Vice Squad
Monday, May 02, 2005
Only Scylla Left to Negotiate

A would-be responsible alcohol retailer can face a dilemma. If its rivals compete on the basis of price, our responsible seller might have to, too, by running happy hours or other price promotions. Such marketing might incur the wrath of those concerned with binge drinking. But if our responsible seller attempts to join with its rivals in preventing price discounting, then it may violate the antitrust laws. Such a violation was alleged against alcohol sellers in Madison, Wisconsin, last March.

Today we learn from Walter Olson at Overlawyered that a judge threw out the private lawsuit, on the grounds that the collusion was foisted upon Madison's bar owners. So in this case, vice policy trumps anti-trust. Along with the WTO internet gambling ruling, in which vice policy trumped free trade, perhaps we are seeing a trend towards increased autonomy for vice policy. If so, California medical marijuana patients will have reason to celebrate, even as California winemakers should become increasingly concerned.

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