News Story

200-Proof Readings to Accompany Ken Burns’ ‘Prohibition’

Fans of documentary-maker Ken Burns (“The Civil War,” “Baseball”) are already looking forward to his newest work, “Prohibition,” scheduled for release Oct. 2. Alas, though prohibition was repealed nearly 80 years ago, Michigan still suffers a hangover in the form of a sour regulatory mash that drinks in too many consumer dollars for too little return.

As viewers enjoy the new Burns documentary, they may want to brush up on Prohibition’s legacy in the Great Lake State with some useful Mackinac Center publications on the subject.

Indeed, a prerequisite for Professor Burns’ “course” might be a Mackinac Center video called “The Michigan Liquor Control Commission and the Three-Tier System,” explaining why consumers here pay more than they should for adult beverages.

Burns fans might also find interesting a Mackinac Center narrative  that compares the similar unintended consequences of alcohol Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties with those of excessively high cigarette taxes today.

Below is a complete inventory of Mackinac Center resources on the pesky regulatory overkill that still burdens Michigan consumers.


Feb. 4, 2015: A blog post about the Office of Regulatory Reinvention seeking input on beer and wine wholesalers' activities.

Jan. 22, 2015: A blog post and press release about a lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center against the Michigan Liquor Control Commission over illegal FOIA fees.

June 19, 2014: A blog post and press release asking the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to rescind “post and hold” rules.

Feb. 22, 2013: Blog post on Senate Bill 216.

Aug. 9, 2012: A commentary on the "post and hold" rule for beer and wine prices.

July 18, 2012: An interactive graphic about alcohol control and social outcomes.

July 10, 2012: An overview of the state's liquor control reform recommendations.

June 14, 2012: A commentary on the monopoly beer and wine wholesalers enjoy.

June 5, 2012: Blog post on alcohol retail density and public safety.

May 24, 2012: A commentary about allowing alcohol sales at farmers markets.

May 14, 2012: A policy brief about the correlation between alcohol regulations and public health and safety.

April 17, 2012: A Michigan Capitol Confidential commentary about mail-order alcohol purchases.

March 5, 2012: A Viewpoint commentary about getting rid of Michigan's alcohol wholesale monopolies.

Feb. 2, 2012: A blog post refuting claims that beer and wine wholesalers do not enjoy territorial monopolies.

Dec. 13: A blog post examining misinformation about alcohol control guidelines and public safety.

Dec. 1: Detroit News Op-Ed outlining suggested liquor control code reforms.

Nov. 21: A Michigan Capitol Confidential commentary about Washington state's liquor code reform.

Nov. 7: A Michigan Capitol Confidential commentary about Michigan's new keg tracking law and underage drinking.

Nov. 2: A Michigan Capitol Confidential story about a ballot initiative in Washington state that could topple the three-tier system there.

Oct. 25: A list of recommendations sent to the Liquor Control Commission's advisory panel.

Oct. 21: A crosspost on The MC blog from Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, "Alcohol Myths Persist Beyond Prohibition."

Oct. 6: A crosspost on The MC blog from wine critic Tom Wark on the book "Toward Liquor Control."

Sept. 29: Current Comment titled "Present Day Prohibition" outlines the regulatory scheme enacted to “safely reintroduce” alcohol into society following Prohibition’s repeal and how it has grown into a labyrinth of state-based rules, resulting in a number of negative consequences — many similar to those of Prohibition.

Sept 19: The blog post “Letter in Freep is Spurious, Misleading is a rejoinder published in response to a letter in the Detroit Free Press, Sept. 17.

Aug. 24: News Release:  A new Mackinac Center analysis shows liquor prices average $1.59 per fifth higher in so-called “control” states like Michigan compared to the 32 “non control” states.

Aug. 24: An essay titled “Liquored Up: Michigan Government Should Exit its Liquor Wholesale Business,” which recommends that the state rein in the 152-employee Liquor Control Commission after it exits the liquor wholesaling business.

