'Why Is a Liquor Store Essential and I'm Not?' Asks Store Owner During N.Y.C. Coronavirus Lockdown

It's time to push back on arbitrary classifications that punish businesses and customers alike without clearly helping public health.


"Why is a liquor store essential and I'm not?"

That's the question the owner of a men's clothing store in New York City is asking. It's a good one. It calls attention to the largely arbitrary way that state and local officials classified businesses while shutting down the economy a few weeks ago, consigning record numbers of workers to unemployment and shops to bankruptcy with the stroke of a pen.

The business owner who asked the question above is in significant ways unsympathetic. Eliot Rabin runs an upscale boutique called Peter Elliot, where a polka dot tie costs $200 and a pocket square can set you back $85. I've spent less than $85 for a suit, which at Peter Elliot can set you back as much as $15,000, according to the New York Post. You might assume that someone who sells clothing that fetches such prices will be able to weather this storm. But of course it's not just him, or even his presumably silk-stockinged customers. Rabin, a 78-year-old Army vet, tells the Post "he had to cut 12 members of his 21-person staff, some of whom have been with him for 35 years….I'm fighting for the soul of my company and my people."

Under the lockdown rules in place in New York (city and state), Peter Elliot isn't considered an "essential business" and thus can't legally open its doors (go here for a list). If it offered laundry or dry-cleaning services, it might be allowed to sell clothes on the side, and it's true that Rabin can apply to have his store reclassified as "an essential business for the purposes of Executive Order 202.6."

But why should he have to, especially if he is enforcing social distancing and regularly disinfecting surfaces throughout his shop, which he opened illegally over the weekend? The Kmart in my downtown Manhattan neighborhood is open because it sells groceries and has a pharmacy, thus qualifying as an essential business. But shoppers are also free to wander the entire store, including its clothing, toy, furniture, and bedding sections. Why shouldn't stores dedicated to selling those same items be allowed to open if they want to, assuming they abide by agreed-upon public health measures? Many stores would choose not to open and demand would surely be slight, which are arguments in favor of decentralizing the decision down to individual businesses and customers. We're not talking huge numbers, but a store eking out some subsistence-level revenue while serving a trickle of customer is a good thing that is unlikely to have a major impact on COVID-19 numbers.

USA Today is warning of "quarantine fatique" as warm weather approaches and deaths and hospitalizations across America are declining and flattening, largely due to lockdowns designed to buy us time to adjust. Government officials and folks in the legacy media are quick to arrest and mock people who are chafing under the lockdowns (or, in the case of new-media outlet, Vox, accuse protesters of racism). As health-care analyst and president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity Avik Roy told me in a discussion of his group's plan to reopen the economy, if you can work from home and your livelihood isn't especially threatened by the lockdown, you're unlikely to have a strong sense of urgency about the current situation. Sure, the lockdown is inconvenient, but it's not an existential threat to your lifestyle.

But only about one-third of us can realistically work full-time from home and just a few weeks into all this, unemployment is already around 20 percent, the worst number seen since the 1930s. People aren't going stir crazy simply because they can't eat at Michelin-starred restaurants or attend Broadway shows. They're terrified that their jobs and simple pleasures are gone for good.

Pushing to allow owners, employees, and customers—all of us, in short—to get back to something approaching normalcy isn't some infantile or childish gesture. As with reopening colleges and universities, it can be done in a way that minimizes health risks for all involved while bringing more and more of our regular lives back online. Characters such as Eliot Rabin—who avers, "If I do get in trouble, it will be for the right reasons"—are reminders that the same governments that were so unprepared for this pandemic deserve to be questioned and challenged even or especially as they assert more control over more parts of our lives.

NEXT: William Barr Orders Federal Prosecutors to Look Out for Civil Rights Violations During Coronavirus Lockdowns

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  1. Unsympathetic business owner? channeling Bernie there with we don't need 27 deodorants. How not libertarian of you.

    1. Was think the same thing. Just because the stuff is expensive, doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve respect for his troubles.

      1. Also just because the stuff is expensive doesn't necessarily mean it has high profit margins. I can't imagine rent is particularly cheap on Madison Ave

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    2. Unsympathetic Business Owner - great name for a Phish cover band

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    3. Yeah, I was expecting more than high prices to support that claim, like he was a conservative or something.

