Progressive Propaganda

UPDATE: I spoke to some folks at Fuse today and they’ve now updated their guide and removed the reference to the study in question. I have to commend them for responding to this the way organizations should.

Original post follows…..

Last night on Twitter, I saw that Fuse Washington was promoting their Progressive Voters Guide. Concerning the liquor initiative, I-1183, they wrote [emphasis mine]:

Big grocery chains and liquor distributors are back with another dangerous initiative to deregulate liquor sales in our communities. Based on an initiative that voters solidly rejected last year, I-1183 would authorize as many as five times as many retailers to sell hard liquor. As a result, our communities would see a 48 percent increase in liquor consumption and an even larger increase in problem drinking.

That’s quite a statistic, and one that I had trouble believing, so I asked them for the source. It turns out that it comes from an independent task force set up by the CDC called the “Community Guide”. And thankfully, I didn’t have to do a lot of work to demonstrate the many problems with this study, because Erik Smith at the Washington State Wire already took care of that:

The task force released a three-page report earlier this year that recommended against privatization. It wasn’t a study. It was a “finding” based on a review of 21 studies.

The finding was “based on strong evidence that privatization results in increased per-capita alcohol consumption,” the report said.

And it contained a striking statistic. In those studies, alcohol sales jumped by a whopping median figure of 48 percent after privatization.

The thing is, most of those studies had nothing to do with hard liquor. Fifteen dealt with the privatization of wine sales in the U.S. and Canada, a big push in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Two of them had to do with beer sales in Scandinavia. Only four dealt with hard liquor. And the results were all over the map, ranging from an 8 percent decrease to a 305 percent increase – never mind the type of alcohol.

The way that 48 percent figure was calculated was by lumping everything together, as if all forms of alcohol are the same, in all countries, in all time periods.

The better way to try to understand the likely consequences of moving from a state-run model for selling hard liquor to a private model is to look at other states that have done just that. As Smith writes:

There’s an easier way of looking at the question – by looking at actual government statistics. For instance, you can compare alcohol consumption in Washington with that of California, where sales are wide-open and there are eight times the number of liquor outlets per capita.

According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2007 the average Washington resident consumed 2.35 gallons of alcohol and the average Californian 2.34. No real difference at all.

There’s also the experience of Iowa and West Virginia, the two most recent states to privatize hard liquor, in 1988 and 1990. Liquor consumption remained flat after booze showed up in supermarkets. Lately it has been on the increase, just as it has been across the country. But privatization didn’t drive the states to drink.

I don’t even have that strong of an opinion on this measure. I’m voting for it, but there are definitely some good reasons not to. But it really annoys me to see an organization like Fuse – that arose in big part to counter bullshit propaganda from the right – deciding that it’s ok for them to throw out their own transparent bullshit as well.


  1. 1

    Michael spews:

    our communities would see a 48 percent increase in liquor consumption.

    I’m not even going to look anything up before I call that a load of shit.

    I haven’t bothered with looking at anything Fuse put out in a long time. Looks like I don’t have to start again any time soon, either.

    I voted no on I-1183, btw.

  2. 2


    I was a little torn on this, but I ended up voting yes. The main reason why I did so was because what the Stranger identified as the most objectionable part of the initiative (the “monopoly” for big box stores) was added because the people clearly didn’t want it sold at gas stations and convenience stores. I don’t have the same objection, but others did. And it makes little difference to me. Even if it were available at convenience stores, I’d buy liquor at Safeway or Costco anyway. As long as the initiative doesn’t cost the state money (why I voted against I-1100 last year), I’m eager to get rid of the state’s liquor monopoly.

  3. 3

    Michael spews:

    It will increase consumption, which will increase costs, both to the state and in healthcare, but it’s not going to increase consumption by nearly 50%. That’s just nonsense. I doubt the increased costs will be enough for it to matter much.

