business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday in this space, I posted emails from an MNB reader who disagreed with me on a number of issues, one of which was a story about the growing list of companies "voicing opposing to North Carolina's new law that prevents specific anti-discrimination rules for LGBT people for public accommodations and restroom use." (By the way, in just the last 24 hours, PayPal has canceled the building of a new facility in North Carolina, specifically because of its objections to the law.)

I argued that I thought that as long as the list of companies is, it ought to be longer ... that sanctioning intolerance never is acceptable.

The MNB reader wrote an email that I posed yesterday:

Maybe the other business leaders don't want to get involved in such a sticky situation? Maybe, perhaps that they might agree with N. Carolina's GOP lawmakers and that is why they are silent on this manner. Your statement in regard to this is another example of how if you don't agree with today's lefty principals then you are automatically a bad person. I think the left forgets that there are other people in this society that do hold different values and just because they do, doesn't make them bad people.

And I responded:

I'm a little confused. Am I being accused of promoting "lefty" principles or principals? Or both?

To be clear, I never said that the people in favor of the law were "bad" people. Never said that. I would, however, argue that there is plenty of demonizing of people holding opposing views by folks on both sides of the aisle.

My comments yesterday were largely focused on the business argument against the North Carolina law, which is being made by people many of whom would probably be shocked at being described as leftist.

But just to be honest about my own position - just in case there is any ambiguity - I will say that I have a problem with anybody or any institution that promotes or accepts intolerance or discrimination, no matter how they justify it. It is not up to me to say whether they are bad or not, but I do think, as noted yesterday, that in the end they'll be seen as being on the wrong side of history.

This exchange prompted an email from another reader:

I read your newsletter for two reasons.  Not surprisingly the primary reason is be informed daily on key topics within the retail food industry--just the reporting not the opinions :-). The second reason is to improve my grasp of current affairs by understanding the liberal perspective.

For you to state that you don't espouse left-leaning  principles suggests to me that you are purposely being disingenuous or, more likely, you are a bit blinded by your own liberal bias.  We all are but we all don't write newsletters.

I find your views entertaining and helpful.  Not sure I can remember you NOT taking the liberal side of an issue or opportunity.  I find comfort and utility in your left-leaning consistency as I know you'll help me see things through a 180 degree lens.  Often I disagree with your position as I feel your bias betrays your quest to objectively asses an issue. 

On a related but different note, your consistent and border-line obsession with Starbucks, Amazon, non-brick & mortar retailing (still relatively small vis a vis the coverage), technological gadgetry (w/out clear or at least short-term productivity gains ) and the evil empire in Arkansas is understandable but suggests to me that the retail food industry as it exists today bores you.  I state this because I can't recall a more exciting period within the retail food industry over my 35 years in it.

My suggestion would be to increase the newsletter's focus on companies in the industry that are winning now.  Focusing more in the near-term future (<2 years).  What companies (retail and vendors) are growing the fastest in produce, dairy, grocery, meat, floral, food service, etc.?  Most importantly, why and how are they doing it ?  It'll take some detective work, but there is a lot of cool stuff going on here.  Perhaps not as sexy as Amazon drones or the next Starbucks continuity program but in my estimation, more insightful for many of your readers. Again, Amazon and Starbucks and WM are very topical; but your readers are looking for insights that will help them this year and next in addition to helping them build their strategic plans. 

As to the liberal bias, I'd guess that only many of your personal friends and friends/associates in academia would think that you are a "middle-of-the-roader". Just be up front with your readers  OR.......... if you disagree, consult your conservative colleagues on how they view a topic to balance "Kevin's View".  I doubt you can do that and you probably shouldn't.  I'd lose because I'd get one less liberal take on the world and as an admitted conservative, I know I need it.

To be clear, I wasn't being disingenuous.  At least, I don't think so.  When I referred to my confusion, I was having a bit of fun with the idea that this reader thought I was espousing leftist principals … not principles.  Or maybe both.  Just a bit of wordplay on my part. (Maybe I was being a bit snarky.)

