Art Carden  

Scenes from the Class Struggle in the Rent-Seeking Society: Advantage, Chick-fil-A

PRINT
The Fine Line Between Social D... Caplan-Ting Foreign Policy Deb...

Five Points in Birmingham is a destination for an interesting combination of good food and crazy. There's a Chick-fil-A in Five Points, and I didn't realize until I read this article that said Chick-fil-A doesn't have a drive-thru. There was, apparently, a lot of opposition to Chick-fil-A's original proposal (that included a drive-thru), so they ultimately dropped it after the local authorities rejected their proposal.*

Now, they're offering "curbside" service, which allows customers to drive up to a tent in the parking lot, place their order, and wait for it to be delivered to them while they wait in the parking lot. I think it's a pretty creative way to get around the restriction. I'll be interested in seeing whether it gets shut down or not. Congestion might be a valid concern, but my best guess is that these externalities will be internalized by property and sales tax collections. Something more is at issue here, I think.

In his money speech in Atlas Shrugged, Francisco d'Anconia counsels:

Run for your your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter.

I would add to that claims from "community leaders" about "preserving the character of the community." The article notes: "(a)t the time Chick-fil-A dropped its plans for a drive-through the decision was hailed as an example of cooperation between a corporation and a community." But "cooperation" isn't particularly meaningful when one party is holding a gun under the table.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time "character of the community" has forced Chick-fil-A to get creative. What they did to appease "community leaders" and build a restaurant on Union Avenue in Memphis was pretty odd.

*-Yes, I know I try to avoid news, but sometimes I give in and page over to AL.com to see what's "new."



COMMENTS (19 to date)
F. Lynx Pardinus writes:

Have you been to a town meeting? I've attended several, and they're filled with mundane negotiations over driveways, drive-throughs, signage, parking, grading, traffic flow, exterior building styles, etc. There's a lot of sworn testimony from experts from the different parties, and they usually work something reasonable out in the end. It's fun to snark about "money is evil," "community leaders," and "guns under the table," but these meetings are part of what make a community work.

Hazel Meade writes:

How are they doing with regards to the Mayor of Chicago's threat to refuse to give them any building permits until the owners change their opinions about gays?

Hazel Meade writes:

Also, just make sure that the orders are delivered by girls on roller-skates and my bet is they get away with it.

David T writes:

Town meetings *should* be about mundane things. Mundane things that actually affect individual stake holders, not "I don't like the design of the building on *your* property therefore I will use the force of government to get my way."

Architectural review boards are often a force for evil.

J.D. writes:

So, the Chick-fil-A essentially adopted the Sonic model of business with carhops?

If there's any Sonic restaurants in Birmingham, and if CFA gets shut down due to the carhops, but Sonic doesn't, then we know the motivation behind the CFA shutdown is invidious religious discrimination, and not anything based on their selected manner of doing business.

NZ writes:

David T:

I'm not an architect, but you don't have to be an architect to realize that the design of a building can potentially have a big impact on the way a neighborhood looks and feels. Architectural design frequently plays a role in determining whether people stop in a community or pass it by. In extreme cases it can be part of whether people decide to work and live in that community, or whether to remain or leave. The designs of buildings send signals about culture, values, and lifestyle. Sometimes these signals are derived from the buildings' evident function, sometimes they are not.

In a more practical sense, a building can cast reflections and shadows, obscure other buildings or landmarks, draw attention to other objects, or hazardously hide a driveway or intersection--all without the building itself ever encroaching beyond its property line.

For some reason, economics treats public goods as special cases, but really they are the overwhelming norm. Just about everything is in some way a public good, and it is rare to find a good that is truly private. Fortunately, things like architectural review boards and homeowners' associations recognize this.

J.D.:

Or the motivation could be any number of other things that just aren't readily apparent. Could even be the result of a personal disagreement between some local councilman and a CFA representative. Who knows.

Aaron Zierman writes:

@NZ

Very, very dangerous ground. Your claim seems to be that if there are even any perceived externalities, then a governing body should step in to determine "what is best". While there may be some undefined line where intervention could occur, it is far from the line you have drawn.