    I’m skeptical that it wont cost the state revenue.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the state get out of liquor sales, but I just wasn’t comfortable with doing it this way.

  4. 4

    proud leftist spews:

    I’m voting no mostly because I don’t like initiatives. Costco has spent $22M on this one. Corporations shouldn’t be permitted to buy changes in the law. Initiatives may have had their place at one time, back when ads couldn’t buy elections. I find this one disgusting.

  5. 5

    Proud to be an Ass spews:

    I have no problem with “the state” running liquor stores. They are clean, well stocked, and the employees make a decent living. Why the fuck should I care where I buy my booze?

    The people’s state should run more things if you ask me….take health care, for just one example.

  6. 7

    CPO spews:

    I’m voting against it. One of the main reasons is because hard alcohol will be sold at gas stations and convenience stores. It says in the initiative that hard alcohol will be sold at large stores such as Costco and the large grocery chain stores unless there isn’t one within a reasonable distance. That’s the problem, what is a reason distance, one mile, five mile, or more. And these gas stations and convenience stores are where minors get most of their booze. For many different reasons clerks at these type of stores are not as careful as to who they sell booze to than the larger stores. The state liquor stores are the best at keeping minors from buying.

  7. 8

    Liberal Scientist thinks that concentrated power and wealth should be met with suspicion, not adoration spews:

    I’m torn about this too.
    I like Costco, and from what I’ve read in the past they’re a good employer. I just don’t like the notion of some corporation pouring $22 million into some initiative that they want. Bad, bad, bad. Too much Timmeh Eyeman, not enough good government.
    I also like the notion of the government providing a service – well run, useful (I like liquor!), providing jobs, etc. However, the whole notion of the state running/controlling liquor sales to that degree seems so…puritanical.
    I would prefer a system whereby adults could access chemicals of their choosing – fine wine, marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, 20 year old anejo rum, whatever – in clean, well-lighted outlets, preferable staffed with knowledgeable, well-paid staff. Shouldn’t matter whether it’s a government run establishment, or private.

    I know, pipe dream.

  8. 9

    rhp6033 spews:

    Lots of money being thrown in support of this initiative, which always makes me suspicious. The initiative process was created to COUNTER big business control of the legislature, not to allow them to by-pass it entirely.

    The one big lie I keep hearing in support of the initiative is the claim that it would save the government money in operating the liquor stores. That’s patently untrue, as the liquor stores actually make a profit for the government. It’s that profit which Costco wants for themselves.

    And this is one of those changes in government which will be pretty much irreversable. With Costco taking out a lot of volume from the stores, they won’t be sustainable in the long run. And you can expect that within a year or two after Costco gets to sell liquor, Time Eyman will be following right behind to argue how unfair it is for the big box stores to monopolize the private sale of liquor, and argue that it should be open to every convenience store in the state.

    And once the state liquor stores are shut down, you won’t be able to resurect them again later when you decide the whole thing was a bad idea – it will be too expensive to set up leases around the state, and now you will have vested interests with a lot of profit at stake fighting it tooth and nail.

    And with the closure of the state liquor stores, you will have lost the best opportunity for a meaninful way to sell marijuana in a regulated and taxed environment.

    I’m voting no.

  9. 10


    The liquor industry wanted to keep the state monopoly because the state paid top dollar for liquor without question. They are the ones behind the ads for keeping the state stores.

  10. 11


    re 9: There’s already a very effective way of growing and distributing marihuana.

    The involvement of the state and big business in marihuana growing and distribution, licensing, etc……. would raise the price of the legal marihuana to where the underground distribution would still be cost effective to the consumer.

  11. 13

    Greg spews:

    Is there a problem with supply as things are? Is there really a problem with the prices? Are state employees in liquor stores treated badly? Do Costco employees have equal benefits?

    Yes, you may save a buck or two on a fifth of gin. Big deal. And, yes, consumption and availability to minors will increase. How much? We may not know, exactly, but why set things up for them to increase at all? Exactly how bad are things the way they are?

