It strikes me that throughout history, multinational corporate monoliths have touted themselves as the most preferable choice for consumers precisely because they can lay claim to being big, predictable and omnipresent.
This has changed somewhat in recent years, which is to say the multinationals tell blatant lies even more often than before – for example, the Anheuser-Busch/Inbev beermaking colossus’ insistence that its American breweries are “local” by geographical virtue of being located in a dozen different places, and selected beers they mass-produce are to be regarded as “craft” even though the process is large-scale, and the proceeds migrate far, far away.
On the other side of all this are independent small business owners like me, who do not have the logistical economies of scale as do chains, big boxes and far-flung multinationals. What we do in response to the argument that merit lies in being biggest and baddest is to offer the principled converse: Not only is there quality in being distinctive and local, but more of the money stays at home, right here in the community, the very act of which verifiably helps the community actually function as a community.
If one, then the other, and you’d think that an argument in favor of micro-locality and distinctiveness has as much right to be heard as the opposite, and yet for quite some time, I’ve sensed a push-back coming.
An example was a recent discussion on Robin Garr’s Louisville Restaurants Forum, during which it was argued that locally-based, sustainable agriculture is not a good idea because it intentionally discriminates against the millions worldwide whose only chance of sustenance is factory farming.
Somehow I’m reminded of Andy Borowitz’s succinct summary of the current situation in Libya: “With Gaddafi gone, Libya's right to determine its future is now safely in the hands of multinational oil companies.” Similarly, the world’s undernourished masses look to Archer Daniels Midland, not themselves, for succor, which uncoincidentally enriches the multinational, robber baron class and keeps money and power where both already repose.
All of which is to say that for the investors to put their faith in Colonel Sanders is one thing, but for the chickens to blindly venerate him is something else entirely, and as I try to dissect the viewpoint of the push-back, there are instances when the source is quite surprising.
Not so long ago, during an e-mail discussion, I was verbally threatened by an employee of a humongous Internet-based retailing firm recording billions in sales worldwide, to the effect that if I didn’t stop unfairly criticizing her incredibly generous employer, she’d begin telling people how markedly inferior my small company’s employee benefits package is, compared to the one she receives.
In short, I’d be savagely exposed, utterly humiliated, and forced to cower pitifully in a corner when people finally learned that smaller-scale, locally-based profits do not enable the same remunerative largesse as internationally generated profits, such is the simplicity of capitalism’s core profit motive, and yet this fails to explain why we continue to have employees – long term employees at that – who know we cannot insure them all or provide stock options or enrich them beyond their wildest dreams.
As business owners, we try to be fair, and to do what we can for our employees. As employees, they agree to work accordingly. Are they exploited? It’s entirely possible, for there is a certain element of exploitation in every facet of human existence, including capitalism. It’s also possible that our employees are sufficiently self-aware to have drawn their own conclusions, based on their own needs and interests, and have found value in their own lives existing apart from money.
There is no intended moral to these ruminations, although reflecting on them, perhaps I’ve been mistaken all along. It always seemed to me that serendipity powered the planet, with instincts and allegiances usually finding their way to the struggle of the underdog.
Of late, the prevalence of cognitive dissonance suggests another explanation for behavioral quirks. It is sad when thoughtful, educated people come down on the side of the monoliths. Alas, it is not surprising. After all, the Yankees still have fans.