HB1387 And “Local Control of Alcohol”

HB 1387 and “Local Control of Alcohol”  (Posted by Mark Moore at Arkansas Watch on Friday, February 22, 2013).

Arkansas still has a number of “dry” counties. They are only “dry” in the sense that alcohol can’t be sold in them. It is still legal to import, store, and consume alcohol purchased elsewhere, so I would not consider it a “liberty” issue. I lived in a county like that for years, until the recent election overturned the “dry” status. As a Localist, I approve of the idea of the people of each county or city being able to decide where these sorts of lines should be drawn, in preference to those lines being drawn at the state capitol, or heaven for-fend, the national capitol. I wonder if a similar arrangement might be employed to resolve other contentious issues, for example, consumption of marijuana?

People are going to have different ideas about where social lines ought to be drawn. Instead of obstinately insisting that everyone else adopt the answers one prefers, why not de-centralize the power to answer those questions? Maybe not for issues where victims are involved, such as murder, but at least for issues involving economic or personal freedom. And I say that as someone who is not a libertarian. But I do believe in freedom.

I think a community of libertarians would set the rules for behavior too loose for my liking, but as long as I don’t live there, what is that to me? I think a community of social conservatives would set the rules too restrictive to please a libertarian, but so long as they don’t live there, what’s that to them? The important thing is that people can live wherever they like, and that the rules are set to please the people who live there, not people who live elsewhere, whether they be control-freaks in the capitol or opinionated theorists.

In time “the market” would sort it all out as communities which set the bar either too loose or too tight lost out to communities which did not. Does the idea of having a “market” at work forcing government to comply to the wishes of those who live under it seem appealing to you? That is the localist lynch pin. Freedom doesn’t need restrictions on movement, it is tyranny which must have a captive audience.

But some of you, mis-informed by the state’s loathsome establishment media, might not even understand why anyone would want a “dry” county, considering all of the benefits you have heard about going “wet.” Yes, well, you have heard only one side of the story. Bob Hester of Jonesboro went to the trouble of compiling crime statistics between wet counties and dry counties and some of the results are staggering. Wet counties seem to have a lot more of certain types of crime, despite spending 60% more per person on law enforcement. None of that is taken into account when pro-alcohol people do these studies showing how “good for the economy” liquor sales are.

There are other explanations for these statistics of course, and the point of this article is not to sort all of that out. The point is that reasonable people can differ on the issue of whether they want alcohol sold in their city. Maybe they or a close relative is struggling with alcoholism and have trouble living in a place where they see it right in front of them when they go to the grocery store or pass a liquor store every day. Maybe people just like living in a county where they know that people whose lives are dominated by alcohol will choose to live elsewhere. Whatever their reasons, they are their reasons, and don’t owe me or anyone else who does not live among them an explanation for their preferences.

I say all that to say this, the folks in Little Rock cannot seem to stand the idea that people in the hinterlands are making their own decisions on these sorts of things. A “private club” can sell alcohol by the drink even in “dry” counties if they get approval from the state’s ABC board. That board has a history of being antagonistic to anyone who objects to them issuing a permit to sell alcohol in a dry county. Add to it there have been some ethical concerns about their decisions to grant permits shortly after discussions about what the favorite charity of certain board members are (which might well be a charity which employs a relative).

Now some of you might be tempted to think that every county ought to be wet, and since the decision of the central authority (ABC board) to over-ride the wishes of the local residents is one that you would favor were you there, then you are OK with these decisions. But just imagine the shoe was on the other foot. Suppose the central authority was implementing some policy which you and your neighbors objected to? Oh, wait, I can see it now- if the central authority imposes what I want then its good, when it imposes something I object to then its tyranny! Sigh.

A localist is someone who can sleep well at night even though people they don’t know in a city they have never been to are doing things differently. As I talk to various activists from conservative to liberal to libertarian I find that there are a lot fewer people like that than I had hoped. It seems almost everybody wants their team to hold the gun pointed at everybody else.

But for those few of you out there who can sleep at night even though people you have never met in a city where you have never been are doing things differently, HB 1387 would be a good bill to support. It requires the approval of either the county or the city in a dry county before a private club can sell (you can still give it away at private parties of course) alcohol. That is, it would take power away from the ABC Board in Little Rock to over-ride the wishes of the majority of people in the community in order to give advantage to some corporation HQed in another state!

If you want to see HB 1387 pass, I urge you to contact your state representative.


Mark Moore is a long time activist and policy wonk with an extensive political resume. He describes his current political label as “Localist”, a philosophy of government best described in this E-book “Localism, A Philosophy of Government” (for Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Localism-A-Philosophy-Government-ebook/dp/B00B0GACAQ/ref=pd_rhf_pe_p_t_2_GB3H)
(On Barnes and Noble Nook et al: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/localism-a-philosophy-of-government-achbani/1114141668?ean=2940015982688)