Give us liberty!
It occurred in these parts 220 years ago: Western Pennsylvania farmers and citizens protested the government's attempt to tax their production of whiskey. The protests grew violent. In July 1794, an incensed band of more than 400 whiskey rebels torched the home of John Neville, the regional tax collector and renowned Revolutionary War veteran, and a big name to Pittsburghers to this day.
In response, President George Washington, at the behest of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, dispatched a force of 13,000 men.
The insurrection became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. These Pennsylvania patriots didn't want the government taxing their alcohol. I wonder how they would feel about their government now. Today in Pennsylvania, the government not only taxes alcohol but controls its sale.
That's the bizarre situation in this bizarre state, which finds itself almost alone among the nation's 50 states. With the exception of Utah, only in Pennsylvania are citizens not free to purchase “spirits” in private stores. Utah's primary motivation is Mormonism. Pennsylvania's primary motivation is unionism — or, more specifically, public-sector unionism. The utter incomprehensibility of this incomprehensible situation becomes barely comprehensible only once one understands the vagaries of government unions. There is, as a matter of plain fact, no other reason for this insanity. In Pennsylvania, government controls alcohol because government unions control government.
It's a kind of political madness that one cannot walk into any supermarket and purchase a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. I've been in grocery stores all over the country, coast to coast, and encountered entire aisles devoted strictly to red wine. The shelves are stocked with endless varieties at great prices. I've spent a lot of time in California. Every time I go to the wine aisle in a grocery store there, I'm faced with so many bargain prices that I can always find an excellent and totally new wine for around $6 or $7. It's such a deal that I honestly feel guilty after my purchase, like I'm ripping off the other wine producers.
But the real rip-off is Pennsylvania. We get extremely limited options at excessive prices, a textbook example of government-generated monopoly with no competition. We are left with the mere “option” of these alien things we call “state stores,” a term that baffles out-of-state visitors.
This absurdity should have ended decades ago, but plagues us still. Will these “stores” (the term really doesn't apply) ever be privatized?
I raise this issue now because it's especially precarious. I once thought that liquor privatization was possible via Gov. Ed Rendell, even though he was a Democrat, the party of the government unions. Believe it or not, when he was mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell actually privatized a bunch of services. He was a national leader and innovator in that regard. It was one of the best things he did in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, once he became governor, he reverted to Democrat form. He was just as beholden to the government unions as every Democrat who kneels before the Teamsters' Temple.
Alas, with the election of Tom Corbett and the Republican Legislature, I finally thought liquor privatization was a reality. But now, here we are, with Corbett four years into what might be a one-term governorship, and the prospects are dim. He trails Tom Wolf, a revenue-hungry class-warfare specialist, by double digits in the polls. If Wolf prevails in November, we might not sniff liquor privatization for a long, long time.
The time is now. Or is even now too late?
This statewide nightmare continues. Would someone please liberate our liquor? Can the State of Independence have independent alcohol? The boys from the Whiskey Rebellion would be shocked that we tolerate this.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- John Nash, wife, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ inspiration, die in N.J. taxi crash
- Man shot while driving through Liberty Tunnel
- Ex-Baldwin, Pitt star Pinkston not giving up on NFL dream
- Book details secret to Pirates’ turnaround
- Former pitcher Allie happily adjusting to outfield
- Motorcyclist killed after striking pole in Penn Township
- Pa. gaming industry’s growth amplifies siren call for addicts
- Pirates chase Mets’ Harvey early in rout
- Coroners, organ harvesting group spar over procurement process
- Rossi: Days off are when Pirates’ starters begin winning formula
- Biertempfel: Despite Marte’s inconsistency, Pirates’ Hurdle keeping faith