I think free markets are great. So you might think I would agree with Governor Corbett’s plan to privatize the sale of wine and liquor stores in Pennsylvania. In an ideal world, where markets are organized fairly, I might. But we don’t live in an ideal world. I oppose Corbett’s plan for six reasons.
The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.
I’m a progressive, but I think free markets are great. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a small business and understand how the market encourages businesspeople to be creative and innovative. Maybe it’s because I know that economies fail when they replace capital markets with planning. Maybe it’s because I’ve studied Hayek on the right who showed that decentralized markets transmit information that can’t be obtained in other ways — and Horvat and others on the left who agree with him.
So you might think I would agree with Governor Corbett’s plan to privatize the sale of wine and liquor in Pennsylvania. And, in an ideal world, where markets are organized fairly, I might.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. And in the world of Pennsylvania politics, I oppose Corbett’s plan for six reasons.
First, in an ideal world we could count on government regulation of private liquor stores to control the sale of alcohol. That’s important, because alcohol abuse remains a major public health hazard.
But in the real world, regulation fails when it is carried out by those who hate government. And academic studies show that states that control the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower levels of problem drinking, drunk driving, and the violence and death that go along with them.
Second, in an ideal world, the workforce in privately owned liquor stores would be able to form a union simply by securing the support of a majority of workers.
But in the real world, laws created and implemented by Republicans have made union organization in the private sector almost impossible. So I stand with currently unionized employees of the state stores.
Third, in an ideal world, businesses, including those that sell alcohol, would be taxed at reasonable rates, wouldn’t get to keep 1 percent of the sales tax to cover costs of collection they no longer have, and would pay all the taxes the owe.
In the real world, because we don’t have to worry about those problems, the wine and spirits stores generate more revenues for education, health care and other public needs than private stores would.
Fourth, in an ideal world, our governor and general assembly would be working to increase wages for working people and the middle class.
But in the real world, the Republicans are attacking public sector workers and privatizing public services mainly to drive wages in the private sector down. So I stand against a proposal that is likely to make income even more unequal in our state.
Fifth, in an ideal world, the state would protect worker from discrimination by private businesses, including new private liquor stores.
But in the real world, LGBTQ workers are only protected from discrimination by organized labor.
Sixth, in an ideal world, elections and public policy would be determined by the number of people on each side not by campaign contributions given by each side.
In the real world, state government too often does the bidding of the corporate elite who fund their campaigns. That’s why I’m standing with the UFCW who not only represent the workers at the wine and spirits stores but have been at the forefront of every progressive advocacy campaign for two generations — for increasing the minimum wage, for health care reform, for transit funding and on and on.
I know people who have liberal instincts but also have a finely developed taste for good wine and the means to buy it. Some are frustrated by our state stores. Here’s what they need to keep in mind: We can buy good wine less expensively here than elsewhere because of the immense purchasing power of the Liquor Control Board.
Partly because of the initiative of the UFCW, the wine and spirits shops are much better than they were just a few years ago. They can be even better.
Many of you would also like to see marijuana legalized. That we have a system in place for the controlled sale of pot makes that likely to happen sooner rather than later.
And, finally, I would just say that, as important as it is to have the right wine for our meal, food goes down even better with justice than with wine.
Marc Stier is a writer and activist from Mt. Airy.