Conclusion: Deregulation and Revising Public-Health Strategies

This paper has provided evidence that an alcohol regime like Michigan’s does not improve public safety. If it did, at least some of the numerous measures of alcohol-related problems would be significantly related to a state’s alcohol control regime.

State wholesale and retail alcohol controls do impose significant costs on Michigan residents and entrepreneurs, however. Indeed, it can be argued that the burden of proving that wholesale and retail alcohol controls provide greater relative safety should lie with those who make such claims. These controls restrict the freedom of Michigan residents to engage in wholesale and retail alcohol businesses and to buy alcohol more conveniently and at lower prices in a deregulated market. Before reducing Michiganders’ freedom and the vigor of Michigan’s economy, convincing evidence would seem appropriate. Given the research evidence, however, it is difficult to see how public safety can be raised as an objection to liberalization.

Indeed, the evidence arguably provides a public-health rationale for liberalization. Alcohol controls like those in Michigan and other states are an expensive regulatory regime in terms of both money and work-hours. State government and Michigan consumers bear these costs — the state in developing and enforcing its alcohol control regime, and the consumer in higher costs and more time spent procuring alcohol that is less available than it would be otherwise.

The economic distortions of Michigan’s apparently ineffective system consume time and resources that may be better used on other alcohol harm-reduction strategies. Policymakers sincerely concerned about the damage of excessive alcohol consumption should consider the risk that maintaining the current approach actually prevents a greater reduction in alcohol-related public health problems.