Example #29 that Texas, despite its reputation as a hotbed of free-market conservatism, is no such thing. Or at least its Legislature is not. Nor -- perhaps less surpisingly -- is its state bureaucracy:
Texas is putting a cork in wine shipments from a significant number of out-of-state retailers.
State officials have teamed up with FedEx, UPS and other shippers to ferret out wines being sent to Texas by websites that don't have proper permits.
That has prompted Wine.com and several other resellers to restrict sales to consumers in the Lone Star State.
Wine.com has 30,000 active customers statewide, CEO Rich Bergsund told the American-Statesman on Thursday. Those customers were notified via email this month that the company had halted shipments of wine to Texas.
Other sites not currently shipping wine to Texas include TheWineBuyer.com, WineBid.com, WineExpress.com and WineLibrary.com.
A law blocking the deliveries isn't new, but the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has ratcheted up enforcement efforts this year.
"Anybody who is going to sell to Texans has to have a permit," TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said.
You might ask, So what? In-state retailers must get permits. It's only fair to require out-of-state sellers to do the same.
The catch is that out-of-state sellers can't get permits:
And, right now, Beck said, there's no law enabling out-of-state resellers to obtain permits allowing them to sell wine here. "They haven't been authorized by the Legislature," she said.
In March, TABC investigators reviewed reports submitted by shipping companies and identified about 51,000 wine deliveries from 177 firms thought to be improperly sending wine to Texans, Beck said.
By June, increased TABC scrutiny had helped drop that number to about 35,000 wine shipments from 112 resellers.
TABC doesn't even try to justify this as a consumer protection measure. And it's obviously not. Buying wine from Wine.com poses no more threat to health and safety than buying from the local liquor store. The only ones who benefit from such a rule are Texas wine wholesalers and retailers. Texas consumers lose access to greater variety and lower prices as wine merchants squelch an incipient source of competition.
Alcohol peddlers are damned good at protecting their market.
Although I'm not a libertarian by any measure, I confess that I have certain . . . tendencies. And I think we'd all be better off if voters would presume that every permitting requirement is an anti-competitive, anti-consumer measure until the state to proves otherwise.
Thankfully, Texas booksellers didn't have the political clout wielded by wine merchants and wholesalers when Amazon was getting off the ground back in the 1990s, else the State would have banned buying books off the internet, too.