The PJ Tatler

Sunday Liquor Sales: Special Interest Protectionism vs. the Free Market


Nearly eighty years have passed since the Minnesota legislature, acting to accommodate religious moralists disgruntled by the repeal of Prohibition, passed a ban on the sale of liquor on Sundays. The blue law has remained on the books despite the fact that every surrounding state allows Sunday sales.

In recent years, a grassroots effort to repeal the archaic ban has made the issue a perennial sleeper. Given the failure of that effort session after session, despite 62% public support for repeal, it has become evident that legislators are influenced more by special interests than consumers and voters.

So clear is the case for Sunday liquor sales that even the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a mainstream publication not known for its libertarian, free-market leanings, joined the rising chorus calling for a repeal of the ban in an editorial over the weekend.

The proverbial planets seem to be aligning in such a way that repeal could happen in the new year. Republicans just took control of the state House. Public opinion has been galvanized into a consumer-driven grassroots lobbying force. And the Democrat majority in the state Senate needs to be mindful of upcoming elections in an environment where this issue has gained visibility.

Who stands opposed to such a commonsense repeal, you might ask. From the Tribune:

The strongest resistance to Sunday sales in recent years has come from liquor retailers themselves, some of whom believe opening on Sundays would raise their costs without increasing their sales.

In the next breath, these same retailers claim that lifting the ban on Sunday sales will tempt their competition into opening the extra day, thus compelling them to open as well and lose money. But that’s ludicrous. If indeed opening on Sunday will incur extra cost without extra revenue, any store that opens on Sunday will be making an irrational and self-destructive move. If retailers really believe their own narrative, then they should be at front of the line lobbying to lift the ban so their idiot competitors take the bait and die on the market vine.

Of course, in truth, nobody believes the retailer narrative. The Tribune continues:

For [opposed retailers], we offer a suggestion: Drive this [Sunday] afternoon to Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., or Hudson or Superior, Wis., and pull into the parking lot of the first liquor store you see. Look at all the Minnesota license plates. Those customers could have been yours. The Distilled Spirits Council says Minnesota Sunday buyers will spend $15 million this year in other states — an estimate state Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, deems very conservative.

Some of the retailers who claim that they’ll suffer if the Sunday sales ban is lifted may be right. But it isn’t government’s role to protect businesses from competition. Government’s interest in regulating alcohol sales lies in the realm of public safety. We see little threat to public safety in allowing the sale of a legal — albeit intoxicating — product on a day when consumers want to buy it. The Sunday sales ban is an anachronism that belongs in Minnesota’s history books, not its statute books.

Republicans in the state, many of whom have previously voted on the wrong side of this issue, now find themselves out-free-marketed by some of their Democratic colleagues and the local lefty paper. Some faces ought to be resting in palms.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)