      1. Must be a white male. Worst thing ever.

  2. "Why Is a Liquor Store Essential and I'm Not?"

    Because FYTW!

    Seriously though can other businesses stop trying their hardest to get liquor stores closed. Make the case for your business and how you would take steps to mitigate spreading the KungFlu. Stop this moral demagoguery of liquor. It most certainly more essential then a fucking $200 tie; that said I am with the owner that he should be able to open up and his customers can choice if they are willing to enter his shop.

    1. Have you SEEN the $200 tie? Fabulouuuuuus!

      1. It is made in China for $5.

    2. Counterpoint - liquor is not essential and you are an alcoholic. I don't drink so I could case less if the liquor store is closed.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm ok people drinking themselves to death. But saying liquor is essential is nuts.

      1. Are you kidding?! Taking away people's liquor is a sure way to have significant social unrest. I look at it as liquor stores aren't necessarily essential for the person buying the liquor, it's essential for the government to impose lockdown orders. Keep the masses as happy as you can and they won't rebel.

        Additionally, there is the worry that hospitals will have to spend a fair amount or resources dealing with people having bad withdrawal symptoms and trying to substitute by drinking rubbing alcohol or homemade grain alcohol.

        So you might not drink, but that doesn't take into account the significant impact liquor has on a society.

    3. I’m not even sure that making a case for mitigating CV should be a priority either.

      Social distancing is anti-humanity at its worst. We’ve already destroyed the best economy in the history of humanity. Let’s not remove humanity with it, especially not over this bullshit. Humanity cannot flourish (or indeed even exist) if we’re all 6’ apart.

  3. >>"Why is a liquor store essential and I'm not?"

    intoxicants are the opiates of the masses

    1. Shut down the liquor stores and the wine moms would have called for an immediate reopening of the economy.

      1. This.

        I’m now convinced that Karen is the biggest threat to the American Experiment.

    2. Why are liquor stores essential?

      Compare the amount of taxes the state collects on the sale of liquor to the amount of taxes they see From the sale of clothes. That might give you a shrewd hint why one is considered essential and the other is not.

      1. Oh, now, be fair, I'm sure that thought never crossed Cuomo's mind, or the minds of the other leaders throughout the country who keep these essential liquor stores open.

    3. Because Cuomo needs his booze!

    4. Shut down both bars and liquor stores at the same time and people will riot.

  4. Liquor stores are essential because the tax on liquor is outrageous.

    The state gets an additional $6.44 a gallon on liquor.

    The mark-up on alcohol is amazing. The reason liquor license owners jump through all those expensive hoops is because it's worth it.

    1. P.S. When I was in NYC, sometimes it seemed like the primary purpose of the police was to make sure street merchants were collecting and paying sales taxes.

      I mean, if you haven't noticed, there is nothing more essential to New York and NYC than offering outrageous pension benefits. The means to funding those benefits probably comes in a close second--and liquor sales fund a lot more than other industries.

      1. P.P.S.

        Legal recreational cannabis in California became a foregone conclusion once the government employees' unions started to successfully organize marijuana workers.

        We often argue that cranking taxes up too high defeats the primary purpose of legalizing cannabis, which we assume to be to keep the industry out of the hands of traffickers and street gangs, but that misses the fact that the primary reason the state or the city of Oakland legalized cannabis sales was because street gangs don't pay sales taxes or excise taxes. The primary reason the political machine legalized cannabis was so they could tax the fuck out of it to fund their members' pension benefits. It's cutting taxes that undermines their primary purpose in legalizing cannabis.

        The reason the political machine that runs New York doesn't want legal marijuana is because the unions it answers to don't want it. Before they get legal marijuana in a place like New York City, they may need to get those unions on board by organizing growers and medical marijuana providers. Once that happens, the impetus behind legalizing recreational marijuana might become unstoppable.

        1. Just for the record . . .

          One of the unions that represents cannabis workers is the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

          "Our union family has been proud to help lead the development and stabilization of the emerging cannabis sector through our innovative Cannabis Workers Rising campaign, which has existed since 2010.

          We represent tens of thousands of cannabis workers across multiple states. UFCW members in the legal cannabis industry work in growing and cultivating facilities, manufacturing and processing facilities, and also in laboratories and dispensaries.

