Monday, August 19, 2013

State Monopolised Wine Sales and a Guide to a Happy Country

Rather a greater contradiction and a kind of great white hope for we, the people,  and falling monolyth for all the free marketer fascistae: What does Norway have in common with  the states of Pensylvania and Maine?  Well they all have state controlled liquor sales and in particular they have now or in the past run a monopoly of supply to the public of wine and spirits.

This of course came from the previous non right aligned Christian Temperance movement, resulting in the counter productive disasters of prohibition. Ironic as the Christian Conservative movement has aligned with the devil of Capital and raping the planet in return for political power, that its ideological birthchild , state controlled and thereby limited sales of stronger drink is a shining light for future democratic socialism.

The massive, massive tory PR machine has been convincing us all since the 1980s that private is best and competition naturally leads to the fittest surviving and providing a better solution. What has the UK to show for it? Sky high energy profits and prices and an NHS which is being torn up by propaganda and meaningless reorganisation and trimming privatisation around the edges.

 In fact of course there lies a terrible truth for socialism too: the costs of unionised, cosey public service exacerbates inflation because of counter inflation wage demands and the perceived desire ever better conditions. Even Norway, switzerland and Canada can't afford the NHS in future given the ageing population, internal inflation and the inflationary pressures of the techno-doctors egos and patient lobby groups demanding million dollar cures.

Aside from that though, the counter arguement is what has happened with everything privatised from busses to electricity: the price has gone steadily up way in advance of inflation, while profits and dividends have also gone up. Also in several areas of public sector private provision, there is a virtual monopoly as other actors fail to gain critical mass or just go bankrupt trying to compete.

A matter of quality then, if inflation is driven either on the one side by unions and social standards for public provision, or on the other by greed, virtual monopolisaiton and the stock market.

VIn Monopolet, is the state run wine and spirits (and strong beers over 5%) retailer in Norway. Sweden has the same set up. Now in this state run shop you would expect mushroom coloured walls with cobwebs in the corners, poor choice and little interest in the selection of wares, high prices and surely, resentful and lazy staff. An Orwellian nightmare ripe for the vigour and investment of the private sector. But hold on, not so. The shops are at least as stylish and well presented as the best off licence chains, with select city stores having a spanish wine cellar style alcove for luxury wines. Choice although hardly endless and not of course price promoted, is not just adequate: when you buy a wine for 80 to 120 kr it will at least be pallatable. People complain about prices and go on !"harry tours" to save about 50 krone a liter on wine. In fact relative to average wages, Norway has very reasonable wine prices through its state monopoly, and focuses stocking around average price demand segments.

Now to the staff;: they are certainly a bunch of rather spoilled pseudo proffessionals, but they are most often courteous and at least knowledgable enough about table wine and some of the luxury brands to make a meal time recommendation or suggest something you may like as a similar or quite opposite wine or whisky or liquer to that you last had.   They seem mostly happy actually because they are unionised and have family freindly hours and get well paid for a shop job, with national career opportunities on top of the training in product. A beastly bastion of socialism.

Now I remember an upmarket failed wine chain called Oddbins. It was a little pricier than your run of the mill "Offie" but there were aussie bargains a plenty to be had. It reeked of wine snobbery actually but that is where the illusion often ended; it was a franchise run by petty bourgiouse pricks who aspired to drink chateau wines. The staff were often spotty snobbie students from private schools, it must have been a recruiting policy to have middle class twits. One once told me in a very authoratative voice that he doubted it could be called a cabernet sauvignon, queu nasal schoolboy french accent, since it was an austrailian wine. Suprised he was, and me too at his total pseudpremacy! When oddbins was going down the pan, just before all the shittier offie's succumbed, I went in looking for a really delicious Aussi brut "Angas" : the private school accented chubby mousey type girl informed me that it was delisted: I started on in an Oz Clarke pseud it must be said, about how you could taste the sunshine in the wine and the butter in the biscuit way, which she immediately talked down as "oh do shut up" or whatever. A wine shop employee trying to sell wine, and of course they didnt: they out pseuded themselves with their high prices and pathetic range of beers on the side. I wandered off to Vicky Wines and got a bottle of Moet or a good cava instead.