Bootleggers and Baptists

Have you ever wondered why it is illegal to purchase alcohol in many U.S. cities, states, and counties on Sunday? It is not illegal to drink alcohol on Sunday. Professor Bruce Yandle explains that such laws benefit two distinct groups: bootleggers and Baptists. The Baptists benefit because they have seen to it that alcohol sales are nonexistent on Sundays. In their view, this means a reduction in the alcohol available. Bootleggers also like these laws. Sunday is the day they can sell alcohol—often purchased from legitimate stores on Saturday—for a handsome profit.

The bootleggers and Baptist theory of regulation can be extrapolated to other types of regulation, and helps explain characteristics of government regulation. It has to do with coalitions of people who do not necessarily meet and organize but who want the same outcome. In the case of bootleggers and Baptists, both groups like to see liquor stores closed, albeit for completely different reasons.

Prof. Yandle explains how the theory applies to environmental regulations. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency creates new standards that do not apply to existing organizations, two groups benefit: environmentalists and owners of existing plants not subject to the new standards. Environmentalists lobby for the stricter standards and are pleased when the standards become law. Existing plant owners benefit because the new regulations will make it more difficult for new competitors to enter the market. The bootlegger and Baptist theory applies to many regulations. When you hear of new regulations, try to see which groups benefit.

15 Comments

  1. agavin2342

    Really interesting perspective!!! Loved the analogy. Reminds me of an argument that a friend of mine made about the legalisation of drugs. The cartels and dealers wouldn’t want it because it would destroy their business, and the people who want public order don’t want the legalisation of drugs, so in a sense, everybody would be happy. I mean it takes the argument to it’s rawest point, but it definitely is a great way to look at the issue. 

  2. andrei.roibu

    Sincerely, I see this as a form of compromise, from which everybody profits. Moreover, I think it’s the kind of compromise from which, the "bad guys" get short term advantages, but on the long term, they will be forced to align to the new regulations, because, they will lose money and influence. 

  3. Yotsuya

    Actually not everybody profits- the unseen competitors who never got a chance to compete in the market due to the cost of regulation don’t profit, nor does the consumer who’s personal interests aren’t being taken into consideration by politicians who are trying to appease one of two special interests. Also the profits that are gained by the ‘bootleggers’ come at the expense of consumers and of competitors.

  4. minaobe

    This is what they do when the drug is usually legal. When the drug is illegal, they do the same thing with their "drug check points" The Man’s drugs go right on through (with adequate planning) while everyone else’s drugs have to stay out. The governments attempt to eliminate the competition. If they can make money fro it, they’re gonna do it.

  5. Jaysuf

    I love the free market too! Even if someone doesn’t like drugs, they can’t deny this simple fact. How is it that we repealed prohibition in the 20’s but have allowed this harmful regulation known as the War On Drugs to continue for over 40 years?

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