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.

3 Responses to “Is this what socialism means?”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Nice post, I couldn’t agree more. One of the problems with government intervention is that it skews and distorts incentives while crowding out private capital. The Foundation had no incentive to become self sustaining, or, to seek alternative funding sources, while it was feeding at the public trough ad infinitum. Perhaps through some creative destruction this organization–and others facing a similar fate–can come back in a more sustainable and viable form.


  2. Thomas says:

    I do hope that the ashes can create a phoenix, and not one that relies on the government.

    Of course, the budget is just a proposed one–anything can happen between now and when the NY legislature is once again late making a budget decision.

    Never underestimate the power of lobbying.