liberating liquor. Alcohol is not a Red Box DVD – it is the most abused drug in every town, city and state in the USA,” says David Wanamaker, Vice-President of the Independent State Store Union (ISSU), a union representing state-run liquor store managers. [See Press Release]

Ignoring the fact that his state-run stores do not mandate breathalyzer tests, Mr. Wanamaker seems convinced that wine kiosks will unleash a wave of alcohol abuse. The real motive for his teetotaling tendencies seems obvious–the union and its political supporters will oppose any measure which eliminates PLCB workers or compromises its monopoly status.

The reality is that privatization efforts in West Virginia, Iowa, and Alberta, Canada have increased efficiency, lowered prices, and sustained state revenues. Moreover, they have not incurred new social costs. Hopefully, citizens and lawmakers will see through Mr. Wanamaker’s charade and continue to press for greater privatization and competition in Pennsylvania. . . even if it comes in small and/or silly increments.

For more information on PLCB privatization, see Reason Foundation’s Divesting the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board or Government-Run Liquor Stores: The Social Impact of Privatization by the Commonwealth Foundation.