The Enigma that is Massachusetts

by Sal on November 25, 2006

in Culture,Politics

I was reading an article on how some retail stores in The People’s Republic of Massachusetts (namely the Wrentham Village Outlets, for you locals) opened at 12:00 Midnight on the morning of Black Friday (the busiest shopping day of the year).  The insanity of the fact that there were massive lines and traffic jams at 12:00 AM yesterday aside, one fact that the article just briefly glossed over struck me as funny.  Massachusetts, apparently, has legal restrictions on retail stores being open on holidays. 

So let me get this straight.  The “progressive” state of Massachusetts, the only state in the union that allows homosexual marriage, has restrictions on retail stores opening on Holidays.  Next thing you know they’ll be restricting the sale of wine at grocery stores.  Oh wait, they already do

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jewels November 25, 2006 at 1:26 pm

The blog is looking great these days. Sal, I read your article and you insinuate that the fact that MA voters decided to restrict wine at grocery stores is a bad thing. I disagree. I normally believe in promoting the free market system. However, one thing that we CAN celebrate in the state of Massachusetts is that the fatalities caused by drunk driving in our state is much lower than the national average. Why would we want to even put practices in place that would jeopardize this? A lot of people who work at grocery stores are high school kids. I really think that there is a strong possibility that other high school kids may try to sneak the sale of wine, beer, etc. due to peer pressure. I don’t want a teenager to be the one to determine whether an id is genuine or not. Also, is it that tough for an adult to find a store that sells liquor? For all those who have suffered the loss of a loved one due to the recklessness of drunk driving, I am glad that our state of Massachusetts decided to make it a little harder for these fatalities to occur on November 7th.


MrsSal November 25, 2006 at 5:30 pm

I have to disagree with Jewels on the issue of allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the state of Massachusetts has the lowest fatality rate in all motor vehicle crashes. Massachusetts only has 6.91 fatalities per 100,000 people, while the national average is 14.7 per 100,000 people. Among other factors, MA has high concentration of world-class hospitals capable of saving patients that other hospitals would be incapable to helping. In actuality, the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities in relation to total motor vehicle fatalities is 39% in both Massachusetts and in the US as a whole. Since MA is one of only a few states with such restrictions on the sale of alcohol, one would think that the fatality rate would actually be much lower if there were a correlation between fatality rate and alcohol legislation.

It’s worth noting that beer and wine are already sold at some grocery and convenience stores in Massachusetts. Question 1 would have increased the number of wine-only licenses already available and changed issuing process. Anecdotally, I hardly see greater access to wine as a threat. Many opponents cite an increase in teenager’s access to alcohol as a reason to oppose this measure, but wine is rarely the alcohol of choice for those that are underage. You don’t often hear about teenagers busted with a case of wine in an abandoned parking lot. :)

On a more serious note, while in high school, I worked at a grocery store that sold beer and wine. Those under 18 were forbidden to even touch alcohol, let along card a patron and ring it up (this is state law). Younger employees who worked as baggers were verbally reprimanded for touching any alcohol. It was very clear that carding was imperative and any laxity would be strictly dealt with. A license for alcohol sale is a valuable commodity and it’s clear that the store would do anything necessary to ensure that the law was being followed. Given that many of these additional licenses would go to grocery store chains, it’s logical to assume that they would do everything in their power to not jeopardize their license.

We really should stop punishing law-abiding citizens in an attempt to curb the actions of those who break the law.


Matt November 27, 2006 at 8:31 am

When it comes to politics, I think this is a first for me… I have to disagree with the Sals and agree with my wife on this one. :) A few points:

- While we do have many excellent hospitals in this state, most of them are focused in and around Boston. Looking at the county by county map, Massachusetts has significantly lower rates of alcohol related fatalities across the entire state, even in western MA.

- The percentage of alcohol related fatalities as a percentage of all fatalities may be in line with the national average, but that could be due to a few things… Hospitals are one explanation, but maybe we’re having fewer accidents than other states (couldn’t find stats on non-fatal accidents). Besides, being in line with the national average is quite an accomplishment given that this is the home of the Kennedys. That’s got to bump up our numbers by 5 points right there. :)

- Wine may not be the alcoholic beverage of choice for teenagers, but that’s probably because it’s more expensive than beer and no easier to find. I don’t think they’re choosing beer because they like the taste… more likely because it’s the cheapest way to get drunk. If it becomes much more accessible than beer, I’m sure kids won’t mind having a few glasses of Merlot.

