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What’s in a Day?

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From prematurely shuttered retailers to lifeless, peopleless downtown haunts, Sundays in many parts of the deep South are an utter bore.

Blue laws, which restrict alcohol sales, shopping and other activities on a supposed — and one would add, arbitrary — day of rest, are probably unconstitutional since they attempt to regulate what people can and can’t do based solely on religious doctrine dating all the way back to Genesis and on an omnipotent deity’s apparent need for rest.

Slide past the questionable legality of these regulations and the non sequitur that an all-powerful being can become overworked or would even desire a day of rest, and we can pinpoint a more pressing question.

Would repealing blue laws in the South assist in tightening budget shortfalls in some of the poorest states in the nation?

It’s not coincidental, nor terribly surprising, that among 14 states with Sunday liquor sale laws on the books, eight of them — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia — have poverty rates at 16 percent or more of the total population of each state, according to a report released in September from the U.S. Census Bureau. Further, areas in this region of the nation require more educational funding, not less, and one could make the case that lifting blue laws on alcohol and Sunday shopping may provide a significant financial boost to regions that need it the most.

Some of the more forward-thinking states recognize the increased economic potential of loosening up liquor and consumption regulations. A CNBC article from September 2010 indicates that Massachusetts, Arizona and others are rolling back the time at which people can begin drinking. In the former state, for instance, consumers can begin ordering cocktails at 10 a.m. on Sundays, which is two hours earlier than the previously allowed time.

Terming the new law, “common-sense, pro-business legislature,” Arizona Rep. Matt Heinz said allowing alcohol sales to start at 6 a.m. would boost business revenues, particularly in the state’s resort communities.

In Connecticut, which seems to be one of the more surprising states on the blue law list, the mayors of Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford support repealing the state’s Sunday liquor laws altogether. The mayors have made the case that the state could receive $8 million per year in added revenue if repealed.

But in the financially hagridden southern states, lessons are hard-won.

A look at a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report reveals that most states have enacted cuts to education, public health and other services, but it seems that the states in the deep South could at least put a sizable dent in shortfalls if politicians could get past the anachronisms that prop up the flimsy case for blue laws.

Cases such as this 2009 statement from Jim Beck, then-president of the Georgia Christian Coalition on a proposal in his state to repeal such regulations: “During times of economic stress, our families are under enough pressure. I don’t think we need to add even more pressure to those families by passing this law.”

Contrast that with the infinitely more qualified Auburn University economics professor David Laband, who also said in 2009, “States realize that consumers will migrate to a place where they can buy what they want. And whatever their reasons are for not wanting to sell on Sunday, these states realize they’re paying a price for it in foregone tax revenues. So once the economy goes bad, then the cost of their policies are apparent to them.”

Instances in which “foregone tax revenues” could at least assist in cinching up state budgets are not hard to find. Georgia has cut $403 million in K-12 education funding from fiscal year 2011 to 2010, while in North Carolina, some 20 schools with have no nurse of social worker this year because of cuts. The latter state has also temporarily removed funding for teacher mentoring.

Thus, passing through otherwise bustling areas of the South after 6 p.m. on Sundays is like passing through ghost towns, almost as if, at that magical tick of the clock, the lights have been turned off.

They have been to some degree, and one can’t help but think, upon driving past the myriad “Closed” signs and locked doors on otherwise agreeable Sunday evenings, of the thousands of businesses that could be earning additional tax revenues for their respective states.

As long as religion holds so much sway, the South and other socially conservative regions will tread in their inert and irrational ideologies, and more progressive parts of the nation will continue to throw off the crumbling relics of bygone epochs. Historically, this trend is seen so many times on so many issues that, these days, it seems barely worth mentioning, but it’s still important to note because clearly, lessons of the past have not been learned.

Because of such arbitrary laws based on the arbitrary importance of certain days and times of the week, local business sectors in blue-law states will fail to meet their potential; consumers will remain at home, bored and watching Sunday night football; and taxpayers and their families will reap fewer rewards from budgets cuts that are ever-receding government’s propensity to matter.

