Jonah Lehrer on voter ignorance

Lynne Kiesling

It shouldn’t surprise you to find, given my recent working paper on Adam Smith, sympathy, and mirror neurons that I am an avid reader of neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer. His post today riffs off of President Obama’s birth certificate to muse on voter ignorance. In discussing some research on the subject, he observes

Why does more education lead to less accurate beliefs? The answer returns us to the difference between rational voters (what we think we are) and rationalizing voters (what we really are). It turns out that the human mind is a marvelous information filter, adept at blocking out those facts that contradict what we’d like to believe.

It sounds like he and Bryan Caplan should have a little blog exchange on neuroscience’s implications for the results of Bryan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter. It also sounds like yet another reason why we should strive to make as few important decisions as possible through political means.

Where I am not shopping for alcohol in Lubbock, Texas

Michael Giberson

From the Pinkies website:

Tom “Pinkie” Roden established Pinkie’s back in 1934, less than one year after the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified (by an extraordinary 73%), ending 14 years of prohibition.

Carrying on the work that Pinkie started back in 1934, we have grown into a chain of fifteen wine and spirits retail stores with locations throughout West Texas.

Ironically, Pinkies Inc. is now taking action with the effect of extending the consequences of prohibition for just a little longer in Lubbock County, Texas. Joining them in that effort is Majestic Liquor Stores, Inc.

You know what? I think I’ll start shopping somewhere else.

(A complete list of Pinkies and Majestic stores is included below, after a brief retelling of the local “Bootleggers and Baptists” episode.)

After prohibition, Lubbock didn’t rush right back into alcohol sales. In fact, it wasn’t until 1960 that a small precinct outside of the city voted to allow package sales of alcohol. The precinct became affectionately known as “The Strip” by generations of students and other imbibing residents. In 1972, a city election permitted alcohol sales by the drink in restaurants.  A few surrounding towns have loosened restrictions a little bit.  But for the main population in the city of Lubbock, not much has changed; the status quo has been held together by a classic “Bootleggers and Baptists” coalition.*

Until now. The most recent election, held May 9, finally opened up alcohol sales throughout the county (subject to county ordinance, state law, and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations, of course).  But the “bootleggers” haven’t given up yet.

The Strip gives all the appearances of being a competitive hub of activity, with 6 or 7 different businesses side-by-side. Bright flashing lights, separate ads in the local newspaper. Actually, just the two companies own all of the stores on The Strip – Pinkies Inc. of Odessa, Texas, and Majestic Liquor Stores Inc. from Fort Worth.  Not surprisingly, package beer, wine, and liquor prices are higher in Lubbock Texas than they are in the high income suburbs of Washington, DC, where I used to live.

A few days before the election, the two companies joined together to file a lawsuit against the city of Lubbock claiming an ordinance to govern alcohol sales in the city violated state laws and regulations. More details, and a picture or two from The Strip, are in this local TV news report.

It may be the case that the existing ordinance requires changes to conform to state law. I’m not a lawyer. The companies may be sincere in their desire to ensure proper local rules are put in place. But the timing of the lawsuit, their efforts to secure a restraining order to delay any local licensing activity until the lawsuit is resolved (estimates of the first new licenses have gone from “6-8 weeks” to “six months or more”) – I’m convinced this is primarily abuse of the legal process to maintain their near-duopoly status in the county for a few months more.

It just feels like anti-consumer activity to me, and so I’m turning myself into a former customer of Pinkie’s and Majestic stores.

Here is the list of the stores, some on the Strip and some tucked into a few of corners of the county where alcohol sales have been permitted lately, where I won’t be shopping:

  • AUSTIN’S KORNER (PINKIE’S INC., HWY 87)
  • AUSTIN’S KWIK KORNER (PINKIE’S INC., HWY 87)
  • CROSSED KEYS (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 87)
  • CROSSED KEYS BEER & WINE (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 87)
  • DOC’S BEER AND WINE STORE (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 87)
  • DOC’S BEER AND WINE STORE #2 (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 62 AND 82 EAST)
  • DOC’S LIQUOR STORE (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 87)
  • DOUBLE T DISCOUNT (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., FM 1585)
  • DOUBLE T DISCOUNT #2 (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., CRD 7200 EAST)
  • DOUBLE T DISCOUNT #2 BEER STORE (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., CRD 7200 EAST)
  • DOUBLE T DISCOUNT BEER & WINE (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., FM 1585)
  • MINI-MART #1 (PINKIE’S INC., FM 1729)
  • MINI-MART #2 (PINKIE’S INC., HWY 87)
  • PINKIE’S CANYON STORE (PINKIE’S INC., FM 1729)
  • PINKIE’S LAKE STORE (PINKIE’S INC., FM 835 EAST)
  • PINKIE’S SLATON STORE (PINKIE’S INC., FM 835 EAST)
  • PINKIE’S TAHOKA STORE (PINKIE’S INC., HWY 87)
  • RAIDERLAND DISCOUNT WAREHOUSE (PINKIE’S INC., CRD 7200 EAST)
  • THE CELLAR (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 87)
  • THE CELLAR BEER BARN (MAJESTIC LIQUOR STORES INC., HWY 87)

*“Bootleggers and Baptists” is a nickname for a theory explaining certain “strange bedfellow” coalitions in support of social regulation, first articulated under that name by Bruce Yandle. As Yandle explains, “The theory’s name draws on colorful tales of states’ efforts to regulate alcoholic beverages by banning Sunday sales at legal outlets. Baptists fervently endorsed such actions on moral grounds. Bootleggers tolerated the actions gleefully because their effect was to limit competition.”

To be clear, in the above by “Baptists” I don’t mean to assert that only, or even predominantly, Baptist churches were involved in the political campaign, and by “bootleggers” I don’t intend to suggest that either of the two companies are involved in any illegal alcohol sales.

The list of stores is derived from information available at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission website, here.

OCTOBER UPDATE: Finally, in late September 2009, the state began issuing licenses to retailers in the city and so it is even easier for me not to shop at the two companies that dominate the Strip.