Raise a glass for freedom, not government control
BY JUSTIN OWEN
Our job at the Beacon Center is to empower Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue the American Dream. All too often, government puts up barriers that make it hard for people to realize those dreams. We find those barriers and break them down, paving a clearer path to freedom and prosperity. Oftentimes, it’s easier to spot new barriers and stop them in their tracks before they are erected. This is one of those times. A new bill in the state legislature (SB426-HB543) seeks to erect a barrier between brewers and wholesalers. Several industries, including much of the alcohol industry, has what’s called a “three-tiered system,” essentially preventing different stages of a product to be integrated under the same ownership. For example, a wine producer can’t also sell his own wine without first selling it to a middleman wholesaler. The bill in question seeks to impose this same separation of ownership on the beer industry. And it will do so under the guise of protecting craft brewers from the big guys. Trust me, I’m not a “big guy” fan. When I graduated from college, I also graduated from the watered-down, mass-produced beers of the world. My local bartender will tell you that I’m exclusively a craft guy (when I’m not drinking scotch). Good People IPA is my beer of choice. So I am sensitive to the notion that we must protect our craft beer industry. But we can do that by demanding more access to craft beers—through our buying choices—not through additional laws and regulations. While well intended, the proposed law has dire consequences. Under the bill, a craft brewer could not sell his business to a company that owns a beer wholesaler. So in an effort to “protect” the little guy, this proposal would tell the little guy who he can and cannot sell his business to. That doesn’t sound much like protection to me; it sounds like an affront to the American Dream. The theory is that if the big guys like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors can serve as producer, distributor, and retailer, they can squash out their craft competition. But reality is that as the craft craze grows, we the consumers will force the big guys to sell us what we want to drink. All this proposal will do is make it harder for the craft guys to realize their fullest potential. It also sets a dangerous precedent that if you work hard, start your own business, and sweat and toil to grow it into a success, you may still have to get the government’s permission to sell it to a willing buyer. I just can’t get on board with that. While the proponents of this legislation may frame it as a battle between craft brewers and the big beer industry, it’s really a battle between government control and freedom. I for one will be raising my glass—full of craft beer—to freedom. -Justin Owen Editor’s note: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the proposed bill would limit ownership between retailers and brewers, and retailers and wholesalers. Such restrictions already exist in state law. The bill would restrict ownership between brewers and wholesalers.