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Column: Views of front lines in Indiana cold (beer) war

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The regulars who frequent Fitness by Denial were sitting around imbibing their favorite beverages when the topic came up. “What do you think of the court’s decision in the cold-beer wars?” asked a senior member of the state legislature.

“Perfect,” said a second, who runs one of Indiana’s regulatory commissions. “We ought to invite that judge to join our club. His ruling is totally in keeping with our mission: “to maintain Indiana’s superiority in all matters by denying any alleged defects in our institutions.”

“But did it make sense?” asked the legislator. “After all he didn’t settle anything. Is it right that cold beer be sold only by liquor stores and not by groceries and other stores that are condemned to sell warm beer? Is the temperature of the beer really the issue? Is this a measure to keep cold beer out of the hands of children?”

A roar of laughter came from the regulator. “You? You’re asking does it make sense? What does making sense have to do with the legislation you and your colleagues pass?”

“Now, listen,” the lawmaker responded. “The judge understood we have the right to make whatever laws we want to regulate the use of alcohol in this state. We decided access to cold beer can be dangerous and therefore restricted.

We supported the idea that liquor stores are better places to sell cold beer than making it available widely through such places as convenience stores, drugstores, groceries and other places consumers frequent.”

“Really?” the regulator asked. “What you mean is you and the judge listened to the lobbyists on one side rather than those on the other side.”

“Sir!” the legislator contained his ire. “We listen to all interested parties, but we decide on the merits of the issue.”

“So, what are the merits?” the regulators said. “If cold beer is dangerous because it often leads to drinking and driving, then why not forbid the sale of cold beer? Don’t say it’s OK for one retailer, but not for another. Don’t draw distinctions that are relics of the post-Prohibition era 80 years ago.”

“What about the good people who just want to buy some cold beer to take home or to a picnic on a hot day?” asked the legislator. “They might not drink it while driving.”

“As usual,” the rule maker said, “good people suffer from the misdeeds of others. Most of our laws and rules are designed to prevent bad deeds. Just look at all the restrictions put in place because we think we can stop terrorism.”

“Let’s not get philosophical here,” the lawmaker said. “The practical side of things is that Hoosiers accept almost anything, without thinking about its larger dimensions, as long as it does not involve higher taxes in the short run. This cold beer issue is not on the political radar screen, and the General Assembly is not inclined to take up an issue on the basis of principles or philosophy.”

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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