The Dictatorship of the Distributariat
Those who have studied social systems or those who are simply keenly aware of the way the world has worked over the past century or so understand that much evil and degradation of humanity has occurred when relatively small, elite groups are given power over the way a society will work. Under the Soviet “Marxist-Leninism” system for example, the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” was the name given to Communist Party that dictated how the society would be organized and who would benefit most. In societies and groups where the individual simply strives to live the best life they can imagine, this small, elite dictatorship made achieving that goal pretty difficult.
Today, many are arguing that multi-national corporations are play the same role, just on a grander scale and with somewhat less of a stranglehold on the day to day lives of individuals.
What’s interesting to note is how the three-tier system of wine distribution is a very similar system to the old Soviet style social system, just applied to a subset of the broader society of the United States.
Think of the state-mandated three tier system of alcohol distribution (producers of wine selling to distributors who sell to retailers/restaurants who sell to the ultimate user) as the equivilent of the social system known as Soviet Communism. The absolute necessity of each tier relating to each other tier and to the consumer in a very specific way is the structure of the Wine Lover Society just as the common ownership of the means of production by all the people who then relate to the ruling dictatorship (the communist party/Dictatorship of the Proletariat) in very specific ways was the structure of the Soviet system.
Now, think of the distributor/wholesaler tier as the Communist Party. We’ll call their near absolute control of who may sell what and drink what the “Dictatorship of the Distributariat.” Just as the Communist Party in the USSR determined exactly who would prosper, who would not, how commercial and interpersonal relationships would develop and how the individual would be allowed to pursue the best life they can imagine, the distributor/wholesalers in each state dictate exactly how the wine lover will pursue their goal of enjoying wine.
It is heartening, and ultimately a good sign for wine lovers, that the Dictatorship of the Distributariat is being challenged and starting to crack. In fact, it’s looking a lot like wineries, retailers and consumers are just about ready to get out their sledgehammers and start pounding on the anti-consumer wall the distributors have erected.
Technology has been the instigator in the revolution that will eventually lead to wine lovers’ unfettered access to all wine and to the dismantling of the state-mandated three tier system. Once the individual could easily learn about and find the location of just about any wine in the world it was only a matter of time before they started demanding they be able to get their hands on it. Down the road the Internet will be able to claim responsibility for one more victim in its unrelenting destruction of various foundations for economic activity. Real Estate, travel, book selling, entertainment distribution, and, eventually, wine distribution will all have been reformed by the power of the Internet to fundamentally alter economic relationships between people.
What makes the wine industry so unique among this list is that unlike all the other industries mentioned, the wine industry has had the form of its distribution system mandated by the state. While I suspect the old distributors in the travel, book and entertainment industries got quite wealthy just like the wine distributors have, I don’t think they actually had their wealth generation capability protected by state mandate.
This makes the coming demise of the Dictatorship of the Distributariat all the more satisfying.
When you consider how you might set up a society, or a society within a society, experience tells us that one fundamental aspect of human behavior must not be violated if you want to achieve any degree of harmony: People want the opportunity to express themselves and their belief as to what make’s life worth living. Looking back at the variety of social systems it’s clear that this priority has all too often been stymied. Too often it is stymied by a corruption of the system.
Soviet Communism clearly discounted basic human motivations. Slave economies did the same, to say the least. Feudalism was found wanting in this area when compared to the benefits of mercantilism and capitalism. And perhaps capitalism will one day be found wanting even as it too is corrupted either by people or technology or some other phenomena.
But to the list of ideas and system that we can now say with some assurance that they are bankrupt in their ability to support human aspirations, we can add the Dictatorship of the Distributariat—the state-mandated three tier system for wine distribution.
This is not to say that the 3-tier system will EVER go away, just the STATE-MANDATED form. It is simply impractical to imagine all wineries selling and delivering themselves to retailers and restaurants in states across the country.