retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Sunday Times report in the UK that Andy Bond, CEO of Walmart-owned Asda Group, plans to make a speech this week attacking what he sees as a growing nanny state, restricting what people are able to buy and how they behave through expanded regulation.

Which led one MNB user to write:

I would have to agree with Mr. Bond, although I never thought I would agree with anyone from Wal-Mart. It always seems to be a small minority of people who “push” their views on the vast majority. And since they are politically active, they end up being the driving force for the entire population. I’m frustrated by this myself, since I see so much being “rammed down our throats” in the US as well, what with being forced to use recyclable bags, eating healthier foods whether we want to or not and putting higher taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. For example, I don’t drink or smoke, but it’s by choice and I’m not for taking away anyone else’s right to do so themselves. But if they choose to, one thing a company can do is to make their health deductibles higher, since these people are so obviously hurting their health and driving up the cost of insurance for everyone. I end up paying higher insurance costs, too, and trying to decide what I can do without in order to pay for it is difficult. As for the Recyclable bags, I think educating people and making them available instead of forcing people to buy them is enough. Let them make the decision. Finally, I cannot stress enough that more people need to let their voices be heard by the government as well. Write to your congressman, fill out petitions or start one yourself, vote…. Do whatever it takes to make sure that your own rights are not taken away by those small minority groups who DO make THEIR voices heard.

In my commentary yesterday, I wrote:

This needs to be said, if only because both government and business need to understand that they cannot force-feed socially responsible attitudes to consumers. If people don’t want to eat healthy foods, all the regulation in the world won’t help. What is important – and hopefully more effective because people actually integrate the healthier foods into their lives – is providing actionable information about why some choices are better than others.

I would argue, however, that there are some ways in which business can and should lead. If, as I believe, it is concluded that the use of non-disposable canvas bags is better for the environment than the use of disposable sacks, then I don’t think there is anything wrong with a retailer adopting marketing and operational practices that move the company and its shoppers away from the latter through a variety of means. There are limits to the validity of the “I was just following orders” defense, even if the orders are coming from the shopper.

Besides, I would also argue that the shift to canvas bags is good for a retailer’s bottom line, which would ordinarily be reason enough to make the move and nobody would be discussing the nanny state; it’s only when you use words like “the environment” that people suddenly get suspicious and cynical about motives.

Another MNB user chimed in:

“If people don’t want to eat healthy foods, all the regulation in the world won’t help.”

And like your car insurance, if you are in an accident and you are not using your seatbelt…you are not covered. SO…if you make lifestyle choices and eating choices known to be harmful…your health insurance policy does not cover your resulting chronic disease. People can make all the “questionable” lifestyle choices they want…just don’t expect me to pay for the repercussions through…higher health insurance premiums…etc. That is what I would like to say…but…you know we all will be paying for the other peoples’ lack of judgment, poor lifestyle choices…and lack of intelligent decisions about…(topic inserted here)

And still another MNB user wrote:

Do I detect a change in your long term view of government regulation?

That's a good thing.

We have not only been inappropriate by allowing legislative backed behavioral models, but also intruded upon by class action and other irresponsible law suits. Throw in behavioral inspired taxes and consumers are fast losing freedom of choice.

Yes, business should lead and set the example, but government at all levels should leave it at that.

On the other hand…I was reading a story this morning about how the city of San Francisco is thinking adding to the city’s already ample tobacco tax so it can fund the extra money estimated spent to clean up the butts and tobacco refuse left by people on sidewalks and streets. Tobacco users and tobacco companies are saying “enough, already,” while others are saying that this seems to be a fair assessment of cost and blame.

I would side with the latter.

I would always prefer that the market drive change, innovation and progress. But the simple fact is that this doesn’t always happen.

The automobile companies have been fighting increased national mileage standards for years…and that fight – rather than an embrace of greater efficiency – has brought the US car companies to the precipice of obsolescence. If the government had paid attention to this problem during the first great oil crisis back in the seventies and forced greater efficiency in the use of a limited natural resource, American car companies might be on the leading edge today, rather than just bleeding.

I would argue, quite simply, for common sense and long-term thinking in both the private and public sectors.

KC's View: