The PJ Tatler

Be Pro-Market, Not Pro-Business


A broad grassroots coalition of consumers and liberty activists are making a strong push to repeal Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales. The North Star State remains one of only twelve that continues to ban liquor sales on Sunday, and the only state among its neighbors to do so. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out in a recent editorial supportive of repeal, any given Sunday sees a line  of Minnesota license plates parading to border town liquor stores in Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas.

The public has long supported repeal. Up to now, that support has not manifest in much political capitol in St. Paul. Opponents of repeal have been more organized and engaged. But that dynamic is changing.

The issue has emerged as a litmus test for libertarian activists within the Republican Party. Increasingly, where a candidate or incumbent stands on Sunday sales determines how they are perceived by the grassroots, and for good reason. There may be no clearer example of special interest cronyism restricting the market and limiting consumer choice.

Strangely, there are plenty of Republicans who support the status quo and argue against repealing the Sunday sales ban. In her argument against repeal, Barbara Banaian defends it as a vanguard for small liquor stores.

The laws serve a purpose, if not for a Sunday day of rest. Ending blue laws will hurt small proprietors because it will be more difficult for them to cover extra hours than the larger stores.

In this way, Banaian demonstrates the critical difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. Republicans have a well-deserved reputation for being pro-business. Businesses produce jobs, we’re often told. And so action taken to promote and support business promotes and supports jobs.

But this brand of advocacy proceeds from a flawed moral justification. If jobs or business – particularly those fitting politically correct categories like “local jobs” or “small business” – are the primary end of government action, then a mean which violates the rights of individuals is justified. That’s precisely what we see in the Sunday sales ban.

The truly moral end of government action is the protection of – not business as such – but the rights of each individual to engage in business freely. The truly moral position is thus pro-market, not pro-business.

If one shop opens for sale, the others have to follow suit…

Many small liquor stores would like to continue the ban, in part because of the expense tied to being open another day.

Liquor store associations and unions (Teamsters Joint Council 32) that represent alcohol distributors also favor the ban. Municipal liquor stores in rural areas are also opposed to lifting the ban.

The bigger fear, say some, is the likelihood any bill that makes Sunday liquor sales legal also would lead to Minnesota giving grocers the ability to sell wine. This may be the real reason for the liquor lobby trying to stop Sunday sales.

Banaian thus argues that the ban protects certain businesses from the scourge of competition and consumer choice. Not only does this fail an objective moral analysis, prioritizing the commercial convenience of some over the individual rights of others. It also reveals the faulty logic behind the root claim that repeal would necessarily hurt businesses.

What precisely would compel shops who don’t want to open on Sunday to “follow suit” if their competition does? If it’s so unwise to open on Sunday, why would anyone open? If it’s so unwise to open on Sunday, wouldn’t you want your competition to leap off that cliff?

Ultimately, whether shops succeed or fail in a condition of liberty is irrelevant to any moral consideration. We advocate for liberty because it’s the only just condition for man, not because it provides the greatest utility to particular men.

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