Private property is foundational to a free society. Don't easily dismiss it.

Daublin writes:

@NZ, you are theoretically correct, but you are overly blaisse about architectural review boards in real life. Are you perhaps on one yourself?

I have encountered numerous people, including architects, who have found architectural review boards to be totally corrupt. For example, it is a common procedure to hold out on accepting a proposal until it includes some work that will be supplied by cronies of the board.

These boards don't look out for the public. They look out for their buddies.

NZ writes:

Aaron Zierman:

Very, very dangerous ground.
Dangerous to whom?

My claim is that externalities, even if they are perceived, have very real consequences on behavior and/or experiences. Also, that externalities are ubiquitous and relevant to everyone in a society.

I agree that there is an undefined line where intervention should occur, but you haven't presented any reason why it should be far from where I drew it. (And where exactly do you claim that is, by the way?)

I also agree that private property is foundational to a free society, but that doesn't mean private property is free of externalities. Nor does it mean that the notion of "a free society" is necessarily more important than optimizing the experience of people who work and have families within that society.

NZ writes:

Daublin:

I am neither on an architectural review board, nor do I have first-hand familiarity with one. I completely believe what you say about your encounters with them.

But it's kind of like college: I think most higher education is basically corrupt. They're running a racket that preys on scared, easily confused, naive young people, their eager, hopeful parents, a government whose representatives know they cannot afford to be seen as "anti-education", and a lending industry that has caught too pleasant a taste of the Bail Out. However, this doesn't mean we'd be better off if college didn't exist.

For all their problems, architectural review boards seem to mostly succeed at keeping many neighborhoods looking nice and coherent. I want to live and raise my kids in a place that looks nice and coherent. I think most people do.

If our society was one cozy tribe with a truly shared heritage, culture, and set of values, then maybe I could count on real estate developers and architects to be more benevolent. But until then, a local architectural review board seems like a good idea.

Aaron Zierman writes:

NZ:

"Dangerous to whom?"

Dangerous to everyone who is not in the supremely powerful position of deciding what is acceptable or unacceptable.

I agree that externalities are commonplace. But the simple presence of an externality does not necessitate intervention. Where exactly do we draw a line? I would be reluctant to draw any definitive line, as specific circumstances could vary so widely.

You also say this:

"I want to live and raise my kids in a place that looks nice and coherent. I think most people do."

I can agree with this. However, what if someone's definition of "nice and coherent" differs from your own? Or what if they don't care much about that? Do you have the right to force your "picturesque living environment" on them? Or do they have the right to force theirs on you?

Lastly, you say this:

"Nor does it mean that the notion of "a free society" is necessarily more important than optimizing the experience of people who work and have families within that society."

Again, who decides this "optimal experience"? If we are not free to decide our own optimal experience, but rather are enslaved to live out someone else's idea of it, that whole concept falls apart. The two cannot be mutually exclusive. Unless, of course, the thinking of some such group needs to be retrained to understand what we know is actually best for them...As I said, dangerous ground.

Thomas writes:

I'm always saddened a bit that in my neck of the woods building social capital in the modern regulatory state is reduced to NIMBYism.

The best thing is that, when the concerned citizens lose, we usually learn that they were right to lose. ("Learn" here has an unusual meaning, because no group of concerned citizens later shows any understanding that prior groups have been wrong about the effect of changes.)

NZ writes:

Aaron Zierman:

Dangerous to everyone who is not in the supremely powerful position of deciding what is acceptable or unacceptable.
I would argue the opposite: that what's dangerous to all except the most powerful is a system in which the externalities of private decisions are ignored. The most powerful, in that case, have the resources to escape the externalities (via "Bubbles", perhaps), while everyone else is forced to suffer them.
Do you have the right to force your "picturesque living environment" on them? Or do they have the right to force theirs on you?
Maybe the question should be "Do I have any choice but to force my tastes on others, and vice versa?" since, as I said, nearly everything has externalities. I don't think this forcing of tastes is a problem as long as it improves the quality of life for regular people and their families. For example, minivans look kinda dumb and they're bad for the environment, but most soccer moms who drive them will swear by them, as my mom did. As I commented on David Friedman's blog, consequentialism led me away from libertarianism.
Again, who decides this "optimal experience"?
It's not centrally decided, but it can be centrally upheld. I think that's okay.
Aaron Zierman writes:

NZ:

"I don't think this forcing of tastes is a problem as long as it improves the quality of life for regular people and their families."

