Does San Francisco suffer from hippie conservatism?

hippie elephant small

I’ll admit: I’m relatively new to San Francisco. I’ve only lived here for about a year and a half. In that short time I’ve seen a puzzling set of behaviors in the City that troubles me.

Our City suffers from a strange voice of conservative ideology disguised as progressive leadership. For some reason, our local media and our elected representatives give a high share of voice to this train of thought. My gut feeling is that this ideology is shared by a very vocal minority and is not the true voice of City residents.

The best name I can muster for this ideology is ‘hippie conservatism’. Hippie conservatism manifests itself in a lot of ways, most recently with regards to business permitting: a great deal of discussion and City Board of Supervisor attention has gone toward regulating which businesses can and cannot operate in the City. This is a waste of valuable and extremely limited City governing resources.

A grand poombah of outrage exploded at the prospect of Starbucks opening another location in the Richmond.

  • This is an inappropriate extension of local regulation. As long as a coffee shop operates within the legal requirements of the City (such as paying its workers according to wage laws, meeting health codes, or paying rent) the City should keep its hands off.
  • It just doesn’t matter whether it’s a ‘local’ or ‘national’ business. It makes no practical difference in the lives of our City residents. What does it matter which legal entity controls this coffee shop? What does it matter if it’s Starbucks or Local-Joe-Bucks? Either way it will serve coffee to the local residents of the Richmond. If the Starbucks, which happens to be owned by a business entity incorporated in Seattle, Washington, does not serve its local customers well, it will be unable to turn a profit and another store will take its place. If Local-Joe-Bucks, which happens to be owned by a business entity incorporated in San Francisco, California, does not serve its local customers well, it will be unable to turn a profit and another store will take its place. The best way to get a store to leave town is to not shop there.
  • I must repeat this important point: no matter what legal entity owns a business, no matter where this legal entity is based, the entity’s local retail location must serve the needs of its local customers or it will not turn a profit. Starbucks serves a real need in the community. It seems to offer a set of services unparalleled by local competition:
    • Low cost
    • Fast service
    • High quality
    • High availability (open late)
    • Clean atmosphere
    • Restroom availability
    • Parking
    • Quality branding and experiential attributes
    • Ancillary services such as take-home products and wireless Internet

Allowing local regulatory officials to pick and choose business operators is a blatant form of protectionism that sets our City back. This is not progressive thought, this is conservative protectionism that directly serves the needs of poorly-run local businesses that fear efficient, high-quality, national caliber competition.

What’s worse is that our City picks and chooses which national entities it will support and which it won’t. It’s willing to bend its rules if an entity bribes the right people. Supposedly our City doesn’t allow ‘chain stores’ with 11 or more locations. (Check out this ridiculous story about the enforcement of this regulation.) But, our City leaders are willing to bend the rules for ‘worthy’ companies. Case in point: a new Apple Store opened to great fanfare in the Marina in November. A quick check of Apple’s self-reported store locations shows over 200 stores. 200 stores? This sure seems like a chain to me.

Why no outrage at Apple? Perhaps because Apple plays the hippie conservatism game so well. Perhaps because Apple woos the mayor. An Apple Store is no different from Starbucks. They’re a business entity incorporated outside of the City with numerous national locations.

Supervisors: Stop cowtowing to hippie conservatism. Stop spending your valuable time picking and choosing businesses on our behalf. Let’s be truly progressive and let worthy businesses fight out for themselves which of them are worthy of our dollars and which are not. The true democratic vote is cast with our dollars at the point of sale.

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5 Responses to Does San Francisco suffer from hippie conservatism?

  1. Steve C. says:

    I totally agree, let the free market decide. The sad part is, if a local business opens up that doesn’t perform as well as the Starbucks, the city will lose money for being snooty.

  2. Bob says:

    I like supporting the local shops, but not by blocking out national chains. I would be in favor of an economic incentive to help out local businesses since a big part of making money for national chains is leveraging relationships with suppliers based on your largesse that a local store can’t contend with, but I don’t agree with blocking them out through legislation.

    If there were a tax write-off or some sort of credit based on being local, I think that would help to keep local shops in business. Small places just have a certain charm that is lost when a business is a franchise, and there aren’t always enough people that can afford to patronize these places regularly enough for them to charge more than the national competition in order to make a profit and still survive. I’ll go out of my way to visit these places, but I’m definitely not making enough to go to all the local coffee shops and music stores, etc., and buy things at a significant markup all the time.

  3. Pingback: Going with the flow « kfarr

  4. kfarr says:

    @Bob: I agree with the idea to SUPPORT local business instead of FIGHTING national businesses. I think it’s a much better idea.

    Support could come in a lot of flavors: tax write-off or credits would be consumer side to increase demand. The City could also offer incentives like lower property tax rates, lower income tax rates, free or streamlined permit and regulatory processing, etc., etc. to classes of businesses it deems worthy of extra support.

    This would have 2 great effects. It would give local businesses a ‘leg-up’ to help them compete at the same level as national competitors, and it would provide a greater incentive for anyone to come up with innovative business concepts and to specifically start those concepts here in the City.

  5. Pingback: Politicians forget (ignore?) basic economics. « kfarr

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