As if there wasn’t enough money in politics, now government agencies are using taxpayer dollars—our dollars—in an attempt to influence state policy. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded The Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group almost $650,000 a year for five years to research the effects that alcohol privatization in Washington State has had on prices and alcohol-related harms. At first glance, it may seem like a perfectly appropriate research topic for the NIH to support, but the details make one wonder whether the motives for such research are scientific curiosity or pure politics.
The organization that received the grant and its scientists have a long history of producing anti-alcohol-biased research. Dr. William Kerr, the lead on the project, has written and spoken many times in the past about his firm stance against the privatization of alcohol sales which he believes directly results in increased drinking and costs to the state. He received funding from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, an organization with the sole purpose of defending control state systems, to produce a study warning states of the dangers of privatization. In all likelihood, the conclusion of this forthcoming study will communicate a similar attitude.
Why would NIH award millions of taxpayer dollars to fund a study by a researcher with such an obvious bias? The answer is that NIH wants a study to show the evils of privatization that it can then show to any lawmaker considering privatization in his or her own state. Not only is this a waste of taxpayer money, but this government propaganda makes it harder for real stakeholders in the debate, such as citizens and businesses, to make their case for less government.
Results of Privatization
In November 2011, voters in Washington State approved Initiative 1183 officially ending the state monopoly on the sale of spirits. Since then, health advocates, retailers, and employee unions have waged a PR war, attempting to spin the story about the aftereffects of privatization, either to convince other control states (those states that have government-run liquor stores) to follow suit or to send them running from the very idea of loosening state control over liquor sales. According to the Reason Foundation’s Leonard Gilroy:
Robust competition is starting to take place among national retail chains, which tend to focus on offering few brands at more competitive prices (due to volume purchasing), while smaller specialty spirits retailers are emerging to offer competition through more variety in product mixes and greater attention to customer service and offering a high-quality retail experience. Perhaps more importantly, the fears promulgated by privatization opponents—primarily over the potential declines in state liquor revenues and significant negative effects on public health and safety—have not materialized.
And according to the Washington Policy Center, alcohol-related crimes have even declined since privatization in Washington. Of course, the facts have not deterred public health advocates from spinning a yard about the dangerous of getting the state out of the business of selling liquor.
Of course, that won’t stop organizations like ARG and others from pushing the idea that liquor privatization is unequivocally bad for society.
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