- I’m sure some grocery stores would be very vigilant and limit access just as well as liquor stores do today, but I’m sure some would not. (Think of the bars around Providence College… Not all of them were too concerned about losing their liquor license for serving underage students.) The last time I went to the grocery store, the majority of cashiers and baggers were under 21 (most probably under 18). I don’t see how a supervisor could monitor 15-20 checkouts to make sure young cashiers aren’t handling alcohol.

- Many grocery stores are setting up more and more self-checkouts. Needing an employee to monitor and card people going through the self checkouts defeats the cost-saving purpose of this model.

- All I know is that wine in grocery stores certainly wouldn’t make alcohol any less accessible, but it could make it much more accessible. I don’t feel like it’s such a major punishment or inconvenience for consumers to go to a liquor store once every few months to pick up a couple bottles of wine… even if it costs a few bucks more due to less competition.


Sal November 27, 2006 at 10:09 am

I am shocked and utterly stunned that we disagree, Matt! It strikes me that this argument is a typical “Symbolism over Substance” (to quote a phrase from Rush) argument, much akin to the idea of banning drivers from using cell phones. Intuitively we may think that by banning cell phones, we’ll decrease accidents, yet states that have banned cell phones in cars have not shown a marked decrease in accidents. The same is true with wine sales in grocery stores. You are correct in assuming that Massachusetts has a much lower rate of accidents per capita than the rest of the nation. The point that Mrs. Sal was trying to make was that the statistic that shows that Massachusetts has a lower rate of drunken driving fatalities is a faulty statistic, as we have a much lower number of fatalities in general. The rate is exactly the same as the rest of the nation (although your point on the Kennedy’s is well taken). As a matter of point, states like Virginia and Indiana, which allow sales of wine and beer in grocery stores and have similar populations to Massachusetts, have the exact same rate of alcohol-related deaths as Massachusetts. Just because it seems to make sense that increasing the availability of wine may theoretically increase drunk-driving accidents, it doesn’t mean that it is so. Statistics prove otherwise.

This comes down to an argument between the basic liberal principle that people need the government to act as nanny and do what’s best for people, or the conservative ideal of individual responsibility. One of the tenants of liberalism is to punish law-abiding citizens instead of criminals. Are you worried about underage sales of alcohol? Increase the penalties to stores and bars that do so. Make sure that if any store or bar is caught selling to a minor, and could have reasonably prevented the sale, that store should lose its license automatically for a number of years. Increase enforcement of the law; don’t hamper those who obey it. This is analogous to the gun control situation. It may seem like common-sense to ban guns to prevent crime, but studies show that doing so actually increases crime, as people who buy guns for law-abiding reasons are the ones who get hurt, and criminals keep buying guns anyways.

If Mrs. Sal calls me on the way home from work, and asks me to pick up some pasta sauce, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine for a nice dinner, why should I have to go to two different stores that may be very much out of the way? Wine is typically an accompaniment to food, and it makes sense that it should be sold at grocery stores. With beer and hard liquor, an argument can be made either way, I think. In any case, we have to stop relying on the nanny-state to take care of us, and start severely punishing violators of the law instead of promoting archaic rules from an era when the Puritans controlled our state government.


Jewels November 27, 2006 at 5:47 pm

I love you both, but I disagree with both of you. I believe that allowing more access to wine in grocery stores could possibly increase drunk driving fatalities. Some establishments are looking only to earn money, and I think that there may be the occasional establishment that may overlook the under 21er in preference for some cash. You are right that the statistics may not be supporting my argument. However, if only ONE person is saved from a drunk driving fatality due to this law, I think it is more than worth it. I know I wouldn’t want to lose a family member, friend, or loved one because of this, would you? As for your romantic dinner, think of how much you will relish it knowing the TLC MrsSal put into it, and the part you played into it by going to two stores. (Yes, a weaker argument I suppose…Bottom line: It is not THAT much of an inconvenience, and this law could possibly prevent unnecessary fatalities.)