          The legal cannabis industry is a newly regulated market that can offer local communities jobs with strong wages and benefits that can’t be outsourced.

          The UFCW offers cannabis workers and business owners, along with patients and coalition allies, the opportunity to work together to accomplish shared goals. By crafting and supporting targeted legislative efforts, along with negotiating the best contracts for workers, we’ve been able to set high standards throughout the industry.

          Wherever cannabis is legalized, the UFCW is committed to building a successful industry with a thriving, diverse and skilled workforce.

          Jobs that pay better wages and provide better benefits—like the ones we represent—are vital to keeping our economy afloat and families out of poverty."

          The UFCW is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and the AFL-CIO represents 1.7 million government workers through the American Federation of Teachers and another 1.4 million members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

          That the pensions of the teachers and state, county, and municipal employees are funded by taxes on the cannabis industry is the key here. Once unions like the AFL-CIO started seeing cannabis as a source of funding for their government employees' pensions, legalizing recreational marijuana was practically a foregone conclusion in California.

          Popular support is nice, but often not enough in one party states like California and New York. Plenty of popular referendums that passed in California have been undermined, ignored, or laid to rest by politicians and bureaucrats in Sacramento--from Prop 187 to Proposition 8. If the bureaucrats and politicians were against legalizing recreational marijuana, California would still be like New York in regards to cannabis just like they're a sanctuary state in spite of Prop 187 passing.

          If New York gets on board with legalizing recreational marijuana, it may be only after the unions that run their political machine see their pensions in jeopardy.

      2. “P.S. When I was in NYC, sometimes it seemed like the primary purpose of the police was to make sure street merchants were collecting and paying sales taxes.”

        Eric Garner would approve this message. But he can’t because they murdered him for selling tax free cigarettes.

        1. Allegedly selling cigarettes.

    2. I figured out once that the federal tax on a handle of cheap vodka is more than the price for the actual product.

      1. I am surprised the tax on coffee isn't higher.

        1. Don’t give them any ideas.

    3. There would be no outrageous mark-up if the people were not willing to pay it. Suckers at a stadium willingly pay more than outrageous price for alcohol. However, Alcohol is not the only one, clothing, medicines, additives for food are all make in Communist China for peanuts. Brought back here and marked up like crazy. This is why we have so many new billionaires. Wall street is fleecing Americans.

      The liquor industry has always been protected, because making moonshine is actually easy. That is why they limit personal production and will even go as far as arrest you. That is why they add poison to denatured alcohol, sold at pharmacies and hardware stores. In its natural state, it is drinkable and very cheap.

      During the prohibition poor and homeless alcoholics resorted to drinking denatured alcohol, it was cheap, available and it would kill them. So many died in New York City, a doctor at one of the major hospitals pleaded with the Federal Government to stop putting poison in denatured alcohol (leave it in its natural state) so that alcoholics would not die. The Federal Government did not care. Thousands of poor and homeless alcoholics died needlessly in New York City during the prohibition from denatured alcohol.

      1. "There would be no outrageous mark-up if the people were not willing to pay it."

        What people are willing to pay is not a problem.

        The reason there is such a huge markup in alcohol is because the government limits competition by only allowing so many people within their jurisdiction to have a license.

        I once saw the chief of police in a city in southern California come into a public planning meeting and argue against letting a landowner sell his land to 7-11--because the 7-11 would sell beer. The planning commission shot the 7-11 down.

        The reason there is such a huge markup is because the government limits competition through licensing and other restrictions. The reason sellers don't undercut the prices of their competitors is because they have relatively few competitors.

        Chances are, you're not driving more than a few blocks to the liquor store, and chances are there probably isn't more than one liquor store every few blocks--but that is not because of chance. It's designed that way.

        1. There are no liquor stores in my town, but there is a liquor store just over the town line off of every major thoroughfare going into my town. Ponder this: How many businesses across the nation are named "State Line Liquors?"

  5. The Kmart in my downtown Manhattan neighborhood is open because it sells groceries and has a pharmacy, thus qualifying as an essential business. But shoppers are also free to wander the entire store, including its clothing, toy, furniture, and bedding sections.

