Who’s Afraid of Sunday Liquor Sales?

Bourbon in Decatur, Georgia.

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Business groups often oppose regulations designed to force them to avoid imposing public health, safety, or pollution externalities on others. But in many other circumstances, existing businesses are well-adapted to the existing regulatory framework and oppose efforts to loosen things up. One examples comes from right here in Washington, DC where the city council has been sporadically considering the idea of allowing liquor stores to sell booze on Sunday.

The basic thought is that this would raise tax revenue without forcing the council to actually raise taxes, thus providing a relatively painless way for the city to avoid cuts in social services.

What’s more, it’s not as if existing public policy reflects some kind of principled religion-driven opposition to booze on Sundays. Supermarkets and corner stores are allowed to sell beer and wine on Sundays. Appropriately licensed bars and restaurants serve liquor seven days a week. And of course people who planned ahead are allowed to drink liquor in their own homes whenever they want. By the same token, the rule provides so many ways to get your drink on that it hardly seems like a meaningful deterrent to alcoholism. It is, instead, a minor inconvenience that produces a minor decline in overall economic activity and thus a minor decline in tax revenue.

The locus of opposition to changing the rule, meanwhile, turns out to be liquor store owners themselves. Their feeling, basically, is that while the no-Sunday-sales rule produces some actual reduction in total liquor sales it also simply displaces some sales to Saturdays and Mondays. By permitting Sunday sales, stores would essentially either have to stay open on Sunday or else risk losing sales to other stores who open on Sunday. That means longer workweeks for store owners.

It’s a very understandable impulse. A rule against writing blog posts outside the hours of 9AM-5PM from Monday to Friday would, similarly, make life easier for me. No more rushing a quick take on a prime time presidential debate or speech and then still needing to wake up the next morning to cover the news.