The Wets and the Drys Rumble in Athens


Today the residents of Athens, Alabama, who less than four years ago voted to allow alcohol sales in the city, have a chance to go dry again:

Business interests are against repeal, but church leaders who helped organize the petition drive that got the measure on the ballot are asking members to pray and fast in support of a ban.

Christians who oppose drinking on moral grounds believe they have a chance to win, however small….

[The Rev. Eddie] Gooch isn't worried about the city losing businesses or tax revenues if alcohol sales are banned. Normal economic growth and God will make up any difference if residents dump the bottle, he said.

"We believe that God will honor and bless our city," Gooch said.

Meanwhile, south of Athens, residents of Thomasville, Alabama, may vote to go wet today.

Like the federal government during National Alcohol Prohibition, dry cities ban sales only, not possession or consumption, so their policy is notably more tolerant than the war on drugs. No doubt some commenters (you know who you are) will be quick to point out that people who don't like the policy can always drive a little farther for their booze, or even move. While those options do make local bans on alcohol sales less burdensome than state or federal bans, we should not pretend that we live in a nation of private Nozickian experiments in living, where people agree to a certain set of rules when they buy their homes or open their businesses. The crucial difference between such voluntary arrangements and government-imposed bans is that in the latter case one group of people can change the rules at will, destroying businesses and inconveniencing consumers in the process. As the back-and-forth votes in Athens clearly demonstrate, this is not a community organized around a consensus about the morality of drinking.

In my book Saying Yes, by the way, I show how implausible the teetotalers' reading of the Bible is.