    Would you prefer that those sections be roped off and shoppers forbidden to buy those items, the way they were in Michigan? If you're going to close anything down, you have a choice between drawing lines somewhat irrationally (as in New York) or being a dick (as in Michigan).

    1. Come on, the next sentence is, "Why shouldn't stores dedicated to selling those same items be allowed to open if they want to, assuming they abide by agreed-upon public health measures?"

      1. Absolutely! Businesses were already voluntarily placing restrictions on themselves without government having to do it for them. They were already putting in rules about customers being six feet apart, about no more than ten customers in the store, etc, etc.

        Does New York really think that a store selling $200 ties is going to have a problem with customers being crowded in too tightly? I mean, really?

    2. You are joking but my girlfriend wanted to buy cowgirl boots before she left Texas. The boot store had everything but men's boots and pants roped off. They said they were essential and everything else wasn't in the store. They said a marshal would come in and close them down. (they did sell her boots and help her though)

  6. Liquor stores are essential because if the government tried closing them there would be riots in the streets, and maybe a few governors' heads displayed on pikes. At least, I hope there would be.

  7. How come I keep hearing stories about minority groups being hit harder by Wuhan but there's very little coverage of the higher death rate among males? I guess that's an identity group that we're not allowed to notice.

    1. Patience, BR. Males will be forced to ingest bleachestrogen soon enough.

      1. I'd laugh if I wasn't afraid that some really want that to happen.

      2. Testosterone gets converted to estrogen. That's why testosterone supplements can give you moobs.

        1. Finally a subject we can trust eunuch's knowledge of

          1. Your moobs? Can't say I've had the pleasure.

            1. God damn man he got you and you respond with that sad crap.

            2. CMW moob connoisseur

    2. Frankly I'm surprised at the lack of articles cheering on COVID-19 for taking down the patriarchy.

    3. Males include minority groups. Or did you think only white dudes could be male?

      1. You are shit at reading.

  8. Have you seen how bitchy sarc gets when he can't get his Popov?

  9. "Why is a liquor store essential and I'm not?"

    Because fewer people are addicted to polka dot ties?

    1. Speak for yourself!

      1. Your asphyxiophilia is oddly specific.

        1. Your moobs are leaking estrogen everywhere chip.

          1. Jesus Christ, dude. If you don't like him, don't read his comments.

            1. Who said I didn't like him? I need a foil

              Do you always play white knight like that bitch?

            2. Jesus Christ, Deb. If you don’t like him, don’t read his comments.

              1. Ahahaha 'Deb"' it was probably a typo but god damn if it doesn't fit that Karen lololololol

  10. Just because the guys sells high end clothing he is less sympathetic? Try running your own business for a year
    Nick and get back to me. He apparently fills a market
    where's there is a demand . And I doubt his profit
    margin is as high as you may assume .

    1. You know what he means. I bet if you polled a random sampling of Americans, they wouldn't have a ton of sympathy for a guy who sells $1000 ties compared to a lot of other business owners.

      1. Yeah, but how many people ruin their health with high-end rotgut suits?

      2. Holy crap, where in the NAP is there a disclaimer that says, " All of this is null and void, if the injured party is "unsympathetic"? Can somebody show me that invisible clause?

  11. Do you know when the shutdown will end? When lawyers like myself, journalists, college professors, and other white-collar executives, administrators, and professional employees who have the luxury of teleworking suddenly start losing our jobs or seeing our incomes severely curtailed.Watch how quickly the pile of dead bodies becomes irrelevant

    1. I've said here before that if the essential businesses did *not* include the media--if you had cops trundling down to the newspaper to stop their presses, because if we can fine people for going to work and arrest people for going to a funeral, we can surely finish tossing the 1st Amendment and shut down the media outlets. Turn off the radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers. Stop the daily press briefings at the White House, see how much coverage the media can get working from home.

      When the media is shut down by "emergency orders" the howling will begin and after we explain that they celebrated the death of the 1st Amendment, dismissing that particular argument, they will certainly start making critical analysis of the numbers, risks, etc. and figure maybe opening back up is the "right thing to do". And maybe, just maybe, they'll realize that they should have fought harder for the rest of the 1st Amendment (can we dare dream that they realize they needed to support the 2nd too?).

