One Markup to Rule Them All: Taxation by Liquor Pricing Regulation
57 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2017 Last revised: 2 Jun 2022
Date Written: December 2017
Government often chooses simple rules to regulate industry even when firms and consumers are heterogeneous. We evaluate the implications of this practice in the context of alcohol pricing where the regulator uses a single markup rule that does not vary across products. We estimate an equilibrium model of wholesale pricing and retail demand for horizontally differentiated spirits that allows for heterogeneity in consumer preferences based on observable demographics. We show that the single markup increases market power among upstream firms, particularly small firms whose portfolios are better positioned to take advantage of the policy. For consumers, the single markup acts as a progressive tax by overpricing products favored by the rich. It also decreases aggregate consumer welfare though 16.7% of consumers are better off under the policy. These consumers tend to be older, less wealthy or educated, and minorities. Simple policies therefore generate significant cross-subsidies and may be an effective tool for government to garner favor of key constituencies.
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