By David Larson
Raleigh, NC – It’s hard enough to start a business, but it’s even harder when your meddling neighbors look for frivolous reasons to shut you down. They are the equivalent of the uptight lady down the block who calls the police to shut down a kid’s lemonade stand for lacking proper paperwork.
Sure, if an adult’s business is doing something illegal or irresponsible — like cheating on their taxes, dumping chemicals in a river, or refusing to pay their employees — by all means, take it to court. But that shouldn’t be your first impulse for every minor beef.
Here are a couple recent examples of this related to North Carolina that brought this to mind.
Texas Pete is North Carolina Pete? Oh no.
In early August, a federal judge in California allowed a lawsuit to proceed against TW Garner, the Winston-Salem-based parent company of Texas Pete hot sauce. Everybody in North Carolina knows Texas Pete is from Winston, but apparently Phillip White, a gentleman in California, was greatly harmed upon learning that fact. He wants the company to be forced to change its name and pay restitution to past customers.
Looking over the Texas Pete website, it appears that in 1929, “a marketing advisor suggested the name ‘Mexican Joe’ to connote the piquant flavor reminiscent of the favorite foods of our neighbors to the south. ‘Nope!’ said the patriarch of the Garner family. ‘It’s got to have an American name!’ Sam suggested they move across the border to Texas, which also had a reputation for spicy cuisine.”
So, they wanted to make a hot sauce using spicy Tex-Mex-influenced ingredients and picked the nickname Texas Pete to give consumers some idea of what they were going for. Nobody had a problem with it for about a century, but now, apparently, they must be stopped.
My uncle, who ran a bakery in Winston-Salem until recently, knew one of the owners or managers of TW Garner (I forget whom exactly) and was gifted a big box of Texas Pete’s Original one time. It then became a staple in our refrigerator, which we put on everything from Buffalo wings to General Tsos chicken to New York pizza.
Wait, were these businesses even allowed to make Buffalo wings (which originate from the city of Buffalo), General Tso’s chicken (named after a Chinese leader from the Qing Dynasty) or New York pizza?
The print on the back of Texas Pete’s clearly says it’s made in Winston-Salem, so if we trust people to buy cigarettes with similarly sized warnings about lung cancer, there shouldn’t be an issue. There are cases of false advertisement, but this one is a stretch.
Buc-ee’s in Mebane? Not so fast, says Elon professor
Another example of this meddling in our others business(es) is a recent opinion article in the Raleigh News & Observer by Elon University professor Matthew Gendle. Gendle says, “NC should think twice about the massive Buc-ee’s planned on I-85.” He doesn’t say it explicitly, but the suggestion is that maybe we should block this business from opening. Coincidentally, Buc-ee’s is from Texas, unlike Pete.
So, why exactly does the good professor want to stop his neighbors from shopping at, getting employment from, and benefiting from the tax revenues of this new larger-than-average gas station and convenience store?
Let him explain: “Buc-ee’s locations are enormous — often featuring more than 100 fuel pumps and over 50,000 square feet of retail space packed with cheap souvenirs and consumer goods. And I believe that this excess makes Buc-ee’s a prime example of end-stage American consumerism at its worst.”
Side note: “end-stage consumerism” seems to have the ring of “late-stage capitalism,” a common Marxist phrase from economist Werner Sombart. The idea from Gendle is that if people are given opportunities to buy cheap, worthless goods, most of it will end up in the dump soon after.
I actually have a little sympathy for this view as a parent who gets worthless plastic, singing, flashing toys constantly dumped in our home. (For anyone who recently gave our kids a gift, I’m just joking. We really appreciate all the… junk.) Thinkers I respect, like Pope Benedict XVI and Roger Scruton, have spoken about the problems of “throwaway culture” and of replacing solid, valuable goods with cheap “disposable” items meant to be useful for a moment then trash forever.
But those are more cultural and lifestyle questions to me, not an opportunity for me to dictate to businesses and their customers exactly which products are allowed to be sold.
Later in the piece, Gendle makes a little clearer the worldview that inspires his anti-Bu-cee’s activism: “As ‘un-American’ as this perhaps sounds, if we wish to have a sustainable economy it is imperative that we scale down retail operations, become comfortable with having fewer consumer choices, and, quite simply, manufacture fewer things.”
I’m not sure if Gendle is a knowing proponent of the “de-growth movement,” but he summarizes its motives very well. De-growth is the idea that many problems — including climate change, debt, working longer hours than one wants, and gender and racial inequity — can be solved by purposefully inducing an indefinite global depression, where the economy is placed into a dynamic of “managed decline.”
For the misanthropes among us, who think that human beings and their every action do more harm than good, this seems like a theory worth considering. But if we throw out “growth” for “sustainability,” that would put most economic decisions in the hands of activist regulators. Buc-ee’s would not be the only store shut down. There’s a Wal-Mart next door to the planned site in Mebane. Would they survive under this paradigm? Doubtful.
Halting much of the economic growth, consumption, production, and overall business activity would lead to disaster. We have an almost-unsustainable national debt as it is. If millions were laid off and countless businesses shut down, we’d see tax revenues plummet. With all those workers who produced now-banned goods fired, unemployment would rise. With high unemployment, wages would fall. With a shortage of products, though, it’s unclear whether prices would decline with wages. Bankruptcies also spike during depressions, so we’d have that look forward to. For some reason, despite all of history as counter-evidence, they assume this permanent Great Depression will be different.
People of common sense can see that “de-growth” makes about as much sense as slowly starving yourself for your health, or trying to take down a Texas-themed hot sauce because it’s not actually from Texas. Instead, unless there’s real harm being done, just stay out of your neighbor’s business — unless you want to buy some tacky plastic junk.
David Larson is opinion editor of Carolina Journal.