One of the feel-good stories of this summer concerns Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, which was facing catastrophe when the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission suddenly began enforcing a Prohibition-era law.
After years of routine renewals, winery owner Rich Pelletier was told he could either renew his farmer’s manufacturing licenses or his restaurant pouring license, but not both.
To appreciate how ridiculous this is, consider Nashoba Valley Winery’s history: Man buys old farmhouse, orchard and winery. Builds thriving business. Creates dozens of jobs. Preserves the landscape. Produces a great product. Opens a restaurant.
To get there, Pelletier obtained three licenses for making his wine and a fourth to serve it in his restaurant. All was well until someone at the ABCC read the legal fine print and decided that making the stuff and pouring the stuff is illegal, unless it’s done in the same premises, and that the short distance between brewery and restaurant didn’t qualify.
This was so silly that even Gov. Charlie Baker got involved, and it soon appeared that the ABCC, state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and Attorney General Maura Healey were collaborating to resolve the matter in Nashoba’s favor.
Let’s hope so. But let’s also recognize the fundamental problem: Our state government is too large, too involved in our lives, and too prone to the arbitrary and capricious exercise of power.
More Sina-cism from Chris Sinacola:
Alcohol is a prime example. The state limits the number of liquor licenses of various kinds that communities may issue. Why? Are communities entrusted with police powers somehow incapable of determining how much of a legal product they wish to have sold and consumed within their precincts?
In a perfect world, the ABCC would not exist, and cities and towns would be free to issue whatever licenses they wished in accordance with local tastes and market demand. The state, meanwhile, could spend its time and resources getting serious about the prosecution and imprisonment of those who indulge in drunken driving.
But alcohol is not the end of it.
You cannot drive very far on any major highway in this state without seeing an amber signboard reminding you how to live your life. You are admonished to buckle up. You are warned that fireworks are illegal and can earn you fines or jail time. “Leave a child in a car? Never!” (Well, obviously.) There’s the joke about how the left lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike is only for passing.
Another favorite: “See something? Say something!”
You know what I see? I see a state incapable of treating its citizens like adults – a nanny mentality that would be forgivable if there were evidence that all these warnings and admonishments were having the slightest impact. I see none.
But where statism is most destructive of liberty is in education. The state regulates the licensure of teachers, determines which schools may open and which may not, requires criminal background checks for community volunteers of unimpeachable character, mandates how many days children must spend in classrooms, how many square feet classrooms must contain, and even how athletic leagues and competitions must be conducted.
And, of course, there’s curriculum, where the state mandates what shall be taught, how much of it, and how. And when ordinary citizens rebel – Worcester’s Donna Colorio leading efforts to repeal the insidious Common Core standards, for example – state courts step in and strike their efforts from the ballot.
Indeed, government hates competition.
Certainly, I believe any state may establish public schools, for elementary, secondary or postsecondary education, and offer its citizens the opportunity to attend them. The critical point is that such schools should be but one choice among many on a perfectly level playing field: Massachusetts ought not restrict citizens from exercising their right – a matter of natural law and in accordance with the state’s constitution – to form any other educational districts and institutions they wish, ones financed through local taxation, and completely free from state control or oversight.
Fighting for smaller government is always worth the effort, but such efforts should be guided by an awareness of the larger problem, one described well by H.L. Mencken in December 1919: “The ideal government of all reflective men, from Aristotle onward, is one which lets the individual alone – one which barely escapes being no government at all.
“This ideal, I believe, will be realized in the world twenty or thirty centuries after I have passed from these scenes and taken up my public duties in Hell.”
I hope to join Mencken, at least on my days off.