The city of Madison is in an epic battle against the liquor cartel. This liquor cartel, better known as the Tavern League, wants to manipulate the Alcohol License Review Committee to renew the downtown alcohol density plan. The plan — passed in 2006 and set to expire one year from now — is an attempt to limit and/or gradually reduce the number of bars in downtown Madison.
The ALRC initiated the plan with the hopes of improving downtown safety. After two years, however, the committee needs to realize that the plan has not effectively combated the crime problem and its only benefit has been empowering the Tavern League’s goal of eliminating potential competition.
The crime problem has nothing to do with bars, but rather a high number of overly intoxicated people in downtown. It seems intuitive that bars and drunkards are part of the same problem, but to equate the two is an oversimplification. The vast majority of people who go to bars enjoy a few drinks and socialize without incident. They do not become overly belligerent, nor do they pose a safety hazard. Dangerously over-drunk students are the exception, not the rule.
Curbing the number of bars does little to help safety. Instead, Madison should continue to punish bartenders who overserve their patrons and maintain an increased downtown police presence. When we develop a commitment to accountability for bar owners and patrons alike, crime downtown should ease up, even if State Street was allowed to flow with tequila.
Having a vibrant downtown is important economically and socially for Madison, and having bars is merely part of that vital vibrancy. But the idea that the city will become overrun with bars is ludicrous. Downtown Madison is situated between UW-Madison and the Capitol. These two institutions translate into a great deal of daytime pedestrian traffic, which means that restaurants and merchandise stores will always be potentially profitable enterprises.
And yet, the Tavern League could care less about drunkards on State Street. If anything, it seems that they have a vested interest in Madisonians ordering drink after drink after drink. So why then is the Tavern League so adamant that the sunset clause on the alcohol density plan be repealed?
“The pie is the same size, but the slice is smaller for everyone,” said Marsh Shapiro, the Tavern League representative to the Alcohol License Review Committee and the owner of the Nitty Gritty. This is the smoking gun. The Tavern League does not want the density plan to expire so they can monopolize the market, swell their pockets and jack up prices.
The league wants to limit new bars because they realize new bars may detract from their business. They may even be right, but that is Free Market Economics 101. If new bars can be profitable, then they should be allowed to open, and if old bars cannot survive in the face of newer competition, then the market will force them to put up the shutters. It is a cold reality, but it is integral part of what lies at the foundation of our system. To allow businesses to monopolize the market is to murder the American dream. If new entrepreneurs are closed out of sections of the private sector, the idea that anyone with motivation, intelligence and a vision can make it becomes ludicrous.
The city government of Madison wants to keep its citizens safe. For the Tavern League to pervert this desire in order to form a cartel is disgusting. Lobbying is part of the American system, but for government to be pressured by a lobby to promote a special interest over the interest of the populace is an unfortunate breakdown of justice and liberty. It is urgent that the Alcohol License Review Committee allows the alcohol density plan to expire and free Madison from the influence of the mob — I mean the Tavern League.
Max Manasevit ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in philosophy.