A government bureau, Ronald Reagan once said, is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this Earth.
I love that quote, and the fact that imbedded in it is a great truism: A government agency or program, once created, very rarely goes away.
Part of the reason for that has to do with the constituency that is built around that agency or program. But another is the fact that the bureaucracy grows and becomes its own force for self-preservation. It expends time and money to assure the masses that life would be miserable if that program were to be discontinued. It taps an army of government employees and all the resources of a government agency to continue to market its importance to policymakers and the general public.
In short, any opposition to its continuation is quickly dwarfed and diminished.
All of this brings me to a brochure being distributed by the state-controlled liquor program. The brochure, which I’m told has been around for a few years, is the very definition of government aggrandizement.
I expect state agencies to use a bit of puffery in describing their role in the world. The state liquor piece goes further, essentially lobbying to continue state ownership and control of liquor stores over private, free-market alternatives that the Legislature or the electorate might consider.
“The social benefits of control systems are well documented,” says the brochure. The claim comes from a questionable study from the Marin Institute, a California non-profit now known as Alcohol Justice, which claims its mission is to “vigorously oppose the greedy, corporate promotion of alcohol to youth” and “envisions healthy communities free of the alcohol industry’s negative impact.”
The brochure doesn’t mention data from other research showing that Idaho’s liquor consumption is higher than some states with free-market liquor stores, or that privatization has actually been demonstrated to slow down per-capita alcohol consumption.
Nor does the brochure mention a study from another Idaho government agency — the Office of Performance Evaluations — which showed Idaho could be better off with a privately-operated liquor system.
Still, the pamphlet does a great job extolling the virtues of socialism, claiming that state liquor agency is “an Idaho-owned business” and as such, “we are exempt from paying taxes to the IRS. All dollars earned stay in Idaho.”
The liquor division is not a business, any more than the Department of Health and Welfare is a business. It is exempt from paying taxes because it is a government agency.
But the liquor agency might contend it is merely providing information on state liquor control systems, which might be foreign to Idahoans who come from states with privately-owned liquor stores. It’s not a form of lobbying, the agency might argue.
If that’s the case, then the comment from Payette City Administrator Mary Cordova, reproduced at government expense via the brochure, is a stunner: “If the agency were privatized, it will only expand the availability of liquor, which in turn will cause more problems related to alcohol abuse.” Oldtown and Valley County also weigh in with comments in support of government ownership.
Idaho lawmakers or perhaps the voting public may, one day, decide that government ownership of anything, including the alcohol industry, is a bad idea. But to get to that decision, we’ll all have to contend with a well-funded, well-staffed government agency that has already proven that it will do what it must to remain in existence.
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