Bill Johnson “Detests” Liberty in Beer Sales

Denver Post editorial columnist Bill Johnson (whose tirades inexplicably appear on the news pages of the paper) “detests” a bill to expand economic liberty and consumer choice in the beer trade, he writes in in his latest piece.

Johnson dislikes a bill that would allow consenting adults — grocers and consumers — to agree to exchange dollars for regular-strength beer. Currently Colorado law forcibly prohibits such voluntary exchanges and limits grocery stores (except for a single store in a chain) to low-alcohol beer.

To Johnson, the issue is about “the little guy” versus “corporate America,” and a “government… threatening yet again to shut” down liquor stores. Johnson doesn’t mention a single word about the fact that the so-called “little guy” liquor stores (which often also are corporate entities) currently use government force to block the competition.

What about the littlest guy of all, the lone consumer without the resources to relentlessly lobby the legislature, as liquor stores do? Consumers should be able to buy whatever beer they want from the seller of their choice. But their rights are irrelevant in Johnson’s world.

To be sure, the legislature also oppresses liquor stores by forcibly preventing them from selling most food and from opening chains. Those laws should be repealed. But two wrongs do not make a right, and rights-violating restrictions on liquor stores hardly justify additional restrictions on grocers. Justice requires the complete repudiation of all such anti-liberty controls.

Liquor store owners went into businesses knowing full well that current law benefits them by forcibly blocking their competitors. Those who start a businesses relying on the protection of unjust laws have no grounds to complain when those unjust laws finally are repealed. To the degree that the economic interests of liquor stores depend on violating people’s rights, those interests properly bear no legal weight.

Two main special interests oppose expanding a free market in beer sales: liquor stores and brewers like Mike Bristol. They argue that, if grocers were allowed to sell the beer of their choice, consumers would flock to grocers for their beer purchases, and they would stop buying craft beer. Such hyperventilating claims not only defy reality, they demean consumers as well as liquor store owners and craft brewers.

If consumers only shopped at liquor stores and only purchased craft beer because the law forcibly prevented them from doing otherwise, then obviously existing law harms consumers. Bristol basically is arguing that his beer is so bad that he must force people to drink it, and if he stops using force, people will strop drinking it. Well, if his beer is so bad that consumers would not voluntarily choose to buy it on a free market, then he should stop producing it! Likewise, if liquor stores exist only because the law forcibly prevents consumers from shopping elsewhere, then obviously those stores are not meeting consumers’ needs.

I would expect Bristol to take a little more pride in his work than that. If you have a good product, Mr. Bristol, then you should trust consumers to purchase it voluntarily. Just as it was wrong for Prohibition to once put beer brewers like you out of businesses, so it is wrong for you to use the force of unjust laws to block voluntary exchanges.

The simple fact is that, once grocers sell regular-strength beer, some will stock many craft beers, and others will not. That’s the case with liquor stores now. Guess what: stores stock what their customers like to buy. I personally have not purchased anything other than high-quality beer for many years (I have a wonderful Vanilla Porter in the fridge right now from Breckenridge Brewery), and I’m not going to start buying Bud and Coors just because the law permits a free market in beer sales.

Having been to many of Colorado’s fine breweries, talked to several of the state’s brewers, and chatted with hundreds of beer enthusiasts, it is obvious to me that there is a strong market in Colorado for craft beer. That market is not somehow going to evaporate just because grocery stores can sell beer. What that market presents is an opportunity for liquor stores to specialize in selection. I doubt that many grocery stores will offer services like pick-and-choose six-packs, as various liquor stores already provide. As is obvious to anyone who has traveled outside Colorado, liquor stores continue to thrive in states where grocers may sell regular-strength beer.

As for Johnson’s argument about putting people out of work, perhaps Johnson should brush up on his Bastiat so he doesn’t sound like such an economic illiterate. What is immediately seen is that some liquor stores may enjoy less business or even shut down. What is not seen is that, if that happens, it will happen because some consumers are better off buying beer at grocery stores. What Johnson ignores are the extra jobs at the grocery stores, the extra money in consumers’ pockets that can be spent elsewhere, and the extra time consumers have to produce or relax.

