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On Chick-fil-A and Democratizing Capitalism

July 30, 2012 2 comments

I think I should start by making clear that I absolutely love Chick-fil-A’s food. I love their original sandwich and nuggets so much that it took a concerted effort for me to even try their chargrilled chicken sandwich, which I then also loved. And I could never bring myself to order their spicy chicken sandwich which I would probably also love, but can’t justify passing up the known entities of the three already-mentioned, delicious menu items. When I lived in Georgia I went out of my way at least twice to visit/eat at the original Chick-fil-A called the Dwarf House: a quirky building housing a diner-style Chick-fil-A eating experience. I had a friend snap a picture of me in front of it. On my weekend road trips away from the University of Georgia, I always returned on a Sunday evening, and hated having to pass a Chick-fil-A on my way home knowing that it was closed for business and would not provide me with the post road trip chicken I so craved. I’m telling you, I love Chick-fil-A.

So when I first heard that Chick-fil-A had made some anti-gay donations and supported an anti-gay, “pro family” group, I felt similar to how the Ninja Turtles might feel if they learned that profits from pizza sales go to support Shredder (Can I still get away with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle references?). I initially gave up eating Chick-fil-A a few years ago at the first mention of it, only to then do a little research, found the anti-gay reports to have been overblown, and resumed eating. Chick-fil-A has since ramped up their anti-gay position culminating in their president, Dan Cathy, formally making a statement about Chick-fil-A’s beliefs on gay marriage, and alas, I again will be bypassing the chain–all the more difficult due to its location in the university food court.

I wasn’t initially planning on writing about the Chick-fil-A controversy for a couple of reasons. Partly, because I viewed this as old news since it spans back a couple of years. Mostly though, the issue really seemed like it would peak and then die while I was on vacation and cease being topical by the time that I returned last night.

However, I am still routinely hearing about Chick-fil-A, reading about Chick-fil-A and seeing people post on social media about Chick-fil-A. It even scrolled across the bottom of my local Fox affiliate today for some reason. And with the upcoming Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day followed shortly after by the Chick-fil-A Same-Sex Kiss Day, it doesn’t look as though this story is going to be any less pervasive this week than it was last week. What I found somewhat more in need of a response was that there has been a bit of a backlash developing, particularly against the “boycott culture.” An openly gay internet video “star” issued a video saying it was okay to eat at Chick-fil-A. An openly gay writer penned a piece on Huffington Post trying to explain that the debate is about more than chicken, but again, included in his conclusion “eat all the chicken sandwiches you want.”

But the article that most inspired this post was one that I saw all over facebook from the Atlantic: In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-A. The article focuses on highlighting some of the good and the limited scope of the bad when it comes to Chick-fil-A’s donations. It also speaks out against boycott culture, and to some extent, I agree. Calling for boycotts gets old and it gets annoying. It often comes across as whiny. I would prefer that if you are offended or upset by the company’s practices that you do what you can to put that information out there, make a personal choice as to whether or not you give that company your business, and let others make that personal choice, as well.

But two quotations stood out to me in this piece that merit a strong and lengthy response. One poses what I find to be the quintessential question in issues such as these: “Do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed?” The second quotation that stands out shines the light on, in my view, a core problem with American capitalism: “Boycotts rarely cause actual pocketbook–rather than PR–damage. Most consumers don’t care enough to drive an extra mile to get the same product from someone else.”

I believe this will be the first public use of a statement that will (hopefully) be found in numerous campaign commercials and fliers in my future campaigns, whenever they may be. We need more democracy in capitalism and less capitalism in democracy. This post will apply only to the first half of the statement: more democracy in capitalism. What I mean by this is that every dollar you spend is a vote for the receiving business. That transaction is the end that justifies their means. If sales are moving, then it serves as a de facto approval of whatever business practices that company utilizes that led to you buying that product. When the bottom line talks, the company will listen.

Make no mistake, if Chick-fil-A sees a jump in their business after publicly wading into these political waters, not only will they increase their donations and activism, but other like-minded business owners, presidents, and CEOs will likely make similar donations. On the contrary, if Chick-fil-A sees a drop in business, it sends the message to other companies that it makes good business sense to avoid controversial donations or statements on divisive social issues. Money talks. Consumers decide what it says.

Naturally, we don’t have the time or energy to know exactly how every producer or vendor runs their operations. But in this information age, we do have a lot of information presented to us or at least readily available. And we should all be using that information to use our financial votes judiciously in regards to whatever issues are important to us. If gay marriage rights are an issue that is important to you, then it is within your self-interest not to eat at Chick-fil-A. If the quality of your meat is important to you, then it is in your best interest not to patronize the company with a large enough market share to dictate the terms of meat production (McDonalds).

The Atlantic article accepts the current reality that consumers don’t care enough to make such distinctions and decisions. I, however, refuse to simply accept things as they are in that regard. I believe that with the wealth of information available and the increased use of social networks and other means to spread that information (hopefully accurate information), we could easily see an economy in which enough consumers care about how they spend their money that political missteps or poor business practices are, indeed, felt in the bottom line and not just in terms of PR.

I previously wrote a post about the need for self-interest to exist within the knowledge of something bigger, a society, in order for capitalism to function as it should. This is a furthering of that sentiment. Alan Greenspan, among others, has said that in free market capitalism, the good practices should push out the bad. When Adam Smith used the term “Invisible Hand” in his book, “The Wealth of Nations,” he was referring to British capitalists having a self-interested preference to invest in British companies (job security, strong domestic economy) and that self-interest would better British businesses and society as a side effect. Capitalism, as it is intended to function, relies on consumers and investors to make judgments about good and bad that go beyond prices and profits. If we aspire as a nation to be the greatest example of capitalism’s success moving forward, it’s time that we start applying those judgments to our day-to-day transactions.

On Gay Marriage

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I mentioned in a previous post that Maryland recently passed a bill making gay marriage legal effective January 1, 2013, but that the bill contained a provision that would likely result in the issue finding its way onto the November ballot as an initiative. I wanted to give that issue its own post. Most of my posts are pretty wordy and I’d like to think a bit intellectual.  This won’t be one of those posts.

When the bill originally passed, many of my friends and family expressed pride in their state for getting it done. I did not. Many people posted mocking articles about the future children of America being embarrassed at how long it took to pass gay marriage. Not me. Far from it. In fact, I’m ashamed of my state.

I’m ashamed that Maryland wasn’t the first state to legalize gay marriage. I’m ashamed that the first attempt (in 2011) failed.  I’m ashamed that in order to pass a bill, the option of a ballot initiative had to be included. I’m ashamed that my state, at least until January 1st, 2013, still discriminates openly. I don’t need to project my shame onto future generations looking back on this moment. I’m ashamed right now.

So in November, when Maryland passes the ballot initiative paving the way for legalized gay marriage, I won’t be proud. I’ll simply cease being so ashamed.