Confusion in a Burrito Shell

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Just before the holiday, I ran across an article in the Daily Beast that, despite its attempt to smear capitalism as mindless and predatory, nearly managed to bring up a good point. Chipotle, it seems, doesn't want customers brandishing guns in its restaurants, so the chain has, reasonably, decided to ask customers not to bring guns. Sally Kohn, writing about protests by some conservative activists against this decision, sees a double standard:

Private companies want to pay their workers pennies an hour?  More power to 'em.  In fact, Republican Rep. Joe Barton would unshackle corporations altogether and repeal the minimum wage, which he believes has "outlived its usefulness." But when privately owned television networks make the business decision to suspend stars and cancel shows due to racist or homophobic remarks? Conservatives are outraged

And now conservatives are up in arms that the restaurant chain Chipotle has asked that customers not bring weapons into their stores, following an incident in members of the gun-rights organization Open Carry Texas brought assault-style rifles into a Chipotle in Dallas.  The activist group insisted they weren't demonstrating, but simply wielding their weapons during a meal following an event.  Nonetheless, Chipotle issued a statement asking patrons who aren't law enforcement officers to leave their heat at home.  "The display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers."  Conservatives are outraged!
Set aside the fact that, under capitalism, a company that tried to pay "pennies an hour" would have trouble competing for workers, and set aside the even greater ignorance displayed by the idea that the government setting the price of labor has ever been (or could be) "useful": Kohn is right to note that some companies will set policies that displease certain segments of the population. So long as a company isn't violating anyone's individual rights, it should be free to set whatever policy it wants. It is ridiculous for anyone to get upset at the idea that a business wants its customers to behave a certain way. (Does anyone remember the phrase, "Check your weapons at the door"?)

(Oh, and, by the way, one needn't commit a robbery or a murder with a gun to violate another's rights. Wielding one in a threatening manner does the same thing. I'll pass over the question of whether individuals should have a legal right to possess weapons whose sole purpose is military use.)

But there is more going on here than mere hypocrisy, and this doesn't get the attention or emphasis it deserves from Kohn, perhaps due to some aspect of her own opposition to capitalism. The conservative activists she cites either insist that Chipotle's customers needn't comply or imply that Chipotle is somehow infringing their right to bear arms. The former is wrong because Chipotle, having property rights, can kick people off its premises for whatever reason it wishes, again, so long as it violates noone's rights. The latter is wrong for the same reason: Chipotle's reach extends only as far as its property. There seems to be massive confusion about the nature of capitalism, and the nature and proper role of government by nearly everyone quoted in the article. If the picture Kohn paints is accurate, a sizeable portion of the conservative movement is clueless about capitalism, government, and individual rights, including the right to own and use a gun.

That said, there are at least two more related confusions present in the article, and fostered by its author. We see this most clearly when Kohn notes the protests against media outlets canceling contracts on the basis of "racist or homophobic remarks". First, there is a difference between accepting the fact that a company can set its own policies and liking those policies. Second, there is also a difference between a company's right to set policy and the fitness of its policies in terms of promoting its business or giving justice to its customers. If a company sets a policy someone disagrees with, it is not somehow anti-capitalist to protest it or even seek a boycott. Given the broad umbrella of non-leftist sentiments that qualify as "racist" or "homophobic" these days, it probably would not be hard to find a company that deserves a boycott on the grounds that it is wrongly treating someone like a bigot.

Is it hypocrisy for an advocate of capitalism to protest the policies of a company when he disagrees with them? No, but it might be that or a sign that such an advocate doesn't really understand or support his cause, depending on the policy. In the case of Chipotle's asking its customers to pack their heat elsewhere, any sincere advocate of capitalism would aid his cause best by complying -- and applauding Chipotle for standing up for people who want to be able to eat a meal without having to look over their shoulders.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

I agree with this post, especially the point about property rights and about the confusion about the issue detailed in the article. I have just a couple additional observations.

'I'll pass over the question of whether individuals should have a legal right to possess weapons whose sole purpose is military use.'

1. I don’t think these were military weapons. The article says ‘military-style’ which suggests they were probably semi-automatic rifles made to look like military weapons. (automatic weapons are illegal in all fifty states as far as I know)
2. Chipotle: Isn’t that the nutcase company that only serves organic food (whatever that means) and produces videos saying that industrial agriculture is evil? So GMOs and insect pesticides are more deadly than guns. Go figure? Maybe we should start feeding our grain to the terrorists.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the correction and the additional information regarding Chipotle, a restaurant I was taken to once, during a job interview over a decade ago. I would agree that the outfit is nutty on such a basis, and would regard it as an example of a company supporting a cause ultimately detrimental to capitalism and itself.