August 1st, 2011
– This is a reprint from 2007 —
For my birthday, my son gave me a book Iâ€™ve been wanting. â€œBlackwaterâ€. Itâ€™s the in-depth account of the for-profit militia that is everything President Eisenhower warned about in his â€œbeware of the military-industrial complexâ€ farewell speech. Blackwater, Inc. first came into public consciousness when the incinerated bodies of four of its employee soldiers were strung up on the bridge leading into Fallujah.
Normally, this would be of little interest to me. Although I am an investor in a small way, I am not part of what President W. would call â€œthe ownership society.â€ The reason it resonates is that I am a regular at the Peetâ€™s, corner of Fillmore and Sacramento. Its much beloved and respected manager, Brian, has been found dispensible.
The buzz has been going on for about six months now. Rumors to the effect that Brianâ€™s not providing the extra .00000000671% revenue kick a more company-minded manager might bring to bear. That could have to do with less-than-optimal placement of the new Green Tea Frappuccino posters. Or maybe he let a customer linger at the cash register for 3.5 seconds longer than the new corporate formula recommends. Possibly a new barrista has been failing to adequately describe the caramelly-goodness of a topping option, thus losing that one person in a thousand who might act on that rehearsed nonsense. Whatever, the MBAs have apparently determined Brian is not delivering for the investors.
Most everybodyâ€™s kind of sad. The employees, to a person, say theyâ€™ve never worked for a better manager. Anywhere.
I said to a friend, â€œIâ€™m going to write a letter to Peetâ€™s complaining about the situation.â€ He said, correctly, that it wouldnâ€™t make any difference. But it will to me. Somebody else snorted, â€œWhat are you going to do, Fred, go down the block to Starbucks?â€
This puts me in mind of the op-ed piece I read in the Wall Street Journal a couple years ago. The writer had the CEO of CostCo in his crosshairs. By paying its employees an average of $17 an hour, and giving them satisfactory health benefits, the argument went, CostCo stockholders were getting screwed. WalMart, with itâ€™s $9 an hour, stingy benifits plan, was a better model. Investor-friendly, good. Customer-friendly, consumer friendly, employee-friendly, bad.
Itâ€™s all pretty awful, this legacy of the Reagan years, but I doubt even that crackpot band of supply-side crooks would deploy a private army just to steal from the public.
No, thatâ€™s a Bush specialty. In fact, stealing doesnâ€™t appear to be the only motive. A private armyâ€™s a dandy thing to have if you get impeached and convicted, but donâ€™t want to leave.
But, along those lines, I think the sooner we test it, the better.