Government regulations can hurt consumers, business

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: September 17, 2012

WE'VE noted before that some Oklahoma laws and regulations unnecessarily restrict the free market and have an adverse impact on consumers.

That was reinforced again in an article by The Oklahoman's Jennifer Palmer covering retail interest in Oklahoma. When recently asked to comment on the Oklahoma market, Costco's chairman simply emailed a frowny face. The company, which has 600 locations around the globe, is reluctant to open a store in Oklahoma due in part to our Byzantine liquor laws, which prevent Costco from selling wine in its stores.

The state's regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages are often touted as necessary to ensure the survival of “mom and pop” liquor stores; in reality, those laws protect large retailers from having to compete with Costco. By deterring stores like Costco from entering the Oklahoma market, our liquor laws not only reduce consumer choice regarding where to purchase wine, but also prevent competition in the sale of items such as clothing, electronics, appliances and other products.

Having more businesses competing for consumer dollars keeps prices lower. When state regulations reduce competition, they indirectly promote higher pri-ces. The question is not whether alcohol will be sold in Oklahoma — voters decided that question years ago — but whether we will allow the free market to pick retail winners and losers.

Oklahoma's regulatory problems aren't limited to rules that appear unnecessary or arbitrary, however. The state also has a problem performing valid regulatory functions. Few would argue against having driver's license standards that require new applicants to prove they're not a hazard on the road, yet the state fails miserably to provide driving tests in a timely and efficient manner.

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