Again, who decides? You point to a distinction between "centrally decided" and "centrally upheld", but I just don't see it. Who decided what should be "centrally upheld"? Who can possibly have the perfect information to know what is best for all? Further, even if we could get that perfect information, it would still at best be "the most good for the most people". Which is fine...so long as you are in the "most people" group.

I guess we'll just have to disagree.

NZ writes:

Aaron Zierman:

This may be like one of those conundrums where in theory, you can never walk across a room because first you have to get halfway, but before you can get to the halfway point you must first get halfway to that, etc. and yet, in reality, people walk across rooms every day.

Of course, this is a bit different: nobody is expecting architectural review boards to be perfect, only to generally work and do more good than harm for their communities, which I think most probably do. (Again, I admit to having no first-hand experience with them.)

As Bryan Caplan wrote in "Myth of the Rational Voter," (and here I paraphrase) maybe we shouldn't be asking why government doesn't work like the Statists say it's supposed to, but why government works so well in spite of everything theoretically wrong with it.

even if we could get that perfect information, it would still at best be "the most good for the most people". Which is fine...so long as you are in the "most people" group.
Indeed. I try to see society from a design perspective: there is a specific set of end users for whom the experience is optimized (hopefully in society's case, this is intact nuclear families), and then there are other users outside of that set for whom the design trade-offs will not be optimally aligned.

I don't see this as a problem any more than I see it as a problem that Lamborghinis are not designed to accommodate soccer moms. You could spend a lifetime designing a car which accommodates both soccer moms and high-earners with the Need for Speed, but at the end you'd have a vehicle which is useful to neither.

Tom West writes:

Aaron Zierman, NZ

Thanks for an interesting an well-conducted exchange.

NZ, while I am also a consequentialist, Aaron failed to bring up the most obvious of zoning restrictions - keeping out those of a specific race, which might indeed might make almost all of the current homeowners happy (at least 50 years ago).

While we're both likely quite comfortable with the majority's general mien (at present), and thus trust policies that reflect those values, it's useful to remember that there are time when the majority *can't* be trusted to be 'reasonable'.

Of course, if one doesn't feel beholden to any general principles, you can (like I do), say that it works for now, so right now I support it.

Of course, you do get odd looks if you announce "I have no principles." :-).

NZ writes:

Tom West:

It's useful to remember that there are time when the majority *can't* be trusted to be 'reasonable'. Of course, if one doesn't feel beholden to any general principles, you can (like I do), say that it works for now, so right now I support it.
I don't think you need to abandon your principles to both (A) want society to be optimized for a specific set of people and (B) not want the remaining people to be disenfranchised.
Tom West writes:

Well, my personal experience is that I have yet to find any non-trivial set of absolute principles that don't end up "failing" corner-cases or special circumstances, in which case, they aren't absolute principles.

(Where "failing" is defined as strongly welfare-reducing by my metric.)

I do have a strong set of guidelines, however :-).

NZ writes:

Tom West:

At first you spoke of "general principles" while now you're referring specifically to "absolute principles." These seem like two different sorts of things to me. Last, you admitted you have "a strong set of guidelines" which I'd say is pretty close to having "general principles" anyway.

I like general principles, precisely because you can make exceptions for special cases--even without having to articulate exactly why you've made an exception. This kind of flexibility is very helpful in principle-holding, especially to the average person who doesn't have the time or mental muscle to sit around reflecting deeply on his principles.

Things seem to turn out better when people have principles. If having some leeway to occasionally break one's principles is the alternative to having no principles, then I say have principles with leeway.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top