There’s been plenty of tongue-wagging about how a beer shortage may have helped move Minnesota out of its government shutdown (not a done deal yet, by the way). But here’s a more important point: Do we really need all the fixtures of the regulatory state?
Writing in the Pioneer Press, Joe Soucheray addresses the snafu that may yet lead MillerCoors to take off the shelves 38 percent of Minnesota’s beer. One problem? The company overpaid its bill for “brand licenses,” and the state’s accounting system is not set up to accommodate overpayments. That’s a great example of a government failure that has little or nothing to do with policy. It’s simple math and sound business practices.
But of course we also have to ask whether there are some bad policies in place here. And there are. The sale of alcohol is a particularly convoluted enterprise, involving a three-tier distribution system mandated by law, brand licenses (beer companies), “buyers’ cards” (retailer), and other legacies of the most spectacular failure of government policy, Prohibition.
But it’s not just the act of buying a brew that is subject to the regulatory state. So are many other aspects of life. Our friends at the Institute of Justice fight the excesses (and absurdities) of the regulatory state on a regular basis. It’s not just that government reaches too far, it reaches in ways that make no sense. The most famous case may be that of people who offer African-style hair braiding as their only professional service. In many states they are required to obtain, at great cost in time and money, a cosmetology license. Most of the subject matter covered by the license is irrelevant to hair braiders.
Perhaps one benefit of the shutdown has been to publicize the incompetence of some of the state government’s business practices and irksome effects of some of its regulations.