The legislature has no legitimate businesses forcibly disrupting the competitors of select businesses. Laws that prevent consenting adults from associating voluntarily to trade beer for dollars violate the rights of both buyer and seller. Shops that survive solely because they are protected by unjust laws do not deserve to be in business. Liquor store owners and brewers who actually take pride in their work and meet the needs of consumers will continue to thrive in a free market.

Give us liberty. Protect people’s rights. Restore a free market in beer.

Additional reading:
Time for a Free Market in the Alcohol Industry
Free Liquor Stores from Prohibition-Era Rules
Another Look at Blue Laws
Time to Bring Beer Sales to Ballot
Beer Smash Protests Protectionism | Photos
CO Brewers Should Endorse Liberty
A Good Beer Needs No Political Force
Blue-law special


Anonymous commented March 29, 2011 at 12:18 PM
Have you ever been to California? They allow all types of liquor sales in grocery stores there and it is very hard to find an independent liquor store. Though the grocery stores have a reasonable selection of products it is not as good as many of our independent Colorado liquor stores. And forget trying to get a recommendation on a good wine from a grocery store clerk.

You seem to make the assumption that we live in a free market and therefore we need to let the free market decide winners. I have some news for you; our market is not free. The overwhelming power of the large corporations easily stacks the deck in their favor. You seem to have bought into the idea that liberty and individualism means stripping away protections for small business from large predatory corporations because doing so fits into your “free market” ideology. The problem is that when the market is not truly free the outcome of your action is collectivism. So, are you and individualist or a collectivist?

You don’t believe me? Look at any small mid-western town’s Main Street thirty years ago and compare it to now since Wal-Mart moved into town. This is how collectivism wins the game under the guise of the “free market”.

Ari commented March 29, 2011 at 12:24 PM
Arizona allows grocers to sell beer and wine. Check out all the independent liquor stores in Phoenix: And here is a listing of liquor stores in Los Angeles:

Your basic confusion, Anonymous, is over the meaning of a free market. A free market is NOT one free from competition. A free market is free from the initiation of force. If individuals wish to voluntarily shop at larger corporate stores, that’s their right. If smaller stores can’t compete on an open market, that proves only that they cannot meet the needs of consumers as well. We don’t need “protection” from lower prices and more convenience!

Anonymous commented March 29, 2011 at 3:15 PM
If you truly believe that the “free market” we have today is not massively weighted toward the success of large corporations through various laws, tax breaks, and lobbyists then there is little hope for you! Competition is not really competition when the deck is stacked.

Ari commented March 29, 2011 at 3:24 PM
I never claimed we have a free market now; the problem is that we do not. But the answer to unjust controls is not more unjust controls, it is more freedom. But the simple fact is that consumers suffer unjust liquor controls because of the lobbyists and political power of the liquor stores and brewers. Currently the deck is stacked against consumers, and I’m trying to unstack it. You’re trying to keep it stacked.

Anonymous commented March 30, 2011 at 7:05 AM
Our so called free market is at minimum, is 50% socialistic. If you do not understand this, you do not understand politics. Our social structure is also 50% socialist. The United States Constitution did not guarantee liberty; it guaranteed a Republic form of government. This Republic form of government has created a half free Nation.

I have never heard Ari claim we have a free market unlike old timers such as Rosen . I gotta give Rosen credit because the last few years he has morphed from free market to political economy.

Brew your own,grow your own, then you can have whatever you want, when you want it, nearly tax free!

Anonymous commented March 30, 2011 at 8:01 AM
Anon said: You don’t believe me? Look at any small mid-western town’s Main Street thirty years ago and compare it to now since Wal-Mart moved into town. This is how collectivism wins the game under the guise of the “free market”.

I am not saying there are not laws that go against main street however I thought main street failed because shop owners wanted to sale only 2 lawnmowers per month yet afford a caviar life style?

Wal-Mart brings affordable groceries’ to the masses.

This is called efficiency, something we all want.