business news in context, analysis with attitude

I loved this email from MNB reader Mike Spindler, reacting to the suggestion that Amazon will soon be antitrust regulators' sights:

So Amazon is next in the box, with our politicians, eh?

Their sin?   

Saving out butts when we needed essentials during the pandemic?

Hiring half a million people while state mandated shutdowns killed millions of jobs and scores of thousands of businesses?

Paying lots of those folks well above the national minimum wage and benefits while politicians whine, moan and do not much?

And according to your MNB today, investing more in renewable energy than any other corporate citizen?

They are not perfect by any stretch and their vision is business and profit not altruism but I would say they have stepped nicely up to the plate.

Agreed.  Absolutely.

Got the following email from MNB reader Charles P. Moore:

Thank you (and your reader, Doug Peterson!) for the response to the earlier, rather mis-informed email from another reader on the SNAP/EBT program. Indeed, the Restaurant Meals exception is for those who are "elderly, homeless, and disabled”, a small subset of the whole. It is appropriately responsive to true need. Likewise, the claims of fraud in the overall program tend to be way overblown. The context provided re the mortgage deduction or your reference to those who cheat on their taxes was terrific in response.

There is, however, significant room for improvement in the program with regard to encouraging people to use these supplemental programs in ways that improve their health and that of their families. Indeed, a quite sound argument can be made for increasing resources to these families, based on lifetime health ROI of improved healthy eating. This argument could and should be compelling to both ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ alike.

I know that I am ‘preaching to the choir’ on this, but please bear with me. The incremental annual costs to society, to the taxpayer, of heart disease, diabetes, and other nutritionally related chronic diseases in this population dwarfs all supportive transfer benefits combined (housing, energy, food, etc.). And yet, SNAP/EBT do not adequately differentiate between foods that encourage good health versus those we know lead to these issues when over consumed. We also know that this population, whether urban or rural, are often underserved by stores offering ready access to the healthy, fresh foods at affordable prices, yet have plenty of access to shelf-stable, highly processed foods and fast food restaurants.

So, there is a strong ROI argument for increasing access and affordability of the healthiest fare for these populations and for encouraging healthy eating choices financially as well as educationally.

Counter-arguments that government should not ‘tell’ people they can’t enjoy foods and drinks others enjoy ignore that people may use other resources to eat candy and drink sugary drinks, etc, so their ‘freedom’ is not limited by mandating the primary usage of the taxpayer’s resource to highest and best effect.

Another counterargument, that it is too difficult to determine which foods are healthy and which are less so, or downright unhealthy, also fails. The government already makes such differentiation in the WIC food program, and with the digital capabilities of today, it would not be difficult to fully support the healthiest choices and to limit support for the least healthy. Down to the SKU level. And this includes addressing perverse SNAP restrictions which currently eliminate rotisserie chickens, often offered as a loss leader at a cost per pound comparable to uncooked chicken. This is all quite in the realm of possible today.

Unfortunately, these governmental decisions have been previously made largely influenced by the processed food lobbying community rather than by the health community. However, if we shift our policy emphasis to chronic disease reduction we can much more rationally increase the resources available such that families in these situations have ample, healthy food, all the time.

Regarding the offensive decades-old cigarette ads we showed the other day, MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:

I heard a good quote many years ago that seems relevant: Applying today’s morality and judgement to yesterday’s problems will inevitably produce poor results. That is not to excuse anything bad that happened in the past but decision making is always cleaner looking back than when it is occurring. Morality isn’t static either. And frankly, that is appropriate because if we aren’t learning and making better decisions as a population, shame on us.

'I agree, but only to a point.  There is a fine line between forgiveness and understanding … and I think that "he/she didn't know any better" is an excuse that only goes so far.

My larger point in posting the ads was to suggest that there are things that we do today that most of know will be looked back on years from now with dismayL:  How could they do that?, people will say.  I think it is worth looking around now to try to identify those things now, so people will see us as being on the right side of history.

And finally, another in our occasional series of stories about customer service experiences:

I ordered a gift from Nordstrom using their online site and was pleased when they offered free gift wrapping because I would pick up at their curb at their Easton store here in Columbus OH.  I arrived at the curb pick-up site and dialed the number on the signs that were posted and got a mailbox full message.  There was no way to contact the store so I had to go inside where the employees said they knew the phone didn't work, and were waiting for customers to come into the store to collect their orders. 

My gift was promptly given to me at a counter in store but it defeated the whole purpose of curbside pick up.  I have a much higher expectation of customer service from Nordstrom, when you promise curbside then be creative and overcome any issues you have in providing the service you promised.

Message delivered.