    2. Or when, say, Florida, Virginia, NC, SC, start stopping folks with NY plates at their borders and turning them back. Force airport rental car agencies to not rent to people with NY state licenses, tell airlines than people from NY state cannot deplane in other states, so they should go ahead and stop them from getting on the planes leaving NY in the first place.

      New York and NYC in particular are the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, so it just makes sense to lock those people down and not let them out into other states where they can spread their filthy diseases.

      (Sorry NY State, but you've let NYC screw it up for everyone).

    3. This.

      Right now all the “right” people have the ability to ride the storm.

      Why go back to work when you can do 15% of your normal workload from the comfort of your couch while wearing sweatpants and you’re being paid the same?

      But when even those businesses start feeling the effects of closed down economy, their jobs won’t be safe, and Karen will be the one who cries to end the lockdown. Right after blaming Trump for it.

  12. Why the fuck are people buying burgers/sandwiches/whatever for healthcare workers?
    Those people still get paid, and they're doing the job they signed up for.

    And what of the deliverers?
    I, like a lot of people, am doing doordash - I'm on the front lines, Karen!
    Anyone pay for my gas? The $1500 I just had to drop on repairs? Anyone dropping a note "we ordered an extra sandwich for you to take and eat while you drive around with all our awesome smelling food"?
    (OK, I'm just mad today because 2 people had the nerve to tip only $1 - you know base pay is like $3 bucks, so fn tip!)

    1. I always thought it was kind of strange that people are expected to pay the wages of staff at restaurants and delivery services. I mean, I don't tip the teller at the bank, or the person running the cash register at the 7-11. Why am I expected to pay for the staff at the restaurant? Don't get me wrong, I'll tip for good service, but it's not my obligation to tip you. Do your fucking job. Do it well, get a tip, do it poorly, no tip. Don't like getting crappy tips? Do a better job, or better yet, change to a job you don't depend on others to volunteer your pay to you. It's actually kind of bizarre we're expected to assume the role of financial employer for these specific jobs.

      1. Tipping is a subjective, dumb system but you should only skip out on the tip if you never plan on coming back because you will get your food spit in. Because bad service workers don't do self-reflection.

      2. Shut the fuck up, jima, you punk ass cheap piece of shit.
        I was posting in jest, but you really are trash.
        Don't want to tip?
        Don't go to restaurants, order delivery, or get maid service in your hotel room.
        I took up with doordash in February because I saw what was coming and it was an opportunity to make extra money.
        Whats your job?
        I'd be willing to bet i could do it a lot better than you.

      3. Check out Mr. Pink over here.

  13. Sell lottery tickets and you too can be essential.

  14. People are addicted to alcohol and by receiving taxes, the government is complicit.

    The stress of forced detoxification would aggravate an already stressed population.

    Smarten up.

    1. You know who else was a teetotaling jew hater?

      1. Your bogeyman, scaredy bigot?

        1. scaredy bigot

          Hitler's MC name.

          1. Ain’t it though.

            1. You tell us since he's your role model.

              1. Pissing your pants, are you?

                You love it.

                1. No one wants to hear what you tell your Dom to say to you.

                  1. Is that what you think I am to you?

                    Let’s carry on then scaredy bigot.

                    Does it terrify you to recognize that your false narrative must be protected by law from evidence that refutes it in every nation where it allegedly occurred?

                    1. Damn Rob how are you still crying lolololol

                    2. What did you expect you made fun of Rob's watersport fetish

                      Lil Hitler gonna snap on ya

                    3. I legit did not expect Rob to share that he likes piss play like he did.

                      The crying, that is standrd for him.

                    4. Rob's a Hitlerphile of course he likes weird shit.

                    5. It isn’t refuted. You’re just a toxic anti-semite.

                    6. Of course you haven’t honestly considered the evidence that refutes your cherished false bogeyman narrative because you’re afraid to. Scaredy bigot.

        2. Worst response to this question, and all similar questions, in the history of Reason.

          Scaredy bigot? Come on man, that’s just lazy. Are you a bot?

  15. Makes me want to drive to New York and buy a $200 tie.

    1. It would look good along with your hoodie and sneakers.

      Get a pocket square too.

