Monday, December 22, 2008

Is this what socialism means?

My dictionary lists at least three definitions for the word socialism, none of which apply strictly to any system of government that I can find, but for the sake of argument, let’s use the first definition that comes up:

...a political theory or system in which the means of production and distribution are controlled by the people and operated according to equity and fairness rather than market principles.

The above definition of socialism seems a lot more benign than we make of the word. Maybe that’s why our heads of state have no problem bailing out the corporate world or handing out an agricultural subsidy, even if the money is ours and we haven’t authorized using it that way.

The New York State grape and wine industries have been the beneficiaries of a form of socialism since 1985. That was the year the New York Wine and Grape Foundation was formed to pump government, er, taxpayer money into research and promotion connected to the two industries.

Originally, the Foundation was to get started with New York State money; then, the government payments were to be incrementally reduced over a few years while industry money was to supplant it, until no more government money was necessary.

Today, the Foundation faces the hard reality that you can’t count on the government forever.

As almost every governor will be forced to do in their coming budgets, New York State’s Governor Paterson is forced to shove economic realities down our throats with a budget proposal that cuts programs and raises taxes and fees.

One of the cuts in New York is the money for the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. In his weekly e-newsletter, the Foundation’s President, Jim Trezise, alluded to the possibility that it might be the last correspondence from him and that 2009 might present us with the end of the organization.

I find it truly sad that after 24 years the Foundation still relies on state money that was supposed to have been cut off decades ago; how difficult it is to break a socialistic addiction. The situation seems to me like a combined indictment of the wine and grape industries, the state, and the Foundation.

The wine and grape industries should have long ago tried to become self-sustaining through a marketing order formula that would have made research and promotion industry-funded.

New York State is at fault for not forcing the industries to become self-reliant.

The Foundation should not have relied on New York State money as something perpetual but instead should have found ways to persuade the industries to create that marketing order.

Of course, the same problem that is causing government money to dry up has also created financial disarray in an industry that relies largely on tourism, which in this downturn is down. The grape and wine industries aren’t likely to be in a position to take up the slack. But then, maybe it takes something like this disaster to galvanize an industry, and maybe an industry-based solution will emerge.

Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the New York grape and wine industries are about to discover how people feel when their welfare checks stop arriving or their unemployment insurance runs out. That's the down side of semi-socialism.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2008. All rights reserved.


  1. Couldn't agree more than the NYWGF (and many of its member wineries) should have made moves toward self-sufficient operations years ago.

    This is a wake up call. And I think it also shows that some government officials are a bit underwhelmed with the return they are getting on that NYWGF funding.

  2. Lenn,

    Where I live, Republicans outnumber Democrats probably by 100 to 1. Of course, the former see all those entitlement programs as giveaways, but the farmers among them don't view agricultural subsidies as the same thing.

    I love the incongruity of human thought patterns.

    In any event, this was bound to happen sooner or later. It is amazing to me how long NY State kept up with the payments.

  3. I believe it was Reagan that said "the closet thing to eternal life on Earth is a government program."

    No matter one's political thoughts on the role of government, I think it is a universal truth that open funding is addicting and hardly warrants independence or ingenuity. Of course the NYWGF should have expected that money would dry up eventually since the agency wasn't providing some sort of basic social service but professional wine fluff! I'm sure it was much easier to count on the state's aid than plan for the future, and therin lies the problem: the legislature enables countless numbers of programs across the state to spend more but never gives them an incentive to break themselves free. After decades of this madness we have finally run out of money.

    My general feeling when an organization is truly called to task (not that it happens enough) is to ask whether or not this organization could survive without its single largesse. In this case, I say it could not, and therefore the organization is not really cutting edge, adaptive, transformative, what-have-you. Therefore, does the NYWGF represent the future? The budget crunch hastens the conclusion that it does not.

  4. Jason,

    Reagan said that?

    A speechwriter, more likely...

  5. One of my roommates had an anthology of Reagan's private letters and I glanced at it once and was both surprised and impressed with his abilities with the pen.

    That being said, I'm sure he employed some very good speech writers. Writers have to make a living somehow!

    I've always liked the quote because it put into perspective many of my frustrations as I was studying for my master's in public administration. It always seemed like we came up with solutions but no real answers...

  6. Jason,

    If I gave my full opinion of the workings of government I might get myself on someone's wiretapping list.

    Suffice to say that the idea of wasteful government may have been the only common ground between my take on the world and Reagan's. I mean, this same guy said that ketchup is a vegetable ;)

  7. If ketchup is a vegetable, wine is a fruit!

    Which means I definitely should have seven servings a day...

  8. Actually, considering the main ingredient in ketchup is tomato, then it and wine are fruits--that would make fourteen servings a day.

    I've got to catchup!!!