New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration announced today a proposal that would limit the sales of alcohol. Public outcry and promises to fight the initiative in court soon followed.
Hours later, the news from Stu Loeser, Bloomberg’s spokesperson, is that his boss will not back the plan after all. According to the city Health Department, the aim was to cut access to booze in places like bars and corner stores, and lessen advertising in public places, such as trains and buses. Community “transformation” grants provided under the government’s health-care law would have helped pay for the hotly contested plan.
“We’re deeply committed to encouraging entrepreneurs to start and expand small businesses in the city,” said Loeser. Those bars and corner stores will remain untouched. Bloomberg, does, however, support the goal of reducing binge drinking and illegal alcohol sales to minors through advertising and other avenues.
Bloomberg’s “Social Engineering”
Bloomberg’s smoking ban, imposed in bars and restaurants in 2003, although resented, began without much of a scene, and New Yorkers have learned to take it in stride to some extent. Official statistics show that the number of smokers in the city has fallen, though one need only walk down any city street to see that those numbers are not accurate. What the ban succeeded in doing was creating a very strong stigma against smokers. The mayor has also gone after trans-fats and sugary foods. Criticism of the mayor’s crusade for public health could be why he has decided not to back the Health Department’s plan. That the plan would lose the city money could be another reason.
The Health Department’s initiative was compared to Prohibition, a thirteen-year nationwide ban on the sale of liquor in the early 20<sup>th</sup> century. Prohibition only led to the growth of organized crime. People never stopped consuming alcohol – they simply took it underground to speakeasies and started manufacturing it in their bathtubs at home. Access and pricing led to violent crime, and eventually, Prohibition was repealed.
A lot of New Yorkers will gleefully criticize smokers while downing glasses of Shiraz and other libations at their favorite bars and restaurants. A restriction on liquor consumption would not have gone over well at all. Many predicted that “Nanny” Bloomberg’s grand initiative would die a quick death. It’s death was much quicker than predicted.