  16. ...if you can work from home and your livelihood isn't especially threatened by the lockdown, you're unlikely to have a strong sense of urgency about the current situation.

    No goddamn shit. The blue checks and home office journalists simply cannot understand why the little people being forced without a shred of empathy to sacrifice for the health of their twitterati betters and the panicked urbanites are balking.

    1. Like how polls show it's essentially the nonfliers supporting the TSA checkpoints and restrictions at airports.

  17. Either every business is essential or no business is, and only one person has the right to decide what is essential: the business owner himself.

    1. This haberdasher was interviewed on Fox this afternoon. He termed liquor stores being open as "dangerous" but opined that his business was essential as "emotional support." "Liberty for me, but not for you." FO,S.

  18. "The business owner who asked the question above is in significant ways unsympathetic."

    Oh, FFS, it's the City of New York, shit is expensive there.

    I think commenters above nailed it, rotgut can be sold because the government gets a cut, more than it does from the sale of clothes.

  19. The more nefarious reason is that NYS makes an obscene amount of money on alcohol taxes. The more pragmatic reason is that if they closed the bars and the liquor stores, the only thing they would have accomplished is creating the 21st century speakeasy. But mostly the taxes.

  20. Read the Vox article. If that piece of trash isn't candidate #1 for most batshit-insane writing, 2020, there's something wrong with the selection process. (Sorry, Shikha, you've been topped. Next time, up your game.)

    1. So let me see if I understand. Those who want to see mostly minority, immigrants, and non-white workers who are disproportionately low wage earners thrown out of work are the progressive minded opponents of racism. And those who want to see them be gainfully employed are racist.

      Well I’m convinced.

  21. The Liquor is large, organized, political, and has lobbyist.
    The clothing industry is large, but totally fragmented, and because of that is not political and does not lobby.
    Any more questions?

  22. In New Jersey for the past five weeks, “essential businesses” like supermarkets have been opened, subject to specific requirements. They must make sure people maintain 6 feet of distance, the workers must wear masks and gloves, there must be spit barriers at checkout lines, and now, customers must wear masks. And there must be frequent cleaning of surfaces.

    Given that I have yet to hear that there are corpses piling up in the produce section, and that I have yet to hear that there is a spike in COVID infections among Grocery store shoppers, it appears that these mitigating measures work. So why can’t all businesses that are willing and able to comply with these requirements likewise be allowed to open?

    1. Or they’re having a minimal effect and the virus isn’t worth the hype.

    2. Even the social distancing requirements are largely unworkable if not just theatre.

      I was observing interactions in a grocery store (like Lisa did with Bart) and noticed that people aren't able to take an order and apply common sense to it. They take the social distancing thing literal. So they're gonna just stand there staring at some choose between Catsup and Ketchup. It's also hilarious watching them trying to avoid crashing into each other's carriages.

      Fucken sheep. I get knots going to the store now because it's where I get to see how pathetic we are.

  23. Here is a woman who deserves support.
    She runs a salon, and is taking it in the shorts while grease-ball Newsom fiddles and suffers no loss whatsoever.
    She's decided enough's enough; she's re-opened and up yours, Newsom! There are threats of $1K fines; time to kick in to tell fucking cowardly pieces of shit like JFree to stuff it up their butts.

  24. Almost all their rules are arbitrary. cErtainly anything age limit related is. Staying 6 feet apart during this is arbitrary. Groups of 1000,100, 10 is all arbitrary. We always roll over.

  25. 'Why Is a Liquor Store Essential and I'm Not?'
    Because you're a slave. Keep voting.
    "Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves." Herbert Marcuse

  26. Mr. Gillespie...Why did you not put Governor Cuomo's response in your article? You put the question there, but not his answer. Why?

  27. I live in Alexandria, VA and just got back from Lowe's where I bought gardening supplies, absolutely not essential. But I wanted to run an errand, wore a mask and now can do some gardening this weekend.

    I'm not the only one. The parking lot was packed and traffic in/around the shopping center looked like a weekend afternoon.

    People are starting to go against the stay at home orders.

  28. The shutdown is a disgrace.

    A. Disgrace.

  29. Well for one thing alcohol is used to help cope with stress so we don't kill each other and for another more serious answer there are many alcoholics who would go into DTs and die.

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