For beer fairness, end price controls and corporate welfare
Why $1 a bottle? Why not let the beer maker charge as little as they want? And quit subsidizing the industry, argues Matthew Lau
With much fanfare, the Ontario government has brought back “Buck-a-Beer” by lowering the government-mandated price floor on a bottle or can of beer (with alcohol volume below 5.6 per cent) from $1.25 to $1.
Ontarians who don’t drink or who consume only more expensive alcoholic beverages won’t be much affected by this policy.
But for the segment of the market who likes inexpensive beer, the price floor reduction is a positive change.
In general, price floors make buyers and sellers worse off.
A beer price floor of $1.25 makes it illegal for buyers and sellers of beer to engage in voluntary, mutually beneficial economic transactions — namely, the purchase and sale of beer for less than $1.25 — simply because an irrelevant third party (the politicians) has deemed the terms of the transactions unacceptable.
The primary argument in favour of the beer price floor is “social responsibility.” According to this argument, the government has a responsibility to discourage people from drinking too much.
But the proper way to do this would be through taxes instead of price controls, since a tax can be applied evenly whereas a price floor discriminates against a specific market segment: consumers of in- expensive alcohol.
However, that doesn’t mean higher beer taxes are a good idea.
Given how heavily alcoholic beverages are already taxed in Ontario, cutting beer taxes would probably be more appropriate.
Christine Van Geyn of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation points out in a recent column that “if brewers sold beer for $1 per bottle, 58.7 cents of that dollar would be tax. It would include a 10.6 cent excise tax, 36.6 cents in provincial markup and 11.5 cents in sales tax.”
If the government believes it has a “social responsibility” to discourage alcohol consumption, why does it massively subsidize beer and wine with millions of dollars in corporate welfare every year?
In April, for example, the Ontario government announced that it had distributed $5.2 million in subsidies to 16 breweries through a Northern Ontario corporate welfare fund.
This figure pales in comparison to a 2013 announcement that the government would spend $75 million of taxpayers’ money to expand the production and consumption of Ontario wine. In fact, there are so many government programs handing out so much corporate welfare that many beer and wine companies have eaten from the subsidy trough multiple times.
These subsidies are a ridiculous waste of money.
To increase fairness for alcohol consumers and producers, as well as taxpayers, the Ontario government should do three things:
• End corporate welfare to beer and wine businesses. This includes the ill-advised promotional incentives it’s offering to beer companies as part of its “Buck-a-Beer Challenge.” Supply and demand, not political games, should determine how beer is sold.
• Lower its exorbitant alcohol taxes to avoid punishing consumers unfairly.
• And build upon its positive move to lower the beer price floor by abolishing the price floor completely.
... if brewers sold beer for $1 per bottle, 58.7 cents of that dollar would be tax. CHRISTINE VAN GEYN
CANADIAN TAXPAYERS FEDERATION