How Wine Lovers Need To Understand the Foie Gras Ban

Foie grasI suspect that to many readers of this blog, the now instituted California ban on Foie Gras seems pretty stupid; perhaps even unintelligible. But there's a nice, easy way to understand how California could pass this kind of law: No one eats and no one makes Foie Gras, making the economic impact of banning the delicacy non-existent, which in turn makes the political fall out of supporting such a ban non-existent.

There is another way of putting this: with no economic numbers fortifying the pro-Foie Gras position, it becomes politically simple to support the far larger numbers of folks who seek rights and protections for animals. It's a politico-economic calculation that pencils out pretty simply for politicians.

Another example of how this calculation works is at play in the world of wine shipping.

Today, very few states actually ban direct to consumer shipping of wine from wineries to consumers (retail to consumer shipping is another story). But if you look at those states that still do ban out-of-state winery shipments to consumers, you find that those states have among the lowest per capita consumption of wine in America.

Ranked in the bottom ten for per capita consumption of wine in the United States are South Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, Utah and Kentucky. All these states ban direct shipping from wineries. It's not a coincidence. There is no politico-economic imperative in these states for direct to consumer shipping since relatively few people drink wine in these states just as very few people in California eat fois gras, let alone produce it. Put another way, there are no votes and no campaign contributions in it for politicians that might support consumer wine shipments in these states.

Because there are so few drinkers of wine in these states, there is little in the way of political fallout for continuing to support a ban on direct shipping, particularly when compared to the much larger number of people in these state quite concerned about the moral and social problems they see associated with drinking alcohol and who are willing to get very upset at any policy supporting consumption of alcohol.

There is a moral and ethical dimension to politics. However, principles are a very small part of the most powerful aspect of politics: numbers. Where politics are concerned, we count. We count votes. We count electoral votes. We poll. We count dollars. The politician that doesn't calculate the practical impact of supporting or not supporting a particular policy isn't a politician for long. The examination of the moral and ethical issues surrounding a decision are far less important.

Calculate the numbers behind a Foie Gras ban in California and supporting the ban was a no brainer for smart politicians.

For those interested in the politics of wine and alcohol, this simple principle of counting is important to keep in mind. If you are interested in changing laws concerning wine shipping, BYOB laws, Sunday sales laws, state control laws, or any other law concerning wine, think like a politician and start counting. Don't ask "what is right" or "what is principled". That's a rabbit hole. It's about the numbers.


2 Responses

  1. Andrea - July 2, 2012

    Excellent post, Tom. Isn’t it always “about the numbers”?

  2. Tom - July 5, 2012

    Nicely done. But even in DC, with huge volume per capita, stores that sell booze still can’t open on Sundays. That definitely doesn’t represent the will of the public.

Leave a Reply