BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: Paternalism, classism and prohibitionism in Family Dollar’s neighborhood.


Consider this item from the Big Apple in 2012. The topic is soda, not beverage alcohol — and from a time when hard seltzer was only a glimmer in a cynical marketer’s eye.

The Classist Side of Mayor Bloomberg’s War on Soda, by Jen Doll (The Atlantic)

Those who’ve lived in New York City for a while remember fondly a time when not much of anything was banned at all. But there’s an even darker side to bans. They widen the divide between the rich, who can find a way around them, and the poor, who perhaps cannot.

 … there’s an even darker side to bans. They have a socio-economic impact, by which I mean, some people are more affected by bans than others. Bans widen the divide between the rich, who can find a way around them, and the poor, who perhaps cannot. And while Bloomberg’s tactics are obviously part of what people dub a “nanny state” ideology, in which he’s telling us what to do, he’s telling some people what to do more than others. Rich people, among whom one is billionaire Bloomberg himself, are not going to be impacted by a soda ban the same way poor New Yorkers are—if the wealthy prefer huge bottles of soda, they’ll have no trouble continuing to find them. And the problem that Bloomberg’s trying to “fix”—obesity—is, according to the stats and research, a “poor” problem, not a rich one. This makes Bloomberg’s move seem ever the more paternalistic. A class of people whom he’s judged unable to make the proper decision for themselves is now being told what to do, by someone who knows better.

I mention this because of a local episode three weeks ago, and the obvious symmetry with the notion of top-down classism.

GREEN MOUSE SAYS: Neo-prohibitionism, foppery and hypocrisy at Indiana Landmarks as Family Dollar on Vincennes gets a perfectly legal alcohol sales permit.

I’m no fan of Family Dollar, but in terms of alcohol sales permits, what exactly has the company done wrong? If the store is located too close to the school, the local ATC board would not receive a recommendation to approve it. If the store elects to sell to minors, you can rest assured the ATC will intervene, as it does elsewhere. There are very few state institutions that perform their functions as capably as the ATC, trust me.

What sort of upper crust prohibitionist’s rationale is being advanced here?

It is my understanding that some form of appeal is being pursued by the group contesting Family Dollar’s alcohol permit, all of whom are of a socio-economic status suggesting they’d not set foot in such a store whether or not booze was available.

At one point in a Facebook conversation that I can’t quote exactly because subsequently I was blocked from it, a friend of one of the complainants began discoursing about the need for historic preservationists to intervene in situations where low-income people don’t know how to manage their own discretionary income.

Really, Fred?

If I’m exaggerating, it’s inadvertent, such was the blatancy of the paternalism on display. All in all, the topic is a trip wire for me, as I’m compelled to remind all and sundry that classism of this nature was a key component of America’s disastrous Prohibition experiment, and as the Family Dollar situation sadly illustrates, it remains so today as a tool in the arsenal of those do-gooders who maintain one standard for low-income residents and another for the better heeled.

Returning to Doll’s soda commentary …

 … none of these bans really serve to get to the point, anyway. If we’re to talk of equity, we should also ask why healthy, particularly organic, fresh food costs more than packaged, processed food, why lean turkey or chicken is priced higher than the bad, fatty cuts, or why in some cases the cost of milk is greater than the cost of soda. It seems that a better way to promote health to all would by making it easier for everyone to get healthy, good food—not by “outlawing” the bad stuff, or soda, which beverage industry folks say isn’t the cause of the problem in the first place, citing reports that say sugared drink consumption has decreased while our obesity issues keep increasing.

In the Family Dollar debate, which ended when I was censored by the leading elements, one point I kept making was that if the alcohol license in question were being acquired by an investor prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save an old building and serve $15 martinis, there’d be no objection whatever.

In fact, the Indiana Landmarks organization supports such outcomes — and if enough of these outcomes occur in a concentrated vicinity (for instance, downtown New Albany) gentrification will have taken place, at which point the low income people will be displaced from now-unaffordable housing and compelled to commute from a greater distance to work the same lesser-skilled jobs at the new food and drink businesses.

Here’s a definition of classism.

Sociologists have spent a great deal of time studying how populations become stratified by income level. Classism is defined as a set of practices and beliefs which disadvantage groups based on education and socioeconomic status. Classism is the ability of upper income and/or well-educated populations to maintain their privilege at the expense of less educated, lower socioeconomic groups.”

And apparently because we need reminding, here’s a very good account of Prohibition’s tyranny.

Prohibition Was America’s First War on Drugs, by Kim Kelly (Teen Vogue)

Now that the year 2020 is officially in full swing, nostalgia for the Roaring Twenties has come Lindy Hopping back into view. The 1920s were a decade still fondly remembered in the U.S. imagination for shorter skirts, high spirits, and hot jazz licks, but it wasn’t all flappers and ragtime. The decade was also rife with poisonous bathtub gin, murderous Mafia dons, and the merciless rat-a-tat of tommy guns, as well as myriad political and cultural struggles simmering beneath the surface. A dark current of crime, violence, and government malfeasance underpinned the era, much of which can be traced directly back to one immensely influential federal gamble: the 18th Amendment, which outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages within the U.S.

The subsequent passage of the National Prohibition Act (nicknamed the Volstead Act after its biggest cheerleader, House Judiciary Committee chairman Andrew Volstead) provided a means to enforce the amendment’s decree. It was the product of xenophobia, racism, classism, and heavy-handed religious moralizing, and had a disproportionate impact on poor and working-class communities. In essence, Prohibition was America’s first drug war — and predictably, once it became the law of the land in 1920, all hell broke loose.