    I’m voting ‘NO’.

  12. 14

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 13: Agreed, this initiative has always seemed to be a “solution” in search of a problem.

  13. 15

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I’m a no vote. I’ve lived in Washington since the 1960s and there have been countless attempts to privatize liquor sales. For decades, voters have rejected such schemes because they’re a bad deal for the public.

    I don’t get the reasoning being floated here.

    First of all, ideology should play no role. Washington has survived decades of state-run liquor sales without going communist. (Perhaps the communization of liquor sales here did keep our state from going fascist, although I personally doubt that.)

    Nor should we privatize liquor sales because of some dogmatic belief that “the private sector always does things better.” Really? What has the private sector done right lately? More to the point, what’s broken in th state-run system that needs fixing? As far as I can see, it ain’t broke.

    How can Costco spend $22 million on this initiative without getting their money back in one of two ways: (a) pocketing liquor profits that currently go to public purposes, or (b) expanding liquor sales to increase the pool of profits to be divided between private stores and the state (which necessarily implies higher consumption and all the social ills and social costs that come with it)?

    If we vote for an initiative whose effect will be to convert into private profit some or all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that liquor revenues provide for public schools every year, either we’ll have to pay higher taxes or we’ll have to cut school funding.

    Does anyone believe liquor sales, once privatized, will be limited? Expanding markets and increasing sales is what every private business tries to do. Once the foot is in the door, liquor sales won’t be confined to “big box” stores. Mom and pop groceries, gas stations, convenience stores — all will want a piece of the action. The big stores will try to increase sales through advertising, promotions, product displays, etc. Their bottom line depends on selling ever more liquor.

    With a proliferation of stores selling liquor, the state’s enforcement costs will go up, because many more enforcement officers will be needed to police a vast increase in the number of retail outlets.

    Here’s another factor to consider. With reference to mom-and-pop groceries, convenience stores, and other small retailers, once they become dependent on high-margin liquor, they won’t be able to survive without it. Many of those stores already depend on beer and wine sales to stay in business. Liquor is addictive — not only physically addiction for a certain percentage of consumers, but also financially addictive for a very large percentage of those who sell it.

    I just don’t see anything wrong with the current system that requires a change. We’ve lived with the current system for many generations, and it seems to work all right. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; you may get all kinds of unintended consequences you can’t foresee now, and if that happens, it’ll be impossible to return to the old system.

  14. 16

    Pete spews:

    On the initiative itself, I’m a “no” for all the reasons above.

    This is not the first time FUSE has pulled this sort of nonsense. The guy who’s run it for a long time, Aaron Ostrom, was a close ally of Greg Nickels and is in tight with Seattle’s downtown Democratic establishment (just look at their local election endorsements). He’s been around quite a while; he was the establishment candidate that Nick Licata beat for an open seat in a city council race in 1997.

    They do some good work, but I wouldn’t call FUSE “progressive” in the sense I understand the term. More in the sense that every lame, do-nothing, subservient-to-downtown-business Seattle City Council member uses it.

  15. 17

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Here’s an idea. Right now, great deals are available on used Lenin statues, but so far there’s been only one local taker.

    Instead of wasting $22 million on a pig-in-a-poke (i.e., another liquor privatization initiative that history says will go down to defeat), Costco should use that money to buy up dozens more of its brothers, then pay the state a generous license fee to place them in front of each and every state liquor store throughout the state.

    It’s a win-win. We’ll loot Russia, a country we don’t like, of valuable bronze. Costco will get valuable propaganda exposure in advance of its next run at busting up the state liquor monopoly: Every time customers go into state liquor stores to make a purchase they’ll be reminded of the tyranny of state ownership of economic enterprise. The state will get a new revenue source. And the entertainment value for the rest of us will be incalculable. Why should Fremont have our state’s only Lenin statue? Every neighborhood deserves one.

