By Steven Horwitz
As a relatively new resident of Indiana, I was surprised to find that I could not walk into a supermarket or convenience store and buy alcohol on a Sunday. I was used to the New York laws that prohibited sales before noon, but was shocked to find out that there were still states that essentially prohibited sales all day. I was further surprised to find out that, with the exception of going to a liquor store, I couldn’t buy beer that was already cold.
So-called “blue laws” that regulate the sales of alcohol on Sunday have been a part of the American landscape for a very long time. Most states have repealed or reduced such prohibitions with no harm to their residents. However, Indiana’s restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales remain in effect and are among the most stringent in the country. These laws are costly to Indiana families, the state Treasury, and the environment, and they serve only to protect the profits of the liquor store industry. It’s time to end their liquor privileges and give Hoosiers the benefits of real competition.
Several bills have been introduced in recent years to change those laws, but none have been able to pass. It turns out that the primary opposition to rescinding the laws is coming not from the general public, but from the aforementioned liquor stores. They correctly see the current laws as protecting their profits by giving them a monopoly over cold beer sales and enabling them to not have to bear the costs of opening up on Sunday to compete with larger grocers and convenience stores selling alcohol who would be open anyway.
It’s not surprising that the laws reflect the self-interested attempt by some businesses to use the political process to acquire privileges that enhance their profits. First, given that so few states have such laws any more, it’s hard to imagine what the argument would be that such laws protect the public. Are alcohol sales on Sunday somehow more dangerous or corrupting in Indiana than in other states? It would seem not.
More important, the use of regulation to protect the profits of some businesses against the competition of others is an old and socially destructive strategy. We know that businesses want to enhance their profits, but the core of the free enterprise system is that those profits should come from creating value for consumers.
When we buy an iPhone, we are engaged in a mutually beneficial exchange with Apple and their profits reflect the value they create for us. When Indiana liquor stores profit by raising the prices of the cold beer whose sales they monopolize, or by forcing everyone else to not sell on Sundays so they don’t have to, their profits do not reflect value they’ve created. Those profits come from preventing mutually beneficial exchanges and value creation. They come at the expense of making people better off.
The liquor laws impose several burdens on the public as well as costs to the community at large. The most obvious is that people have to plan around being unable to buy alcohol on Sunday, making it harder to engage in spontaneous entertaining or get that wine you need for that recipe last minute.
For people who live close enough to the border, the laws encourage them to go Sunday liquor shopping in one of those other states. Not only is that lost tax revenue for Indiana, it means more money spent on gas for working families, as well as unnecessary depreciation on their cars and time away from things they would rather be doing. That additional driving also means more pollution, which imposes costs on all of us. Allowing Sunday liquor sales would reduce these costs for Indiana families while also increasing state tax revenues.
Liquor stores might argue that the competition from opening up Sunday sales, or ending the cold beer restrictions, would put many of them out of business. Perhaps it would, but the money families would save through cheaper beer and not having to drive out of their way to get liquor on Sundays becomes money in their pockets to buy other goods and services, supporting businesses and employment elsewhere in the economy. No business should have the privilege of being immune from competition and the desires of consumers.
There’s no public interest justification for the monopoly on cold beer or the prohibition of Sunday liquor sales. A healthy economy is not one in which one kind of business can make profits by persuading politicians to prevent others from selling a product that consumers are happy to buy. Indiana residents recognize the benefits of true competition and free enterprise elsewhere in the economy, and they should see liquor store profits earned from monopoly privilege and sales restrictions as fundamentally unfair.
It’s time to end Indiana’s blue laws and provide the lower prices and greater convenience that comes with the competition that a real free enterprise system provides. Indiana consumers deserve the same benefits of competition that other states have. Ending the restrictions on cold beer and Sunday liquor sales is a long overdue way to help Hoosier families and bring Indiana into the 21st century.
Meet the LPIN at the Ricker’s Store, 990 S White Ave, Sheridan, IN 46069, Sunday, July 16, 3 pm to 5 pm for the next #LPDRINKIN More details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/731351907071795