My brother and I were co-ranting about some of the injustices of state alcohol restrictions, when I casually mentioned that it would be great to have an Alcohol Freedom Index so states could be ranked by the freedom you have to purchase and consume alcohol. I did international relations, rather than political science, but some of the techniques to operationalize such an index would be similar.
The tricky thing would be figuring out what goes into the index. The more difficult thing for a lazy SOB such as myself would be doing the grunt work to collect the data for all 50 states. Weirdly, it looks like the US Army has made that a little easier.
As to the tricky thing, I can brainstorm a few but additional measures would be welcome.
- Are beer and wine sold through special state stores?
- Can localities make themselves “dry”?
- Is liquor sold through special state stores?
- Can individuals receive shipments of alcohol?
- Does the state only allow the importation of “approved” beverages?
- Do state labeling requirements block the sale of many beers, particularly imports? (Texas, I’m looking in your direction)
Such an index would be useful in turning the tables on modern-day prohibitionists, left and right. You could easily see examples of laws that serve no public safety or food quality purpose and be able to set state governments against one another. Prohibitionists might attempt to use the index for the opposite reason, but I suspect once Marylanders find out that Virginia is not a drunken hellhole because beer and wine can be purchased in grocery stores (certainly it hasn’t affected property values relative to Maryland), the prohibitionists’ arguments might look silly, and the laws themselves would be revealed for what they are: taxation and middleman job security measures.
I could even see cases made that alcohol restrictions aid alcoholism: when beer is only available from state stores, then any time you go to purchase beer you have an opportunity to purchase a case, rather than a six-pack. Good way to market binge drinking, Maryland! “See the Terps and Tie Twenty-Four On!” It’s even worse in Pennsylvania: you can’t even buy small quantities of beer.
Right now, politically-connected middlemen (such as beer and wine distributors) have a reason to pressure their legislators to preserve their business model, but there’s isn’t an easily-digestable way for the average citizen to realize how much they’re being screwed in favor of a tiny, well-off portion of the population. An Alcohol Freedom Index might be a way that Texans could take a good, hard look at their government and ask why the state that celebrates its independence from Mexico is less free than next-door New Mexico.
The Cato Institute would be the logical think tank to publish such an index, and it looks like Radley Balko would be the logical person to compile it.