Aug. 18: A short retrospective highlighting an outstanding series on Michigan’s beer and wine wholesalers written by Jennifer Dixon of the Detroit Free Press in 2005. The Mackinac Center was granted permission to post each article on our website. Links to the entire series are posted directly below.

Feb. 10, 2005: Under the Influence, Part I

Feb. 10, 2005: Under the influence, Part 2

Feb. 11, 2005: Beer and Wine Wholesalers are Life of Politicians’ Parties, Part I

Feb. 11, 2005: Beer and Wine Wholesalers are Life of Politicians’ Parties, Part II

Feb. 10, 2005: In Michigan Beer Distribution is Family Affair

Feb. 12, 2005: State Beer, Wine Dealings Done in Secret, Part 1

Feb. 12, 2005: State Beer, Wine Dealings Done in Secret, Part 2

Feb. 12, 2005: Northwest in Hot Water with Wholesalers

Feb. 12, 2005: State Law is at Root of Wholesale Power (Scroll to bottom)

Aug. 17: “State Regulations Suffocate Hospitality Industry” is a blog post detailing legislation introduced to remove a prohibition in state law that stops craft brewers from meeting to share their brews at licensed brewpubs and microbreweries.

Aug. 9: The announcement that the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs had decided on which 21 Michigan residents would comprise the new Liquor Control Advisory Rules Committee resulted in a blog post detailing new and old questions for the committee to ask themselves.

Aug. 8: “Five Questions for the New Liquor Control Advisory Rules Committee” leveled the first five of two sets of questions at the new committee and was published prior to the announcement of who would comprise the committee.

Aug. 4: “Rethink Michigan’s Liquor Distribution System” was an Op-Ed that originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press and was written by Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative Director Michael LaFaive.

July 26: “Michigan Liquor Control Code too Controlling” detailed the relative verbosity of state liquor laws and corresponding rules between Michigan and other states.

July 20: Beer and wine wholesalers (and their association) in Michigan have won for themselves an extraordinarily privileged position in the Great Lake State. They and their sister organizations have been working to protect that privileged position with a change in federal law. We detail their efforts to pass the federal CARE Act here.

July 4: “State Pours Interference on Liquor Business” was published in the Mackinac Center’s Capitol Confidential on Independence Day, but details how liquor sales are anything but independent from state control. 

June 30: “Time to Kill Michigan’s Alcohol Monopoly” is another essay about the extraordinary influence that beer and wine wholesalers wield in state capitols (and perhaps in Congress, too). It is written by Mackinac Center guest writer and alcohol regulation expert Michelle Minton. Minton is Director of the Insurance Studies project with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

June 18: “Alcohol Monopolies Rob Consumers, Taxpayers and Job Providers” tackles the enrichment of a small number of distributors at the expense of consumers and people who sell alcohol at the retail level.

June 9: “Michigan’s Government-Mandated Beer Contracts: Harder to Escape than Marriage?” tackles another section in state law that protects wholesalers from a loss of business. This essay was published in conjunction with a video on the same subject (see below).

June 9: “The Michigan Liquor Control Commission and the Three-Tier System,” produced by Communications Specialist Kathy Hoekstra explains the state’s three-tier system of alcohol protection and how its operation benefits wholesalers at the expense of both beer suppliers and consumers.

May 5, 2009: “The Grapes of Wrath” illustrates how a [then] new law helped protect wholesalers in the face of possible additional competition due to a court decision that would effectively permit out-of-state shipments of wine directly to consumers.

March 9, 2001: “Make a Toast to Privatization” examined the opportunity to buy wine over the Internet and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission’s attempt to enforce a prohibition against out-of-state wine shipments.

June 1, 1997: The first of our work on Michigan’s system of liquor control focused on how the state had thrown away a perfectly good opportunity to fully privatize liquor wholesaling.


Michael D. LaFaive is director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.