Squash Competition to Save It?

I had to laugh at this headline for a Rocky Mountain News Speakout by William J. Barr: “Chain stores would ruin Colorado’s competitive liquor business.”

The thrust the piece is that Colorado’s legislature must maintain the ban on chain liquor stores in order to preserve competition. In other words, in Barr’s view, “competition” means threatening to send in armed officers to prevent people from opening stores. “Competition” means forcibly preventing people from associating voluntarily in the economic sphere. In short, according to Barr, “competition” means outlawing select “capitalist acts among consenting adults,” to again invoke Nozick.

Barr’s position is utterly ridiculous. Using political force to shut down one’s competitors is the antithesis of free-market competition. But apparently Barr favors the sort of competition by which special interest groups grovel for protectionist legislation from morally corrupt politicians.

Real competition means that people have the protected right to offer their goods and services freely to willing customers. Nobody is forcing a single consumer to do business with a store that happens to be part of a chain. On a free market, any store that does not meet the needs of consumers will fail. If a chain succeeds on a free market, it is because quality management, economies of scale, and/or earned reputation draws in customers. So what Barr is really arguing is that customers must be forcibly prevented from doing business with stores that best meet their needs.