Should Vermont legalize happy hour?

by Walter Olson on December 4, 2013

Around half the states, including Vermont, ban “happy hour” promotions at drinking establishments. At, Jon Street quotes me suggesting it’s past time for the Green Mountain State to drop its ban:

Walter Olson, a senior fellow for constitutional studies at The Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning, Washington, D.C.-based think tank, told Vermont Watchdog, “Why should Vermont insert itself between deals that please restaurants and customers alike?”

“When young people are starting out in the job world, they like moving to the sorts of places where there’s happy hour… It’s good for main streets that don’t want to go dead when the work day ends, good for restaurants trying to reach new customers, and good for tourism. The toll of drunk driving across America has plunged tremendously, both in states that have bans and in those that don’t, and it’s hard to see any difference there,” Olson said.

The happy hour controversy flared up earlier this year in Massachusetts [coverage: MSN, ABC, Consumerist, and Boston Globe (pro-happy-hour column by Farah Stockman)]. Texas alcoholic beverage regulators have a table of state laws here (PDF)


1 Hugo S. Cunningham 12.04.13 at 1:00 pm

Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than many illegal ones, and States should have legal authority to restrict it short of the suicidal folly of Prohibition.

That said, I might not object to a 50% off “Happy Hour.” I strongly object, however, to a “two-for-one” Happy Hour that nudges people to drink more than they might have otherwise. Perhaps also bars that want to run Happy Hours should be required to notify the police, in case they want to be extra vigilant for drunk drivers.

2 Ron Miller 12.04.13 at 1:39 pm

Hugo, you are cutting the distinction pretty thin.

The real question here is if you saw a study done by the person/group you find most reliable to undertake such a task that said 50 lives were killed each year as a result of happy hours, what would be your opinion then? You can go full board libertarian and say that is the price we pay for a free society or you can save those 50. Me? Thanks for asking. I’d save the 50.

3 Walter Olson 12.04.13 at 1:56 pm

Without prejudging the issue, it should be noted that it’s by no means clear whether the researcher would find the effect to have a plus or a minus sign in front of it. When happy hour options are available, a key audience is single workers who want to socialize with co-workers in an environment low on drunks and other bar-type dangers. For some of these workers, if happy hour is unavailable the alternative will not be to forgo conviviality. It will be to go home, have dinner, and then head out to a bar afterward. Safer?

4 Ron Miller 12.04.13 at 2:39 pm

I have no idea. I’m not smart enough to assume all of the variables at play here without someone doing a quality study. You may well be right, happy hour could bizarrely save lives (although I do doubt it). I remember reading that the first Gulf War saved lives because there was no drinking and driving. Who would think a war would be safer for our troops? The law of unintended consequence is a beast.

I was trying to jump past all of that and say assuming a quality study said X deaths, what would X have to equal before you and your readers would say, “Okay, happy hour and the rights of businesses to do these kinds of things is just not worth the human suffering and death”?

5 MattS 12.04.13 at 5:22 pm


That’s 50 lives out of how many and how much would it cost to save them? At what point is the cost too high?

6 ras 12.04.13 at 6:43 pm

I’m so glad that it’s up to us to decide based on “quality” studies rather than the onus being on individuals to bear responsibility for their own choices. Cuz we just know better.

7 Tim Miller 12.04.13 at 9:17 pm

By Ron’s logic we should make cars in general illegal. Think of the lives saved!

8 MattS 12.04.13 at 11:55 pm


You are thinking far too small. All things that live die. Birth is the ultimate cause of all deaths. The most effective way to reduce deaths is to outlaw birth.

9 Jim Collins 12.05.13 at 1:28 pm

In order to figure any of this out, we would have to have some accurate information, instead of the hyper-inflated statistics put out by MADD and the NHTSA.

10 Ron Miller 12.05.13 at 2:34 pm

Tim I believe in having a police. I don’t believe in a Gestapo. I believe in taxes but not socialism. Point is: society draws a line somewhere. It is silly to suggest that everyone who thinks happy hour is not worth many deaths (which I did not actually say but do believe) must automatically believe that anything that causes death should be outlawed. This is silly talk.

Cars kill people. I don’t like that about cars. Hate it, actually. But cars do so many things to improve the human condition. Cars also save lives by creating a robust economy that allows us to have an economy that leaves money left over for cancer research, charity and a zillion other ways that lives and saved and the human condition here is improved.

Now compare the value of cars to the value of discounted drinks. I submit to you that not only do I believe that cars and discounted drinks have different social utility, everyone else in the world does too.

But I think it is fair to say that using my hypothetical that if happy hour killed 10,000 people a year, you would still support that wholeheartedly. It is a valid opinion if you want to push all of your chips to the center of the Pure Libertarian table. But I think few Americans would go this far.

11 Ron Miller 12.05.13 at 3:16 pm

Jim, we would need accurate information and I don’t think anyone on here pretends to have it (at least not yet, could be coming in a few comments).

12 En Passant 12.05.13 at 4:36 pm

To the discussion about statistically establishing whether happy hours increase automobile fatalities (or even automobile crashes), I’d just like to add one thing.

Any such inquiry should include more data than just the gross frequency of fatalities or crashes versus the presence of happy hours in the locale. The time of the crashes, and the time of the happy hours matters. That is, it is less plausible that happy hour drinking between 5PM and 7PM would cause a crash at midnight than a crash at 8PM.

So, a statistical study that accounts for the time of happy hours and the time of drunk driving crashes or fatalities would more plausibly establish or eliminate causation in the post hoc ergo propter hoc sense.

That said, I do not know what studies actually exist, or whether they account for those times, though I suspect that most only use gross frequencies of crashes versus presence of happy hours, as did the statistics mentioned in the cited news reports. I do know that automobile accident reports typically include the time of the crash as well as some indication of the involved drivers’ BAC, so the data should be readily available for anyone who undertakes a more refined study.

13 ras 12.05.13 at 4:41 pm

And once we get the “accurate information,” presumably from members of our Completely Objective Class, we can proceed to deprive the innocent rather than punish the guilty. Cuz we just know better.

14 Ron Miller 12.06.13 at 2:23 pm

RAS, so what is the point? Is it that no studies are valid because they are all biased? Or is it that all of the studies with which you disagree are complete rubbish?

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