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The Gulag Prisoners of Pennsylvania

Posted on Jan 18, 2011
Flickr / Brandi Sims (CC-BY)

In a recent story titled “A Push to Privatize Pennsylvania Liquor Stores,” New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye described a state-owned liquor store in Forest City, Pa., that ran out of eggnog before Christmas and concluded that customers of these stores are “like prisoners in the gulag” who “can only fantasize about buying their wine and liquor in a competitive free market.” Prisoners in a gulag? According to the Census Bureau, Forest City has 1,708 residents. How many towns with 1,708 residents have a liquor store at all, let alone one that stocks eggnog? Why choose a tiny place with a store that is open only three days a week to represent the issues concerning the privatization of liquor sales in Pennsylvania? Is this reporting or editorializing?

Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of “Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal” (The New Press, 2010).

—Posted by Moshe Adler.

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By markpkessinger, January 20, 2011 at 6:13 am Link to this comment

I am solidly progressive in my views, but as one who grew up in central Pennsylvania (Clinton County), where there was only one liquor store within 30 miles, and who now lives in New York, I have to say that I can see no compelling reason why liquor sales should have ever been a state-run business to begin with.  I have lived in New York for 28 years, where, with privately owned and operated liquor stores, we enjoy a much wider selection of wines and liquors than PA’s state stores provide.  I have a hard time seeing PLCB and the whole state store system as anything other than a boondoggle for political patronage.

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By berniem, January 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm Link to this comment

Pa’s. dirty little secret RE: privatizing the liquor stores is the reality of another attempt at union busting and the destruction of decent paying jobs with benefits! Of course Pa’s. over-sized and over-compensated full-time legislature with all of it’s perks and incumbency protections just loves to put up such straw men to focus public outrage on working middle class people making a living wage rather than on themselves for allowing the overall standard of living in the state to steadily decline. Obviously, their answer to the financial woes of the “commonwealth” is to drag all labor down to a lowest common denominator rather than tryig to raise everyone up the higher level. One is struck by the silence coming from Harrisburg regarding previously raised issues about reducing the size of the legislature and retrenching all of their perks. Oh, and back to the state store privatization scam, the state only wants to divest itself of the public sector employees and the cost of renting storefronts while still maintaining it’s death-grip on the wholesale and distribution end of the business; thus anyone entertaining getting into the liquor biz in Pa. will have to work around the vagaries of the Liquor Board’s arbitrary revenue hungry pricing decisions since individual store owners won’t be able to negotiate with outside producers or distributors!

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By Potent Placebo, January 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And just to think, I’ve waited years for Truthdig to do a piece on the availability of eggnog in Pennsylvania and now here it is.

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By J. L. Roulston, January 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I saw the original article written by Seelye and was once again astounded at the NYTimes complicity to promote privatization for corporate profit. I had the same thoughts that indeed Forest City would not be a profitable venue for a liquor store. If Seelye was so concerned about eggnog why did she not investigate the availability of eggnog in other towns that size without state run liquor stores? Seelye’s remarks about gulag and free market are absurd. I live in small PA town yet have over 10 state liquor stores within 20 minutes of my residence! I can go online to the Liquor Control Board website, type in the item that I want and it tells me where it is available. I can call the store and they will hold it for me. If what I want is not available it can be ordered. As far as free market, how about letting us buy our prescription drugs or liquor from Canada or Mexico? Once again the NYTimes is promoting corporate interests.

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By DaEggman, January 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment
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Once again, the “free marketeers” try to stamp their unholy mark on another gov’t agency. Having lived in PA, booze is much cheaper there than in the surrounding states because they can buy in volume. They may not have every beer made in the world, because each brand has to pay a labelling fee, but the payback to the producers is in the volume sold to the stores. There is no private liquor store that can even come close to matching the buying power of the state. And last I looked, the eggnog part is sold by the private grocery store and the rum is sold by the state liquor store…maybe they ran out of rum..highly unlikely as there are many brands available to PA stores incl. Baccardi, Myers, etc. If you need to have your eggnog ready made with alcohol, then you are either incredibly lazy or just plain pathetic…I’m sure Martha or Rachel could hit you up with a recipie or 2 around the holidays (or maybe satellite TV doesn’t get those channels.)

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By David D, January 19, 2011 at 9:57 am Link to this comment
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so it is too much trouble to drive 2 miles down 171 to Carbondale or 3 miles to Peckville? This is editorializing in the guise of reporting, a form of propaganda. Forest city is hardly a major metropolitan center; city is a misnomer, it hardly qualifies as a town: more like a village or hamlet.

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