Another Look at Blue Laws

David Harsanyi of The Denver Post wrote a fine article for today calling for the repeal of the blue laws — the prohibition of Sunday liquor sales at stores — as well as the restrictions on grocery-store sales of liquor and liquor-store sales of food.

But not everybody is convinced. On November 30 I received the following e-mail:

Dear Sir,

I recently opened a liquor store (March 2007) in Pueblo, CO. I am not a rich man. I have my life savings and a 2nd mortgage on my home invested in my modest, one employee (me) store. I have been working 6 days a week 13hrs a day for 8.5 months to make this place a success. It will be another year before I recoup all of my start-up losses.

Wine accounts for 50% of my sales, Beer accounts for about 35%. I am in a plaza with a King Soopers 100′ from my door. I had to sign a 5yr lease to get this location. I started this store under existing laws. I’ve staked my future on it. I’m 53 years old.

If the Blue Laws are repealed and Grocer’s are allowed to sell wine and beer that is not 3.2%, I will be ruined. I could not compete with their buying power and and their employee base that would allow them to stay open 16hrs/7days. I will lose my life’s savings and my house.

Can you explain to me how your desire to buy wine on Sunday in a grocery store, justifies ruining my life?

Randall Tierney
Turtles Wine & Spirits
Pueblo, CO

Following is my reply:

The simple fact is that, by sanctioning the blue laws and related statutes, you are violating the individual rights of other store owners and customers in this state. Whether or not the repeal of the blue laws and related liquor laws inconveniences you, those laws are morally wrong. According to the logic of your excuses, no protectionist law (or any unjust law) may ever be repealed, for those protected by political force would lose their unjust advantage over others. Your argument amounts to the claim that the unjust redistribution of wealth in the past warrants unjust redistribution of wealth in the future.

Moreover, you went into business knowing about the existing blue (and related) laws, and if you performed due diligence then you also know that people have been trying to repeal those laws for years. If you did not plan for the possibility of a change in those laws, then you simply didn’t do your homework, and you should not force others to suffer continued injustice to pay for your lack of foresight.

Nevertheless, I simply do not believe your claim that the repeal of the blue (and related) laws will necessarily ruin you financially. Can’t you compete on service and selection to fill a niche market? If you cannot compete on an open market — if you do require the force of politicians to harm your would-be competitors — then you do not deserve to be in business. On the other hand, if you can persuade customers to do businesses with you even when they are free to do business with all other stores willing to sell to them, then — and only then — will you have earned your success.

Post Opposes Blue Laws

I’m stunned. The Denver Post, which I’ve also heard called The Denver Pravda, has come out for repealing Colorado’s ban on Sunday liquor sales.

We can buy liquor at bars on Sunday, but not at liquor stores, which are forced closed by law. Grocery stores can sell only “3.2” beer on any day of the week. How it was decided that beer purchased at grocery stores may can contain no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by mass, as opposed to, say, 3.1 percent or 3.3 percent, I’ll leave the historians of political minutiae. There is one exception, as the Post points out: “Each grocery chain is allowed to sell full-strength beer and wine in only one of its stores in the state, according to Colorado law.”

Regarding the Sunday ban, the Post argues:

…Colorado is among 16 states that still has blue laws prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday. … It has remained the law largely due to efforts of liquor store owners… Their chief concern is that they’d have to pay to staff stores for an additional day but overall sales wouldn’t increase. They argue the sales they get in six days would just end up being spread over seven.

If you follow that logic, then why shouldn’t the government prohibit the sale of say, auto parts on Mondays so those businesses can save a day’s worth of overhead? It’s an argument that is at cross purposes with the basic tenets of capitalism.

The Denver Post endorses capitalism? Of course, the paper is rather selective about this. For example, the paper has endorsed a wide variety of tax hikes, subsidies, and economic controls. But for the paper even to mention the term “capitalism” in a positive light counts as progress, I suppose, however slight.

The Post rightly points out that the ban

is out of step with the lives of Coloradans. … Sunday has become the second-busiest shopping day of the week, and many folks rely on that day to get their personal business done. It makes no sense in this day and age to shackle the consumer for the convenience of liquor store owners.

However, capitalism is not about making the laws “in step” with the majority of the populace at a given time. Capitalism is about protecting the rights of every individual, all the time. If even one person wants to buy liquor on Sunday, and if even one person wants to sell it, then the ban violates their rights and is for that reason immoral.

If the legislature considers repealing the ban on Sunday liquor sales, no doubt some will argue that the ban prevents some instances of irresponsible drinking on that day. But, if that argument were valid, it would also justify a ban for every other day of the week. The large majority of people who buy liquor do so responsibly, and they should not be punished for the vices of a few. Similarly, sales of books should never be banned or restricted, even if some buyers find in certain books inspiration to commit crimes. In all cases, the proper principle is to punish the criminals, not the innocent.

I hope the Post’s editorial writers are careful. If they keep sticking up for people’s rights, they may find that consistency guides them to overturn many of their past recommendations. But, then again, another fitting name for the paper is The Denver Pragmatist, or, “Principles, Schminciples.”