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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This Bud's for Bud

I know it's been awhile, but this will take more than 140 characters, and I know that no one will pay attention to a Facebook status update that goes on longer than a line or two.

A friend posted the above image to his Facebook feed.  Once I wrapped my mind around the message. . . Well, I have to admit, I was still confused.

The gist of the meme seems to be that we should thank our lucky stars that we live in a free-market system that enables corporate benefactors to provide for the general welfare.  That because Anheuser-Busch has reaped the rewards of capitalism, they are now able to give back and provide aid and comfort to the beleaguered denizens of Texas now reeling at the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey.


My first response to this was to point out that, while we can give appropriate kudos to Anheuser for doing a good deed, this hardly qualifies as capitalism.  Indeed, giving away product that has a monetary value is kind of the exact OPPOSITE of capitalism.  Ayn Rand would not approve.

But, the libertarians will cry, who ELSE but a massively successful corporation could possibly provide clean drinking water to storm-tossed refugees?

Uh. . . the government?  That's what we pay taxes for: So we can have things like clean water and sewer systems and roads and dams.  It's nice that Anheuser Busch decided to forego some profits for the day and devote their resources to the public good, but I wonder how many lobbyists that selfsame company employs to make sure that they pay as little as possible in taxes?  How many loopholes do they exploit?  Hell, how much of a write-off are they going to claim for the good deed they're doing here?  If all companies paid their fair share of taxes, then perhaps our country's infrastructure would not be in such a calamitous state of disrepair that major weather events frequently wreak havoc on our cities and towns.

But still. . .  Still. . .  Let's give credit where credit is due.  Thank you, Anheuser-Busch, you are good. . . Good. . .

And then it hit me: Look at the cans.  These are not simply cans of drinking water.  These are cans of drinking water emblazoned with the Anheuser Busch logo.  This is not (just) charity; this is advertising.

Well, so what, you'll say?  After all, the point is that thirsty people will get clean drinking water.  If Anheuser-Busch wants to claim credit for this service, that's their right.

And, again, yes. . . but.  I mean, think about it: These cans must have been lying around, right?  Obviously, Anheuser didn't JUST (in the last few days) get them printed up since Harvey made landfall.  So this got me thinking about what the company actually did: They made a decision--and I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they decided with the best of intentions--to help out Harvey's victims and turn their production facilities from beer to water.  But then what?  They must have thought about how much water to distribute.  So what drove that decision?  What led them to the number 500,000?  Is that the number of cans of beer that would have been produced in a day?  If so, OK.


Is 500,000 the number of water cans the company had ready to go?  Because, if that's the case, then capitalism--far from inspiring virtue--in fact deprived people.  Because Anheuser, rather than producing as much water as it possibly could, limited its supply to that which could be marketed, to that which could serve as a platform for advertising.  Because Anheuser chose not to fill plain unmarked aluminum cans with water or--heaven forfend!--cans that had already been printed with Budweiser labels!  Because better to let some people go thirsty than risk that someone would open up a can of Bud and get water!  Think about the damage to the company's reputation!

(The fact that I personally find a can of Bud to be virtually indistinguishable from water is a whole different issue.)

Capitalism may do some things quite well, but when it comes to helping people--to altruism--a few cans of water are truly just a drop in the bucket.

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