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The Call was Coming from Inside the House

I wrote yesterday about the woman who tried to sell over the internet 120 bottles of Heady Topper for $825 but instead found herself the target of a sting operation.

I sort of went off on a tangent about arbitrage and how if breweries were really concerned about it, they should just price their beers appropriately and collect those profits themselves while at the same time making arbitrage a less tempting proposition.

I actually wrote that post Wednesday and had it publish around 9-ish yesterday morning. I re-read the post when it showed up in my RSS feed this morning and I though to myself…wow these are really unrelated points. I guess I just needed to get that off my chest.

But it turns out, the authorities were tipped off by… The Alchemist! I guess they, like Greg Koch, think that people who make money off their beer are the bad guys and that they have no obligation as business people or moral agents to….price their beers correctly.

They said they “feel really bad about it,” and “there were a lot worse things she could have done.” Well…that’s great.

The appropriate price for a beer is the highest price that still allows you to sell all of your product. Ideally, you want one more person to ask to buy a beer than the number of beers you have to sell. If that price is so high it makes you uncomfortable, then maybe you can withhold being the rat that calls the cops on the person doing the work you were too uncomfortable to do. At the very least you can be the person that doesn’t call the cops.

To be clear, selling alcohol without a license is an illegal activity and The Alchemist did not make her go onto Craigslist and try to make the profits that they refused to. I’m not blaming them for that. Their poor pricing practices do not force people into illegal activities. But they do make them virtually inevitable. It’s not like this is the first of these cases having arisen from an inadequately priced, highly sought after beer. What I am saying is that at the very least, if you don’t want to take the responsibility to price appropriately, have the decency to look the other way when someone else does. If Johnny Law wants to arrest people for selling beer over Craigslist, without a license, they don’t need our help.

Or to be clearer, lest I be accused of supporting law breaking of any sort–I think that liquor licenses are an important regulatory control. I think there’s a public health concern if people are just out, willy-nilly, getting people trashed. And I don’t think its fair for someone to enter the package trade without obtaining the license and bond that package retailers do. That’s unfair competition.

However, neither of these are really the case here.

(And I think that The Alchemist is correct to worry that people other than them might be more prone to store and ship the beer without the appropriate protections and thus give consumers a subpar product. Of course, I also believe that The Alchemist has the power to rectify this problem by (1) pricing their beers correctly and (2) shipping their product themselves (where legal)).

I am not suggesting that people should try to get away with selling liquor without a license. Nor am I suggesting that, in general, we don’t have a responsibility to report wrongdoing. I think we definitely do if we suspect the act in question presents a case of clear and present harm to oneself, the wrongdoer, or anybody else affected by the act in question. But I also think that in many respects liquor sales are overly and inappropriately regulated and if the police want to enforce those laws then the obligation is on them to do the legwork and not turn citizens against one another. We don’t have to give in to what Hunter Thompson called “snitch culture.”

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Posted in The Drinking Class.