Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nerf Libertarians - Fairweather Friends of Freedom

In every case where the Libertarian Party (allegedly Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's political preference) fails to achieve ballot access, it was because the state raised the cost of communicating with the general public to a level the LP could not afford. Certain variables increase or decrease this cost associated with ballot access petitioning. (Number of signatures required, time limit for gathering signatures, availability of public places with the high foot traffic necessary to circulate petitions, weather, etc...) One such deleterious variable is the absence of businesses that have high foot traffic, and which simultaneously tolerate free interpersonal communication with their customers. Whole Foods, even where they exist, does not tolerate speech on their property. (I just confirmed this with the manager of the store nearest Birmingham, Alabama. He stated that Whole Foods would not tolerate petitioners' presence in Alabama, where the LP is currently gathering petition signatures, under a tight deadline.) ..Such speech is not even tolerated in Whole Foods' parking lots, or with the normal "common sense" stipulation that such speech be out of the way of the doors, etc. Now, it's true, no business should be forced to allow such communication on their own property: but that Whole Foods does not allow such communication, even as the Libertarian Party is deprived of ballot access (in OK, PA, and elsewhere) and pays scarce campaign resources to ballot access petitioners, is unconscienable. The hippocratic oath is a good philosophical reminder, here: "First, do no harm." If Mackey wants Libertarian candidates to be on the ballot, why does he allow his stores' security to remove the petitioners who place them on the ballot from his storefronts? Secondly, a quote from Gandhi applies: "Be the change you wish to see." Would it really be that difficult for Mackey to convince his coporate board to tolerate speech? I doubt it. Omar Gaye is apparently the guy who refuses to tolerate such speech in the region encompassing Alabama. Is he personally so averse to choices being on the ballot that he's willing to veto John Mackey's insistent urgings to the contrary? I doubt it. In front of "Giant" Food Store in New England (even in states like MD, where the courts have ruled that stores need not tolerate speech), petitioners are allowed. The CEO of Giant Foods respects free speech, and understands that if certain of their customers were not allowed to ask other customers to sign a nominating petition, then there would be absolutely no choice on the ballot in Maryland. In effect, Maryland's system of government would become undemocratic. Undemocratic systems have no incentive to avoid falling towards totalitarianism, (demonstrated by Professor R. J. Rummel's research at the University of Hawaii, which is freely available online). I find it surprising that John Mackey defends the concept of libertarian corporate responsibility (in his Reason Magazine debate with T. J. Rodgers), and then abnegates his responsibility in the one area where he has larger-than-normal influence. He claims that it would be tyrannical of him to suggest that he override his corporate board's decision to disallow speech. (Funny, this excludes the idea that he could exercise influence with them in any other way than "overriding" them. How about just _asking_them_ to allow speech?) In contrast with Whole Foods, CEO T. J. Rodgers (of Cypress Semiconductor) claims that corporations have a duty only to their shareholders --but he believes in the Hayekian concept of free expression so much that he spent a great deal of his personal time infiltrating the board of directors at Dartmouth University, and forcing them to repeal their limitations --in the form of a "free speech zone"-- on public speech on campus. His case was that "all of America is a free speech zone!" Just like John Mackey, the board opposed his position --until he insisted on doing what was right. It's now a lot easier for the LP to get on the ballot in New Hampshire: petitions can be circulated at Dartmouth. Likewise, Libertarian petitioners just finished petitioning for ballot access at Giant Foodstores in Maryland, resulting in ballot access for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. I wish John Mackey felt the same as TJ Rodgers. Or even K-Mart, or Giant Foods, or the few other corporations that either tolerate speech, or allow their managers to "look the other way." The biggest improvement would be for him to adopt Giant Foods' policy of allowing all store managers to decide for themselves whether a certain form of free speech interferes with customer purchases or not, and to err on the side of speech. Giant solidly errs on the side of tolerating free speech --meaning that even when their few totalitarian customers (or perversely-incentivized state employees) complain about the speech, they tolerate it, because they comprehend that a few fascists should not be able to deprive the larger community of a choice at the ballot box. (Even better, Giant does not try to claim that they allow free speech, while bureaucratically obstructing it: they do not require weeks of advance notice, or other undue bureaucratic hurdles and permissions.) Hopefully, one day, John Mackey will come around to that level of respect for free speech. Until then, I'll shop there only grudgingly, when they are the sole supplier of a product I desire. Too bad Cypress Semiconductor doesn't sell healthfood. In the past, John Mackey has responded to my criticisms of his store's policy by claiming that petitioners have a right to be on the sidewalk nearby his stores. (I suppose so they can watch people exiting their cars and entering the store from a distance.) Oddly, this is the same thing that the Bush and Obama administrations both claim when their Departments of Justice further restricted public expression in public venues: you can speak --so long as you're doing so in a location with too few people to hear what you're saying. With friends like these, it's no wonder the Libertarian Party no longer has even a single elected State legislator. They spend all their time jumping through hoops which could easily be made dramatically less costly with John Mackey's help. ...Too bad he can't be bothered. That's all for now. --Jake Witmer PS: There is some discrepancy as to whether Mackey makes the decision, or his regional corporate boards make the decisions. The number given out for Omar Gaye was sent to a voicemail for Mike Howard (678-638-5885), so perhaps that name needs to be substituted for Omar's name above. PPS: Nothing would make me happier than being wrong in my criticism of John Mackey. If his company reverses course on its current opposition to free interpersonal speech, and the circulation of nominating petitions in front of his stores, then I'll be happy to reverse my public criticism of his intellectual position.