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About Jeremy Styron

  • While I agree that blue laws should be repealed I don’t see any causal relationship here. If you think that they are causing economic harm, then you are effectively also admitting that they work in reducing alcohol consumption, which I find pretty dubious.


  • This article is either inept or dishonest–possibly both. “It’s not coincidental,” the author writes, “nor terribly surprising, that among 14 states with Sunday liquor sale laws on the books, eight of them … have poverty rates at 16% or more … according to a report released in September from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

    He provides a hyperlink to that report. I followed said link. The report contains five pages, one half filled by a map, another consisting entirely of a bar chart and yet another consisting entirely of a table. There is not a single mention of blue laws.

    As Dave Nalle suggests (comment #1), correlation does not imply causation. Mississippi has both high poverty and blue laws. But that doesn’t mean Mississippi has high poverty because it has blue laws. You could just as easily (and equally fallaciously) argue that Mississippi has blue laws because it has high poverty. Ridiculous.

  • Alan, you have got to be joking. The point in that paragraph was about correlating states with high poverty rates with those who also have blue laws on the books. The link was there to support the claim about poverty rates, not blue laws (For you to not see that says something about you, not this article). Simply google “14 states with blue laws” for support. The point regarding the 14 states with blue laws on the books was so obvious, I didn’t feel the need to link it. Here’s an article from Time Magazine which supports the number.

    The main point is that many states which prohibit alcohol on Sundays in the 21st century are backward, non-progressive and are not on the forefront of policies that could improve their own poverty and unemployment numbers. Anti-progressivism and the continued reliance on religiously-influenced political policies set us ever further back, not forward. That was the point.

  • Jeremy (#3), I understood perfectly well that the link supports your claim about poverty rates. And I did not question the number of states you cite with blue laws.

    What I dispute is your purported causal correlation between states with high poverty and those with blue laws. You claim that said correlation is not coincidental, but offer no evidence or documentation to support causality. All you do is make unwarranted assumptions about states that “are backward, non-progressive and are not on the forefront of policies that could improve their own poverty and unemployment numbers.” Your notion that eliminating blue laws in such states would transform their historically underperforming economies is just plain fatuous.

  • I just love it how millions of people are off on Sundays, government officials , letter carriers you name it…off. Religion is never used as an excuse to make them work. Why not have a vote and pick Monday to Sunday for a legislated day of rest? Why should everything be open seven days a week when it takes one day that families want to be together. Not only are we taking our families away from one another but we are hurting our environment with more traffic on our roads with more pollution ( emissions added). Business’s have their lights on another day. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Arch Conservative

    Has anyone ever seen Alan Kurtz write anything positive about or even remotely agreeablewith something that someone else has written?

  • Of course not, Archie. Mr. Kurtz is deprived of all human sentiments except one: self-worship.

  • “ll you do is make unwarranted assumptions about states that ‘are backward, non-progressive and are not on the forefront of policies that could improve their own poverty and unemployment numbers.'”

    It’s an opinion piece, Alan. I obviously don’t believe the correlation is cut and dry, but I’m making the case for the correlation based on what I feel is fairly convincing data that the South has generally been behind the curve on nearly every issue that matters, both ideologically and from a policy standpoint, for centuries, and one of the main reasons the South is still in the dark ages is the eminence of religion in nearly all facets of social and political life. From South Carolina to Georgia to Alabama and North Carolina, it’s not the most intelligent or most qualified politicians who are winning elections. It’s the ones who talk about God, moral values and social policies (based on religion) the most.

  • @ Tony: Those are poor excuses for arguing for a day of rest. I wasn’t advocating everybody work seven days a week. Some do this by necessity anyway. I was arguing that Sunday should be treated no differently than any other day of the week, and in other parts of the nation or world, it is treated no differently. I suspect that religious types say Sunday is a time meant for families to be together as a way to get around what they really would like to say: God rested on this day, and God said keep the Sabbath.

  • Arch Conservative (#6), as usual, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    See my comment #1, posted just this past Sunday, on Victor Lana’s splendid “Christopher Columbus: Maybe He Didn’t Discover America, But He Created a New World.”

  • Roger Nowosielski (#7), that’s the old me. I’ve turned over a new leaf. Please see my newly published BC blog “One Less Internet Bully.”