As for my own politics … I would only suggest that perhaps they are more complicated than some would think.  People can slot me into whatever category they like, and I frankly don't much care.   I might argue, in fact, that if you look at the available slots currently on display in the national political scene, I don't really fit into any of them.  (BTW…you've obviously missed many of the anti-union things that I've written over the years.  Just sayin'…)

To suggest that I'm bored by the current state of the retail food business as it exists today also would be inaccurate … though it is fair to say that I spend an outsized amount of time focusing on the companies that I think are pushing the envelope more than others.  You are perfectly welcome to define my job differently than I define it, but at the end of the day, my goal is to tell people what I think they need to hear, not what they want to hear.  Again, you might define this differently than I would, and I certainly am open to the criticisms ... but in the end, I have to define MNB within the parameters of my own prism and interests. (I've always felt that the only way to do this job is to write something I'd enjoy reading, and hope enough folks will come along for the ride.)

Finally … I would argue that I do consult with both liberals and conservatives about how to view each story.  I do it every day when I write MNB, and encourage people to write in to argue with me, suggest other views, or even (occasionally) agree with me.  And I do my best to post as many of the emails as I can … especially the ones from people who disagree with me. Like your email.

I try to be as intellectually honest as I can, while being as transparent as I can about my views.  I certainly don't succeed all the time, but I try to get it right more often than I get it wrong.

Lot's of reaction to the minimum wage increases in New York and California.

MNB reader Martin Carroll wrote:

Forgive me for being a little crass, but I am highly suspicious of any economic re-engineering that comes from the state of California. Should we really be following a state that has been the “poster boy” of economic irresponsibility (and delusion) for decades?

I also have an issue with the “moral high ground” banner this flies under. California has the chief broker of low income labor for big industry, also for decades. Am I to believe that CA now realizes it is time to stop taking advantage of low-income earners? Really. Is it possible the state of California isn’t making this move for its own financial benefit? I can think of a few.

Since I am becoming increasingly angry and cynical as I write this (LOL), let’s really crank up the crass-o-meter. Election year politics anyone?

I share your hopefulness that wage increases drive productivity/hiring/etc, and as usual, you are right on point to bring executive level salaries into this discussion. “Fairness” is what all this boils down to…connected by threads to responsibility, ability to compete, and greed. It is a sprawling conversation, for sure.

From another reader:

This entire wage argument is a joke. Those that think this increase will not cost jobs are delusional at best even though the rhetoric is on their side. What people fail to realize that this increase will shift the entire economic engine forward and leave the same people now earning $15 an hour screaming for $20 in 10 years. That $1.25 cheeseburger will soon cost $1.55, so who will be getting ahead.

More than 50 years ago a guy by the name of Bayard Rustin organized a march to increase the minimum wage from $1.15 to $2 an hour. His mantra was “so that men can live in dignity”. It appears that not much has changed since then except the cost of that very same cheeseburger was only $.15.

And another:

Two liberal states again will learn the hard way! This is not about anything other than keeping low income workers dependent. The cost of business continues to rise and laws like this do nothing but fuel that trend. We moved to Texas thanks to Moonbeam and liberal politics in CA and to be honest...our business has improved creating more jobs along with higher pay. Didn't need a minimum wage increase. Only a state that supports sound business practices!

To be fair, the Economist did a story about a year ago about how California's economy has improved markedly during Brown's second go-round as governor ... noting that some of this has to do with how bad things were when he came into office and some of it with the improving national economy - but that Brown does deserve some credit for pragmatic leadership.

And The New Yorker had an interesting comparison of the California and Texas economies, suggesting that some of the hype about Texas is exactly that. (You can read it here.)

From still another reader:

What is interesting is that Gov. Brown admits the $15 minimum wage does not make economic sense but he approved it anyway for moral, social, and political reasons.

I agree. I think I may have found the fact that Brown signed it despite his stated misgivings to be more distressing than the wage increase itself.
KC's View: