The Price of Liquor is Too Damn High: Alcohol Taxation and Market Structure
Rao, Nirupama S. (with Chris Conlon)
We study the relative benefits of taxation versus market structure regulations for distilled spirits. One popular regulation, called post and hold, helps wholesalers set collusive prices as the competitive equilibrium of a single period game. Assembling new datasets of wholesale and retail prices, and sales, we show PH leads to average wholesale markups of 30-40%, with higher markups on expensive products. Taxes distort relative prices less than PH. We show Connecticut could increase tax revenue by 350% and improve consumer welfare while holding alcohol consumption fixed. However, we also show our counterfactual policy may be slightly regressive compared to PH.