The Agitator #104: Cigarettes, Merry Christmas, price gouging
by Oliver_Halle
 The Agitator
Feb 20, 2014 | 1134 views | 3 3 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

This week alone I heard two conservative radio talk show hosts blasting regulations in the marketplace for impeding business growth. I can’t recall any conservative over the years defending any regulation as being good. Makes me wonder if zoning laws that protect a nice subdivision from having a box store move in next door would be an exception.

Recently CVS announced they would be discontinuing the sale of cigarettes in their chain of drugstores. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been, at the outcry of this decision. Among the arguments attacking the drug company was that cigarettes are a lawful product and therefore it is wrong to have a self-imposed ban on them.

Each December Bill O’Reilly becomes a “victim” of the secularists who he claims are trying to wipe out Christmas in the public sector. His favorite argument to prove his point is to highlight some businesses that don’t allow employees to wish customers Merry Christmas. What he never mentions is that there is no government involvement in a company’s decision to instruct employees that they are not to use this greeting. Again, it is strictly a business decision. If customers don’t like it they are free to shop elsewhere. Just maybe if there is a noticeable drop in sales the company might change its policy. Amazing how the marketplace works when it’s left alone to correct imbalances, especially those that don’t really affect anyone’s quality of life like the zoning example.

And then there is price gouging. It never fails that following some natural event that causes shortages, like the two recent snowstorms, some businesses will significantly jack up their prices. The screams I heard on the radio were deafening. Yet I wondered why. I thought the marketplace was all about supply and demand. And if folks don’t want to pay the exorbitant price at the moment, they can do without for the time being or find another place to buy a product where the owner might see a business opportunity to gain new customers now and in the future. Free markets at work. Nary a word from the conservative complainers that just maybe gouging occurs because a business has to make up for lost sales during the emergency, his costs may have gone up, or other economic considerations.

I saw a Facebook posting of a Delta ticket that went up from a few hundred dollars to $8,000. I won’t disagree that this is outrageous, but the person objecting is a very strong conservative. The solution is simple if you don’t like the price: find another way home and perhaps discontinue your support of the airline. Same for baggage fees. Lots of complaining about them, but again, the solution for these conservatives is to leave the markets alone and take your business to an airline that doesn’t charge them.

I am not suggesting for a minute that I support gouging or some of the business practices that conservatives object to. What I am saying is that the hypocrisy of the free-marketeers reeks. They are fine with free markets and no regulation as long as it doesn’t impact them. Most don’t live near a coalmine and never even saw one. So mining safety regulations don’t really matter to them. All of us take our clean water for granted without giving a thought to the laws and regulations that ensure its safety. Same for the myriad of safety regulations when we fly, purchase food, the clean air we breathe today, and so much more. I grew up with the stench of polluted rivers and beaches in NYC, and air that was dangerous to your health. A WW II veteran on my first ship was from Manhattan. He told the story of swimming in the East River as a boy, but before anyone jumped in they decided whose turn it was to be the “sludge” breaker. The creation of the EPA in the early 1970s changed all that. The young today who object to the EPA wouldn’t know what those days were like.

The marketplace works just fine when businesses decide things for themselves like selling cigarettes or what holiday greetings are appropriate. As for government regulations, it’s a fair political discussion to debate whether there are too many. What is absurd is the notion that agencies like the EPA should be abolished despite the measurable improvements in our healthier quality of life. Perhaps whenever such arguments are raised we should do as we were taught starting in high school: follow the money.

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Oliver G. Halle
February 20, 2014
Reverend Sarducci,

Thank you for your comment and the civil tone.

First, you are correct that I lay the hypocrisy at the feet of the conservatives for a very simple reason: they are the ones that tout free markets, how capitalism and our economy would be so much better off but for all the regulations. It is their hypocrisy that I am addressing.

Since your readers have no idea who you are, it is impossible to know whether you really go to stores yourself and mix with the working man, or if you live in a palace, ride in a chauffeured limousine, and have valets that shop for you. Your readers don't know if you are a member of the Klan, a communist in disguise, or anything else in which to judge your credibility. My bio is out there for the readers to figure out where I fit into everyday society and my sincerity.

As for whether a business can decide what clientele it will accept or not, I say again that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, interpretation of the interstate commerce clause by the Supreme Court, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution have decided the issue. A business cannot discriminate against someone because of race, creed, age, religion, national origin, sex, and in many states--sexual orientation. That's the law, agree with it or not. No one should have to hide who they are to receive service.

You should also know that the SC has interpreted whether a business is engaged in interstate commerce very liberally. In a 1960s case, the court ruled that Ollie's Barbeque, a small shack in Alabama, was engaged in interstate commerce even though they only sold their sandwiches locally. The court said that the wheat in the buns had come from Kansas or the Midwest, and Kansas farmers would sell less wheat if Ollie's didn't sell to black customers, which would have an effect on interstate commerce.

There are other discrimination cases bubbling up to the SC as I write this dealing with whether a business can be forced to sell, by way of example, a wedding cake to a gay couple.

Individual freedom is just as important to me as it seems to be to you. But the America I want to live in doesn't discriminate on things that one has no control over like those specified in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, et seq.
February 20, 2014
Oliver - remember the right wing freak out when gas prices jumped to $4/gallon? They were blaming it on Obama, of course. Gingrich even campaigned with signs for $2.50/gallon gas, although he should have paid us for the gas he was expelling.

Conservatives are conservative in only one way. The use of their brain cells.

They love "free markets" until they have to pay 50 cents more for gas (even at $4/gallon, we're paying half of what they pay in Europe, BTW). Do you think their leader Rush Limbaugh worries about what gas costs?
Guido Sarducci
February 20, 2014
I might be a able to go along with most of this, except that Oliver attempts, either purposefully or not, to place all the criticism at the feet of the conservatives. Sorry, Oliver, I have heard a lot of whining about the price gouging from a lot of people, both side of the aisel. While you confine your information, at least for this article, to those who air their complaints in a media forum, I actually go into the stores and listen to shoppers.

So, let's etablish that price gouging affects all and is abhorred by both mainstream liberals and conservatives, that free enterprise is what drives the economy, that raising prices at a time of shortage is part and parcel of that system, that businesses can decide what to charge for goods and services, that nobody forces anyone to pay any price, that businesses can make their own decisions about how to greet customers during holidays, that customers can choose to shop elsewhere and that Kroger does not accept early orders for Passover hams.

If we acceopt all that, except the last one which is an attempt at levity, then can we also agree that a business has a right o determine what clientele it will, or will not serve? Or does that step over the line? Is that an area where government can usurp a business' right?
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