  16. 18

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Next up: Recycling titanium from used Russian ballistic missile submarines into Dreamliner wing spars.

  17. 19

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The stock market is giving up yesterday’s gains today. At last look, it was down about 108 Dow points.

    By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’ve made a profit this year. Not a staggering profit, but I’m about 1.4% ahead of my starting portfolio value as of Jan. 1, which is better than banks pay — with 2 1/2 months still to go. And that’s with half of my investment nest egg sitting in cash in zero-interest money market funds.

  18. 20


    If given a choice between (local) Costco’s history and ability to avoid middlemen’s markup and the current Byzantine system of obscure out of state insider liquor distribution I’ll take Costco any day. It’s been a while but I was amazed by the difference in price at Costco in California and here in our State liquor stores. You can currently walk into any convenience store (the preferred vendor for alcoholics and under-aged drinkers) and buy cheap fortified wine and malt liquors with 40 proof strength. That’s as strong as most mixed drinks.

    I admire Costco because they are on of the few big companies that limit the pay for upper management to a small multiple of the pay of their employees. The workers’ benefit package and wage structure are as good as it gets in retail.

    Disclaimer: I am a Costco member, but don’t really have a dog in this fight. I just would like a cheaper fifth of scotch.

  19. 21

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 20: Yes, it’s hard to go against Costco, a local favorite in part because of it’s respectable employment policies. But I still think a bad idea is a bad idea. And California is a different situation, it’s had private liquor stores for a long time.

    And as for having a dog in the fight, I don’t have one either, I don’t really drink except when giving toasts at business dinners (to be sociable).

  20. 22

    Ekim spews:

    I’m voting no for 3 reasons.

    1) Costco dumping 22 million into the campaign.
    2) Seattle Times likes it.
    3) Our dim witted AG likes it.

  21. 23

    Ekim spews:

    Seriously though, if sales remain flat and revenues remain flat then Costco’s profits will have to come out of state/county/city revenues.

  22. 24

    the umpire spews:


    So in other wordsyou don’t know anything about the initiative, and are basing your vote purely on what other peoples opinions are.

    Nice….you sound like yet another uneducated progressive lemming.

    Well done.

  23. 25

    Roiger Rabbit spews:

    @24 “another uneducated progressive lemming”

    #1 – Most progressives I know have advanced degrees; many of them are Ph.Ds or lawyers. I won’t comment on the educational credentials of Republican low-information voters; it isn’t necessary.

    #2 – Virtually all progressives I know think for themselves, diverge from the Democratic Party line on numerous points, and often don’t even know what the party line is (if there is one at all). Republicans? A homogeneous bunch who are told what to think, and woe betide any GOP candidate who departs from the authorized talking points! Sorry, friend, but all the “lemmings” are on your side.

    And remember — just because millions of lemmings all run together over the same cliff doesn’t mean they’re right!

  24. 27


    I spoke with two folks at Fuse and they’ve now fixed their voter’s guide. See the update at the top of this post.

  25. 28

    Fluffy Rabbit spews:

    The current system of state-operated stores is not broken. My Dad always said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

    Currently, the state-owned liquor stores make a lot of money for the state. Costco thinks this is wrong. Costco thinks they should make the profit instead.

    And that is why Costco is spending so much money on this initiative.

  26. 30

    Paddy Mac spews:

    @10, no the distributors are against this because Costco rigged the tax structure giving them a pricing advantage to sell to small restaurants and small (but still 10k sq ft) groceries.

    1183 is no different than Weyerhauser, Plum Creek and other timber companies coming in and spending millions to get an initiative on the ballot transferring ownership of the state forests to them. We own this clunky old thing, you and me, we should get something for it if we’re going to sell it.

    Costco is saying, basically, that they’re going to make money, the distributors will make money, the state will make money and it’s going to cost consumers less. Yeah, right.

    Just because you want to privatize doesn’t mean 1183 isn’t the stupidest way imaginable to do it.