Wednesday, April 1, 2015

No Shirt, No Shoes...No Business?

   So it's come to this, has it?

   When I was young, it was common for businesses to have standards regarding the decorum of their clientele, typically expressed similarly to the title of this post, except the third element was "No Service" (and it was a declarative, not a question). Occasionally one would encounter "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" as a reminder that - although the customer may always be 'right' - retail workers and business owners owned the decision regarding whether to endure abuse from belligerent patrons. Just last week, I saw a related vestige of that message at an area salvage yard: "We reserve the right to refuse service based on your attitude".

   Why then is it, that in 2015 - over 35 years beyond the first airing of ABC TV's Soap - in an age when sitcoms regularly feature same gender couples who are generally portrayed sympathetically, when the public yawns upon hearing that a celebrity or athlete has 'come out', and when no one's terribly alarmed that a former Olympic decathlete is [apparently] trading in his hardware for software, that the country is a tizzy because some states have emulated a Federal law signed by Wm. Jefferson Clinton reiterating what businesses have said virtually forever? And why the outrage and vitriol about a law, which "could lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians"¹ (italics mine)?

   It comes as no surprise, even amidst the seeming irony, that former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State - and presumptive 2016 Democrat Presidential nominee - has now tweeted: "Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love." Seriously? While I recognize that the DNC supplies every Democratic candidate with a keyboard macro to insert the phrase "because of who they love" into all manner of communications, it's in no way clear why this law is cause for sorrow.

   Here in America 2015, as noted above, there is not widespread intolerance of LGBTIQ (and, I'm not really trying to be snarky here, but did I miss anyone?). The oft-cited example of a florist or baker refusing service to a gay couple is just, well, weird. After all, we're talking about business. Even in good economic times, few businesses look for reasons to turn down revenue. As well, and without stereotyping, the businesses mentioned, statistically, would probably be among the least likely to discriminate. Simply put - this is not a widespread problem.

   Current White House PR flack Josh Earnest asserts that the troubling difference between the 1993 Federal law and the new Indiana law stems from the latter's recognition of the right of not only individuals, but partnerships, LLCs, corporations, and joint ventures, to self-determine with whom they do business. If he can say that straight-faced, he should be playing poker in Las Vegas, as the larger the group of stakeholders in an enterprise reduces, instead of increases, the chance that business operators are going to turn away business from any perceived 'disenfranchised' interest group.

   I'm an iron skillet and crock pot cook, not a baker. Except for planting the occasional perennial bulbs, my thumbs are brown - no florist I. I'm not gay. I am a Christ follower. I don't own a business, but if I did, I would want to maximize my sales, and what my customers do with their private parts outside my business (well, not right outside my business - but you know what I mean), would not be my concern. So long as their legal tender is green or their Visa, MasterCard, Amex or Discover is approved, all is well.

   Many years ago there was a concept - I believe it started from a Harvard Business Review article - called 'fire your customers', the gist being that you should systematically cull your least profitable customers. A company I worked for tried to implement a version of it. I wasn't much a fan, for reasons that today would be familiar to viewers of Shark Tank - namely, what is the cost of customer acquisition? My opposition was rooted in the notion of 'contribution to overhead', the idea that as long as a customer was operationally profitable (i.e., with respect to variable costs) there was value because it increased the base over which you spread overhead (fixed costs). And it just didn't, and still doesn't, make sense to arbitrarily set a threshold for turning away business, especially without firmly knowing how, or if, it will be replaced. But what does make sense is that a business enterprise, of whatever makeup, retains the right to refuse service to those - anyone - who they believe place an undue burden on their resources. If I have a business and someone or someones try to commandeer it to project their pet issues, I would unapologetically assert that right.

   Consumers have the right to decide with whom they spend their money.  If I don't like a vendor or service provider's merchandise, location, ambiance, terms, or attitude - I do business with someone else. Businesses likewise are free to enter into, or refrain from, contracts.  From April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, over a half-million American lives were lost establishing that in these United States, one may not own the labors of a non-consenting party. Yet those who are protesting the new Indiana and Arkansas statutes would have government compel business owners to involuntary service, or face fines or dissolution of their business(es).

   Have we traveled so far down the path of socialism that businesses have become the 21st century slaves?

¹NPR article: Indiana Law: Sorting Fact From Fiction From Politics, 4/1/15   

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