Category Archives: Business

Why soft drinks and food stamps don’t mix

As I stood in the checkout line at my local supermarket the other day, mentally complaining about the continually rising prices of food, I noticed a couple ahead of me piling up cigarettes and beer on the conveyor belt. It caught my attention because they had been paying for their groceries with food stamps supported by your tax dollars and mine. That left them plenty of cash for the beer and smokes.

Ah, the cradle-to-grave welfare system. Why use your money for the basics of life when someone else’s money will get them for you? In effect, you are buying their drinks and smokes.

There are, of course, some people who can’t exist without assistance, but I see so many examples of people simply milking the system — put bluntly, stealing money from my pocketbook — I have less and less sympathy all the time.

Just this week, the partial collapse of an old brick residential building locally forced tenants of an apartment to find accommodations elsewhere. I felt bad for them at first. Then it was revealed that the building was Section 8 housing in which a big chunk of the rent is paid by, guess who?, you and me through our taxes.

On the surface that’s alright because some people need such assistance. But, only family members are allowed to reside in each unit and their total income must be below a certain level to qualify. It turns out one of the occupants was the boyfriend of the mother of the family, not a legal family member. Plainly put, this lout and loutess were jobbing the system to get cut-rate rent for her and rent-free housing for him while other members of the community whose taxes are supporting them are worrying about making their own rent or mortgage payments.

These are far from isolated cases. When they keep popping up generation after generation, I root for some tighter oversight of welfare programs so the truly needy are aided and the truly cheating are exposed. Thus, I was thrilled when I recently heard Mayor Michael Bloomberg was petitioning the federal government to allow New York City to prohibit food stamp recipients from using the handouts to purchase soft drinks. A small step, but better than no step, unless you’re among the soft drink makers/distributors/sellers and their cohort (snack food manufacturers, for one) already whining about the proposal.

Why is this a positive step for society at large? Besides the obesity problem, to which sugary drinks contribute mightily, take a look at the numbers.

There are 1,700,000 New Yorkers getting food stamps. That is roughly equal to the combined entire populations of Vermont, Wyoming and Washington, DC. If each food stamp recipient bought just 1½ soft drinks daily, that would come to about $2,500,000 a day, or $76,500,000 a month of your money being spent. That last figure exceeds the annual gross state product of each of 13 states: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Perhaps you’re beginning to get an idea of the enormity of the topic.

By the way, if you think my figure of 1½ soft drinks a day to make my case is too high, consider that all available data puts the average American’s soft drink consumption at 3 quarts per week. We’re the largest soft drink consuming nation in the world. And you and I are buying the sodas for a lot of those people.


What’s in a nickname?

Department of Tempests & Teapots:

An internal memo asking General Motors employees to refer to Chevrolet vehicles as Chevrolets and not Chevys has caused quite a stir. Perhaps not much else is going on in the world.

When word got out about the memo, a hue and cry arose throughout the blogosphere. What, detractors cried, is wrong with the nickname “Chevy”? Songwriter Don McLean even helped memorialize it in his “American Pie” with the chorus “Took my Chevy to the levee … ”

The geniuses at GM did a quick about-face, bowing humbly as they backed away and saying they were just trying for some consistency in their marketing.

Advertising Age even did a quickie poll to see what the public thought about the original memo. It then reported that “a crushing 96% of poll respondents said the shift is the wrong move for Chevrolet and for GM.” Note that AdAge used a percentage rather than an actual number of respondents, not surprising since it is a very niche publication/website with little mass readership.

Is there really any danger to an automaker of having its vehicles known more by a nickname than the full name?

Ask the people who used to have jobs making cars widely known as Merc (Mercury), Olds (Oldsmobile), AMC (American Motors), Stude (Studebaker), Duese (Duesenberg),  Oakie (Oakland), Cuda (Plymouth Barracuda), Willys (Willys Overland) …

A final w(h)ine about supermarket sales

By now, the debate over Gov. David Paterson’s desire to improve state revenues by allowing supermarkets and other big-box retailers to sell wines has apparently boiled down to two entrenched camps slugging it out with each other.

• On one side, we have the governor, looking for revenues for a dysfunctional government hurtling into the red and not able to pay all its bills. He is supported by many super markets and state winemakers who want to expand the availability of wine to the public rather than continuing the current tightly-controlled situation that stifles open competition.

• On the other side, we have liquor store owners bitterly opposed to more competition, some state winemakers who fear groceries would flood the market with cut-rate out-of-state wines, and those who fear such an expansion would somehow increase underage drinking even though that hasn’t happened in the dozens of states that allow sales in markets.

Each camp has made alliances with all sorts of individual and caucus-member politicians, ad hoc industry groups, law enforcement types, social services types and the like.

The problem is, in the past two months no one has come up with anything new to say on the topic, but they won’t stop talking.

What we need now is for the Legislature to come up something in the proposed 2010-2011 state budget that will address the proposal or kill it. To keep it alive someone has to come up with an idea that will break the logjam.

That may be happening.

Daniel Posner, managing partner at Grapes the Wine Company in White Plains has tweeted about a new proposal he said he has heard from legislative negotiators.

According to him, the proposal would offer existing retailers two medallions which are needed to keep or get a license for wine retailing. One medallion would be for their current store, and the second could be kept to open a second location, held until the market situation clarifies, or sold off to another company wishing an extra medallion. That would be part of a three-year program.

Sounds worthy of public debate. Let’s hope it receives it.