Searching for Answers

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My Uncle Bob was a baker. When he was younger, to the detriment of his family time, he worked double shifts to save $50,000 so he could become an entrepreneur. Taking that money, along with his life savings, Bob and his wife opened up a bakery, and during the first three years, spent twenty hours per day developing the business.

Over the next seven years, they sacrificed family vacations and were able to hire a few minimum wage employees to help them grow. As time passed, they hired more and more employees, increasing the wages for managers and continuingto pay minimum wage to the new workers. The business grew and they opened up forty-two more bakeries across the East Coast. By sixty-three, Uncle Bob had built a $60 million dollar business and he and his wife took home over $5 million annually. Still, his newest employees continue to make minimum wage.   His first four employees, now in regional managerial positions, had become millionaires.

Yesterday, in discussions with some friends, an argument evolved regarding Uncle Bob.

One side claimed this Mom and Pop business was the epitome of the American Dream, that two folks had risked everything to build a successful business and made their fortune. They suggested the risk of capital, sacrifices of vacations and family, and dedicated hours at the beginning of their venture meant they earned and deserved their large profits. They also argued they’d created millionaires and hundreds of jobs for the people in their communities, andthat while they paid their newest workers minimum wage, these workers were low-skilled laborers who had not yet put in the hard work for the company to merit them more money.

The other side contended Uncle Bob and his wife were symbolic of corporate greediness, building their business on the backs of low wage employees and continuing to pay minimum wage while they basked in the million dollar profits, while no longer working. They argued the highly paid owners surely can afford to take home less, and should increase wages for the lowest earners in the company to ensure those people have more financially secure lives. And they suggested Bob and his wife have a social responsibility to care for their employees’ needs and to recognize that the employees contribute to the success of the business just as much as the owners. They suggested the community would do better to boycott the business until the owners raised the workers’ wages.

I feel like this story encapsulates today’s diametrically opposed views of American entrepreneurship. Is there any way to reconcile the two views?

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By ccxander

Black Friday – A Metaphortune

EXT: A retail store

A gathering of adults, toting petite and innocent, chubby children, stand passively in the chill morning air. Many come with their belongings strapped across their shoulders and a few dollars pressed between sun-drenched fingers. It is 8:00 am and the 3,000-deep line is thick with humanity, extending across six city blocks. Some of the huddled forms now stand with shoulders pressed together. Others spent the early morning’s hours upon tattered blankets stretched across sidewalks, in hopes of catching a few shut-eyed moments. With the line mounting for three uncomfortable days, hunger pangs and intestinal distress have reached dam-breaking levels. Frankly, people are tired of waiting.

About halfway back from the line’s front, a sort of horizontal capillary forms, where a crowd of people who are not in line, slowly merge into the line, pushing and shoving, with no regard for those who’ve spent the past three nights deteriorating. A few arm’s lengths behind them, disorder occurs, with those who’ve been waiting in line for hours, banging weathered fists and screaming “injustice” to the intruders now forcing them backwards – to wait longer, to suffer beneath the heating sun, to prevent them from gaining access to better wares for their lives. Several fights break out and at least one child takes a heel to the chin. By 8:30, the capillary has grown into its own artery of humanity, with hundreds of folks now jostling their way into the line, staving off the fight from behind from people who’ve waited for days.

To quell the chaos, two security guards emerge from the store’s rear. Moving to cauterize the artery, they grasp and hoist several bodies from the line, and then drag them back to their cars. Before they can return for more, however, the bodies have merged back into the bloodstream to rejoin their assault on the main line. In the distance, one can see thousands of shoppers exiting their cars trying to navigate the scene – wondering whether to head toward the back or to join the blood vessel that is forcing its way to the front.

With a tempest impending, the store’s owner appears at the window and asks the line to step back so he can speak to the recalcitrant crowd. They do. As the throng settles to await a decision on the unfairness, his words drift across the cement plain.

“Our store can only accommodate a certain number of customers, and since we do not have the time or manpower to determine who of you have waited in this line for three days, and who of you have forced their way into line unfairly, priority will be given to whoever is in line now.”

There is a roar of approval from the artery. Those in the back of the line, however, are outraged, for they see the wares of their lives disappearing into the unprincipled hands of those who did not follow the rules.

Meanwhile, a cloud of customers forms in the parking lot. They have heard the storeowner’s words and made their decision. To follow the rules is to miss out on opportunity. They move toward the artery. In a few moments, the doors will open.

By ccxander