State hopes you'll drink and gamble more

Gov. Tom Corbett wants you to gamble and drink, just a little more, until it helps - the state treasury.

More Jobs! More Money! say the people backing Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett's plans to turn the Pennsylvania Lottery and the State Store liquor sale system over to private operators.

His lottery plan can only add jobs and revenues if private managers convince Pennsylvanians to bet more, through new games like keno in new locations like bars and restaurants, as I noted in this Jan. 21 Philadelphia Inquirer column.

As the pro-privatization Commonwealth Foundation notes in this report yesterday (we published a version in the Inquirer here), State Store opponents tell us that "ending the state-run monopoly will create thousands of additional jobs across the state and unleash millions of dollars in new business investment. The plan allows beer distributors to expand their already safe and reliable businesses, creates hundreds of new wine and liquor outlets, and enables grocery stores to expand to sell wine and beer to meet the needs of consumers."

Got it? We will put more people to work if we unleash market forces to successfully persuade us to drink and gamble more. (Gov. Rendell believed much the same, in regard to gambling and toll highways, at least.)

Once upon a time, Republicans were the temperance- and moderation- and clean-morals party. The fact the party has dropped all that, at least in Pa., reflects the modern irrelevance of the fervent Protestantism that helped sustain the old GOP.

By contrast, Catholics and Jews -- who leaned Democratic -- tended to be drinkers -- they use wine in religious services, for goodness sake -- and Catholics weren't afraid of betting in the name a good cause -- or for an alcoholic reward, like in those parish-carnival "games of chance" for "baskets of cheer."

But now the Democrats are the party that wants to keep vices under control of the state (and its unionized employees with healthcare and benefits), and Republicans want to turn the consumer economy to work promoting gambling, alcohol, and thus, they tell us, the common good.

Commonwealth's Nate Benefield objected to my characterizations on Twitter yesterday. He noted, accurately, that the state-run lottery and liquor stores already encourage people to drink and gamble. And he asked: do I have any moral objections to allowing Pennsylvanians to drink and gamble?

Drinking's all right, in moderation. But how many Pennsylvanians do you know who need to drink more than they already do?

My objections to gambling are mathematical: the house always gets a cut; only losers bet.

What other vices are still waiting for state-sanctioned private exploitation? Dope? Prostitution?

But I'll save today's moral objections for the political climate in Pennsylvania, where governors like Corbett and Rendell, unable or unwilling to convince wealthy citizens to help pay for public services, or to cut more special-interest subsidies, are reduced to promoting increased gambling and drinking as the best way forward, both for the state treasury, and private-sector employment. And yet, despite all the new casino and gas jobs, Pennsylvania employment continues to trail the nation.