Wednesday 5 September 2012

Ban the bottle

I'm a fan of Charles Tibout's arguments about local government competition: lots of small local governments competing with each other for residents and cooperating with each other for provision of services that are more efficiently provided on a wider scale.

I was surprised when Rodney Hide led the charge for Auckland's amalgamation. The best case I could make for amalgamation would be that the small scale of local government means it has a very hard time attracting talented people to make reasonable decisions; Council policies can be stuck on the stupid setting for rather a while. A merged Auckland encompassing a million or so people ought to be big enough to attract more talented bureaucrats able to make more sensible decisions.

Neil Miller points to one less-than-sensible decision coming out of amalgamated Auckland Council [HT: Nolan @ TVHE]. They're pushing bottle shops to ban single-bottle sales. Neil writes:
Craft beer plays little or no part in the problems around heavy drinking, particularly among younger people.  The streets on a Saturday morning are not awash with bottles of Emerson’s Pilsner ($6.10) nor the car park studded with empty magnums of Liberty C!tra IIPA ($22.10).  The Council has simply made a series of assumptions and come up with a one-size-fits-all “solution” so it can say it is “doing something.”  I doubt any thought was given to the sales of craft beer or the people who want to purchase them responsibly in central Auckland. 
"Something must be done" is a rather persistent problem. And, with a merged Council, craft-beer lovers will have a harder time driving to an outlet that can help them out. I hope that the bottle shops are able to get around it by requiring that people buy at least two bottles and sticking a rubber band around them to make a package when the customer comes to the till.* At least there are mail order options.

Neil again:
However, at this stage the Government is looking to avoid the single container issue saying people with problems should contact the Council as it is their policy.  It seems yet another drift net policy with unintended consequences, something we will probably see a lot more of as Parliament considers the key provisions of the new Alcohol Reform legislation. 
This kind of local nonsense is one of my bigger worries in the proposed Alcohol Reform Bill, which will provide a fair bit more scope to local Councils for alcohol regulation. Compliance costs are higher when retailers face a patchwork of regulations across the country; I would expect local activists with time on their hands have more influence over policy at the local level. I consequently expect the equilibrium to turn rather more meddlesome in most places.

* My local dairy, for a while, sold cans of Coke labelled "Not for individual resale." Above the cans he had a small sign saying "Buy two!". I liked that.


  1. Why just craft beer? What about someone who'd like a"a beer" or an "RTD" and doesn't want to buy a pack? Mr A Wilkinson, Team Manager, Liquor Licensing - Southern Area has signed a letter which includes the statements
    "the sale of single serve cans or bottles of beer or RTD's is likely to encourage liquor abuse".
    Call me old fashioned, I'd have thought buying in ones was a way to prevent liquor abuse: buying in dozens will lead to left over bottles available for light fingered teens to misappropriate.
    Your dairy was buying packs of Coke from a supermarket at less than half the price he'd have to pay Coke to sell directly to him. Maybe he should be in charge of Council finances

  2. I agree. One of the downsides of policies like this one is that they encourage the craft brewers to split themselves off from the rest of the industry rather than stand alongside. CAMRA in the UK, as I understand things, has the same problem.