Matt November 27, 2006 at 6:57 pm


As you know, I’m a strong believer in fewer government controls and less government involvement in our lives. However, I think we can agree that certain government controls are necessary. Should we eliminate the drinking age altogether? Should we allow a 12 year old to buy cigarettes? Should we sell someone a firearm without doing a background check?

I would be all for wine, or for that matter any alcoholic beverage, in grocery stores if I was confident that the law would be enforced. My problem with wine in grocery stores is that I see too many opportunities for the law to be broken and a lack of ability to enforce it. I did a Google News search for articles containing the words “liquor license revoked”, and got 127 stories across the US. If I refine the search to “liquor license revoked Massachusetts”, I get one article (and it’s not about a store losing its liquor license). Either we don’t have any liquor stores breaking the law here, or we’re already having trouble holding liquor stores to account for selling to underage customers. For this reason, I don’t really see this as a “nanny state” issue… The goal is to protect law abiding citizens from those who break the law, not to protect law abiding citizens from themselves.

Finally, I am a bit skeptical of assuming that we know what factors contribute to the percentage of alcohol related fatalities. Attributing it to any single factor, or small set of factors is probably oversimplifying. For example, I would think that population density has something to do with it as well… Indiana and Virginia have around the same population as Masschusetts, but the population density is in MA is about 4 times higher. A drunk driver is probably a lot more likely to kill himself in downtown Boston than he is on an open road somewhere in New Mexico… There’s just more to crash into.


Matt November 27, 2006 at 6:58 pm

By the way, did you know you agree with the Boston Globe on this issue? ;)


Sal November 27, 2006 at 11:06 pm

I have to admit that the one point that gave me pause, just for a moment, was that I somehow agreed with the Globe! Jewels, it’s great to have you back and it’s fun debating you again! Matt, I’m surprised that we disagree, but it’s great to hear from you.

First on Jewels’ point. The problem that I have with that argument is that one could make that argument for almost anything, if you take it to its logical conclusion. First, there is no evidence that it would even lead to a single additional fatality due to drunk driving. If that’s the case, we should ban drinking entirely, for even if it saves one single life, shouldn’t we ban it completely? It has also been shown that listening to the radio in a car is more likely to cause auto accidents than not listening to the radio. If it saves even one single life, should we not ban listening to the radio while driving? The point is, the line of not selling wine at grocery stores is an arbitrary one that is here more because of Puratin tradition than any actual policy. It is interesting to note that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was neutral on the issue. If there had been a real correlation, MADD would have come out against it.

As far as Matt’s arguments, of course government should regulate. My objection as a conservative is to the idea that more regulations will fix a problem that is already against the law. Now that question 1 has gone down in defeat, can people still obtain alcohol illegally? Of course. The new law would only increase the number of places where alcohol is available. People are still going to find places where they can obtain it illegally. THe answer is tougher enforcement of the existing laws. The penalty for serving a minor should be stricter, and establishments should be severely punished for voilating the law. Right now, they are not. The funny thing is, I could really care less about the issue. My objection is more on the principle of making policy based on gut feelings and people’s intuiton rather than facts and real statistics. And I hate to bring up the slippery slope argument, but the next thing they’ll be doing is banning the sale of Oreos without a license or banning trans-fats in all restaurants.


Matt November 28, 2006 at 7:39 am


I don’t think we disagree all that strongly on this… I too, believe that enforcement is ultimately the answer. If grocery stores and convenience stores were already allowed to sell wine, I wouldn’t be arguing to change the law and revoke their licenses. My only objection is that, in changing the law to allow more liquor licenses, enforcement becomes a more difficult problem. Let’s get the current situation well under control before doling out more liquor licenses. I’ll make a software analogy… If you have a program with five bugs and five feature requests, should you fix the bugs first, or should you start adding more features? I think it makes more sense to get the existing program working before you start expanding its scope.


Sal November 28, 2006 at 8:02 am

Ok, I think we’ve reached a point where I can agree with you. I’d go along with an “enforcement-first” approach (sounds like we’re talking about illegal immigrants) and then revisit the concept allowing wine sales at grocery stores. The debate comes down to then over the best method of policy implementation rather than a philosophical difference.

As far as the software analogy, while your example is the ideal, sometimes the demands of management and / or customers and their $$$ have other ideas. :)


Matt November 28, 2006 at 8:08 pm

Good point about the software… I’ve seen that happen plenty of times. :)


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