Nanny State

Selected Skirmishes: Corporate Rakeovers

Sacking it to the souless corporation


Item 1. There is a terrible company spreading filthy messages to our youth, undermining "family values" and the American way of life. The Florida Baptists are on to them. They have proposed to boycott Walt Disney Co., a corporation that produces titillating movies and extends insurance benefits to domestic partners of Disney World employees. The Florida Baptists are presenting their resolution to the annual nationwide meeting of the Baptist flock–convening in New Orleans.

While my family might prefer Bourbon Street to Main Street, U.S.A., I was unaware that this was in line with orthodox Baptist theology. And, I admit, it came as a bit of a surprise that the corporation that created Mickey Mouse and the Happiest Place on Earth was dangerously close to betraying family values. But I am absolutely certain that the single best place in America to sort this all out is the French Quarter, particularly since the advent of riverboat gambling in Louisiana.

Item 2. The federal government, under the auspices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is pursuing the legal theory that the reason people patronize the Hooters restaurant chain is for the food. Hence, food servers should be judged only on their ability to take orders and distribute prepared dishes. Because those employees now hired for this task have not been known to be outstanding in this dimension–indeed, it is unclear if anyone can recall what, if anything, they ate at a Hooters–the fact that males compose 0.00 percent of the waitstaff is prima facie evidence of discrimination.

Item 3. In the recent movie Casino, the viewer receives a basic tutorial on the gaming industry. The timeline is crucial: The 1970s and early '80s were the good ol' days in Vegas, when mobsters skimmed the take and hotel personnel dutifully crushed the hands of card counters. But, alas, times change: The picture ends with shots of spectacular, gleaming new mega-structures built in the late '80s: Giant corporations funding vast amusements for families. The voice-over laments this tearful farewell to tradition. Gone are the dames, the wiseguys, the scams, the hustles. Those corporate suits came in, and they just ruined the town!

Corporation bashers come in all flavors, from the pious to the punks. And each and every one of them appears shocked–shocked–to observe that the corporation is soulless. But the entity that so disappoints them, the one that is immoral, or cold-hearted, or mean-spirited–is a fictitious person. The corporation can only reliably be accused of one of the Seven Deadly Sins–shameless pandering. It is a slave to consumer demand, and it will ruthlessly exploit whatever the market will bear.

It is not a departure from this view to see that firms often go to great lengths to create images which consumers will note and respect: I have a very good idea of what awaits me should I pop into Disneyland, Hooters, or The Mirage. Nor should consumers be shy about personalizing their corporate grievances when they feel abused.

So please e-mail me if you're considering the purchase of a new boat–I'll delight in telling you which brand not to buy. I don't ascribe any extra ill-will or extraordinary greed to a company's failure to perform. Mere incompetence explains it quite nicely.

After the Hooters' case was filed, an attorney materialized (as if pushed by an invisible hand) to represent a group of male supplicants seeking restitution. When asked if the restaurant chain had the right to select staff according to the preferences of their customers, he trumped consumer sovereignty with the race card: If a restaurateur decided to pursue a "plantation" theme, the attorney argued, it would be immoral and illegal to hire black men dressed like slaves as waitstaff.

This response recalls Dave Barry's "people will screw dogs" paradigm: The notion, clung to by so many, that pet sexual abuse would run rampant if there were no laws preventing it. But, leaving aside the silly detail that "plantation" theme restaurants are only likely to get funded via a generous grant from the Department of Agriculture or the Small Business Administration, the fact is that "plantation" themes are produced, in highly discriminatory fashion, quite regularly–in Hollywood. Is the counselor-at-law suggesting that whites be hired for slave roles, and sent to make-up for blackface? Or is editorial control over skin color to be asserted by the EEOC, as well? Stop those racist audiences! Out, out, damn history!

To bemoan Disney or Hooters or the new Vegas is to condemn consumer demand itself. The puzzle: Why are folks so obsessed with the idea that someone else may be having a better time? And why do great organizations–the Baptists, the federal government, the Cosa Nostra–get swept up in it?

Then again, why not ride the wave? I've never been, but tonight I'm going to Hooters–for the food. And I shall heed the Baptists' advice–I'll go to the Hooters in New Orleans. After which the whole family can hit the craps table!

Contributing Editor Thomas W. Hazlett (, an economist at the University of California at Davis, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.