ABC Store

A state-run ABC Store in Bethel sells liquor in northern Pitt County.

North Carolina reigns as a hotbed of capitalism. Our legislature even requires public schools to teach the virtues of free enterprise.

One creeping vestige of socialism remains, however — the network of government-owned warehouses and stores for the sale of liquor.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control system is a Frankenstein monster, constructed over the years through a battle with some church leaders (who’d rather see liquor banned completely, as in the good old days) and bootleggers (who’d rather not have competition).

The idea is to “control” liquor by making it hard to buy. Trouble is, that doesn’t work very well. In 2017, 413 people were killed in drunk-driving incidents in North Carolina, more than in New York, Pennsylvania or Illinois.

A proposal to privatize the liquor stores, House Bill 971, didn’t get very far in this year’s General Assembly. North Carolina is pondering selling the stores, and the valuable real estate they sit on, and leasing store space instead.

Full privatization makes a lot more sense. The notion of “control” went out the window when counties and municipalities started approving the sale of mixed drinks in bars and restaurants.

It could, in fact, be argued that the ABCs actually encourage binge-drinking. A typical mixed drink will cost $8 to $12 at a typical bar. For just $12.95, however, a drinker can buy a big bottle of bargain-brand vodka.

The problems with socialized liquor sales are generally the problem with government-run businesses in general. They’re often inefficient, vulnerable to cronyism, nepotism and inside deals.

A StarNews investigation a decade or so ago found that the long-serving chief of the local ABC system was making more than the county manager.

The local ABC has apparently cleaned up its act since then. Still, one suspects a private boss, forced to make a profit and watch the books, would run a tighter ship.

Defenders of the current system, and there are many, point to all the money the local ABCs supposedly generate for government. New Hanover County’s ABC system, for example, paid $11 million to the state in a recent year and distributed more than $5 million to the county, the city of Wilmington and other municipalities.

True, but private liquor stores would be collecting state sales taxes. They’d pay municipal and county property taxes. In privatized states, liquor retailers are licensed and subject to an array of state and local regulations and inspections.

If we think free enterprise is a good idea, we ought to act like we mean it. Get the government out of the liquor business.

Today’s editorial is from The Star-News of Wilmington. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.