Is a half-day off from commercial drinking too much to ask?

Cities could let bars and restaurants sell alcohol on Sunday mornings under a bill the legislature is considering.
Cities could let bars and restaurants sell alcohol on Sunday mornings under a bill the legislature is considering.

Is there any public benefit to the North Carolina statute restricting alcohol sales on Sunday morning? Legislation, known as the “brunch bill,” has been introduced into the General Assembly that would authorize cities and counties to allow bars and restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 10:00 Sunday mornings rather than at noon. Alcohol sales at grocery stores would still be prohibited until noon. We are told the current law costs the state “billions” from its economy and that state and local governments could increase tax revenues with the earlier opening.

Fashioning law and public policy based on economics – jobs and taxes! – has been standard for a long time. It is used by both political parties and sure enough, the proposed North Carolina brunch bill is being sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.

This kind of public advocacy by a specific economic interest is what economists call “rent-seeking,” that is, securing monetary advantages from government. Are bars and restaurants making enough money these days? Do they need public welfare? By comparison, we could give truck drivers and traveling salespersons a higher speed limit in order to promote their businesses.

We read weekly about the economic success of the latest multi-billion-dollar business: marijuana. We are told marijuana legalization will provide new jobs and taxes. This is apparently the only justification needed for the acceptance of the widespread consumption of marijuana. The same rationale is being put forth about legalizing prostitution.

Is economics the only basis for what the N.C. Constitution calls “the common good” and the federal Constitution, “the general welfare”? What’s wrong with a half-day off from commercial drinking and letting workers sleep in one day of the week? A half-day of peace and quiet? It’s only a half-day! For those of us old enough to remember, life on Sunday was a lot quieter before the coming of the shopping mall in the 1960s. There was a kind of Sunday “domestic tranquility” that subsequent generations never knew.

Legislation is always about morality, of course. No legislator has ever introduced a bill saying it will be bad for government and for citizens. And there is no N.C. statute prohibiting the consumption of alcohol on Sunday morning. There is no infringement on any person’s “right to drink.” The law regulates commercial activity, an appropriate subject for public legislation.

The current law favors home brunches over commercial brunches, and that is a good thing.

Thomas Ascik lives in Asheville and is not a teetotaler.