MacIver News Service | Black Friday, 2018

By Chris Rochester

TOWN OF LIBERTY, Wis. – Black Friday is almost upon us again, and in Wisconsin that means only one thing: an epic crime wave is about to consume the state. 

Every year, the MacIver Institute conducts exhaustive research into Black Friday prices offered by retailers throughout Wisconsin. This year’s meticulous, painstaking examination came to the inescapable conclusion that, once again, a crime wave of illegally low prices will sweep the state starting Thanksgiving night thanks to Wisconsin’s antiquated minimum markup law.

The “crime” is when retailers violate the law by offering deep discounts on merchandise.

Formally known as the Unfair Sales Act, the minimum markup law was enacted during the Great Depression. The law requires alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel to be marked up 3 percent at the wholesale level and 6 percent at the retail level for alcohol and tobacco, and 9.18 percent at the retail level for motor fuel. It also forbids retailers from selling most other products below cost.

Across the state, retailers like Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, and countless others are preparing to offer deals so good, they must be illegal under the minimum markup law.

The MacIver Institute warns consumers not to take the bait.

Healy vows to make this happen if the Legislature finally does something about the antiquated, anti-consumer minimum markup law.

“I saw a trampoline at Walmart for $199—normally $449,” observed Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute. “At first I was excited because trampolines are just a lot of fun. But then I saw a Samsung TV for $327, a kayak for $185, and a perm machine for only $83—normally $150!—and I thought, something’s not right.”

“We at MacIver are urging consumers not to fall for these illegally low prices,” Healy warned. “As much as I wanted that perm machine, I just couldn’t be an accessory to a low-price crime,” he said.

Formally known as the Unfair Sales Act, the minimum markup law was enacted in the Great Depression – a time when Amazon was just a river in Brazil. It is the crown jewel of outdated, protectionist, anti-free market policies.

“In all seriousness—I will perm my hair if the legislature finally does something about this terrible, anti-consumer law,” Healy said. 

Many of the discounts retailers are offering on Black Friday likely run afoul of the Unfair Sales Act, but the law is only selectively enforced. It’s ridiculous to have such a law on the books, yet lawmakers continue to pass on opportunities to repeal it.

MacIver’s Matt Kittle, left, and Bill Osmulski, right, enjoy a trampoline bought at full price – after all, discounts can be illegal here in Wisconsin.

While Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Jim Ott have repeatedly introduced legislation to repeal the minimum markup law, those efforts have been stymied. A compromise bill reforming portions of the anti-consumer law finally got a hearing earlier this year, but went no further.

Another minimum markup critic and free market warrior is Rep. Dale Kooyenga, who was just elected to the state Senate. He compared the law to a tax—but one that only pads the bottom lines of preferred businesses.

For Kooyenga, fighting for free market principles is a matter of intellectual consistency. “…I think we need to be consistent Republicans and say we need to fight for free markets because it’s the right thing to do…And we’ll see more economic growth if we embrace these (free market) policies.”

In the meantime, the minimum markup law remains on the books in Wisconsin. So on Black Friday, consumers beware—don’t be fooled by illegally low prices. Stay vigilant and insist on paying full price – it’s the law in Wisconsin.

Chris RochesterChris Rochester is the Communications Director for the MacIver Institute. This story appears courtesy of the MacIver Institute.