Shipping Wine Is Not A Crime

In 2010, America became the world’s largest consumer of wine, surpassing France for the first time. We consumed nearly 330 million cases — 200 million cases from California, 105 million cases from other countries, and the remaining 25 million from other US states.

In other words, shipping is fundamental to the enjoyment of wine. And yet, nearly 80 years after the repeal of prohibition, access to wine remains severly restricted. Under the current regulated system, consumers pay 18% to 25% more for their wine than they would otherwise.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that states lacked the authority to discriminate against out-of-state goods, including wine shipments, as doing so violated Commerce Clause. And yet, 37 states continue to restrict residents from ordering wine from online retailers and auction houses, or joining wine-of-the-month clubs.

Now, H. R. 1161 — aka the “Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2011” — “seeks to reaffirm state-based alcohol regulation.” In essence, this bill would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling, and reward the current wine oligopoly for its political contributions.

In the past decade the National Beer Wholesalers Association spent $5.6 million on lobbying and the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America spent another $9.3 million — all in an effort to keep wine from being shipped.

It is time for wine lovers to say enough is enough.

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Mandatory Autonomy

Today the Supreme Court heard testimony in Duke v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a sexual discrimination lawsuit started in 2000.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy appeared not to buy the argument put forward by Joseph Sellers, attorney for the plaintiffs seeking class action status.

“Our theory is that Wal-­Mart provided to its managers unchecked discretion…that was used to pay women less than men who were doing the same work in the same facilities at the same time, even though those women had more seniority and higher performance.”

— Joseph Sellers, plaintiffs’ lawyer

“I’m getting whipsawed here. On the one hand, you say the problem is that they were utterly subjective, and on the other hand you say there is a strong corporate culture that guides all of this. Well, which is it?”

— Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Kennedy apparently echoed Justice Scalia’s sentiments: “On the one hand, the plaintiffs allege that ‘Arkansas knows everything,’ Kennedy said, referring to Wal-Mart’s home state. But on the other, individual managers have too much autonomy.”

Again, “Mr. Sellers argued the two pieces fit together. He said corporate policy gave local managers unfettered discretion to underpay women. And prejudice against women, was part of what he contended was a centralized corporate culture the company calls ‘the Wal-Mart Way.'”

The Justices’ confusion notwithstanding, there is no contradiction or paradox in Mr. Sellers’ argument. One popular expression of this pervasive corporate phenomenon is found in Peters and Waterman’s best selling book In Search of Excellence.  In it, they dedicate an entire chapter to “Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties.”

“Organizations that live by the loose-tight principle are on the one hand rigidly controlled, yet at the same time allow (indeed, insist on) autonomy…”

— Peters & Waterman, In Search of Excellence

Within the field of management and organization the idea of loose coupling is notably associated with Karl Weick, among others. A riveting example of just how tight loose can be is James Barker’s study: “Tightening the Iron Cage: Concertive Control in Self-Managing Teams.”

Persons, But Not Personal

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled upheld the view that corporations are persons.

In its AT&T ruling, it declared unanimously that corporations have no personal privacy rights for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., seems not to have noticed the deep antagonism between these two positions.

In short, corporations are persons, but they cannot take things personally. But then, what kind of person does that make them?