Media attacks private businessman for running his private business the way he wants

By   /   May 10, 2013  /   2 Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – I prefer writing about so-called “serious things” like government infringing on civil liberties, pension debt and unnecessary government regulations.

I leave the media criticism arm of the Franklin Center operation to my buddies Dustin Hurst and Jon Cassidy, who are both more adept and more insightful on the topic than I am.

But it’s a Friday afternoon, so I’m going to let myself have a little fun.

Perhaps you’ve seen the articles floating around the Internet (several of them were on my Facebook and Twitter feeds just today) about the supposedly insensitive comments made by Michael Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, a clothing store that caters to teens and young adults.

XL CONTROVERSY: Should a private businessman be allowed to sell what he wants?

XL CONTROVERSY: Should a private businessman be allowed to sell what he wants?

There are more than a few people incensed by what Jeffries said earlier this week, when he was asked why his store does not stock clothes in sizes larger than XL for women (though they do so for men).

Here’s how the Los Angeles Times sums up the situation:

All of this stems from an interview that Jeffries had with Salon magazine in 2006 that resurfaced and went viral this week.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he’s quoted as saying in the article. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

He goes further, saying that clothiers who try to serve all potential customers are boring.

“Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla,” he said. “You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

Now, ABC News has put together a video report on the manufactured outrage, and a blogger at Yahoo! News asks if being obnoxious is a fireable offense

But the worst offender is Sara Taney Humphreys of Huffington Post,  who authors an open letter to Jeffries “from a former fat girl.”  Here’s a sample:

What is wrong with this dude? My guess is that he was an outcast as a kid and this is his ultimate revenge. He’s now successful and feels that this makes him one of the cool-kids by default.

What he doesn’t realize is that he’s made himself the ultimate loser.

Shame on you, Mr. Jeffries.

Shame on you for perpetuating the bully on the playground mentality, in the online community and with our youth. The message you are sending is reprehensible and an appalling waste of an opportunity. You could have chosen to use your power and position to promote tolerance and love. Instead, you chose to promote and validate bullies. Your campaign is telling our young people that it’s perfectly acceptable to exclude someone because of the size of their body.

Full disclosure: I don’t know Jeffries.  But since Humphreys is going to cast aspersions about his motivations,  I’ll do the same.

Jeffries’ “campaign” is not to promote and validate bullies.  I doubt he spends his lunch hour running after overweight children and telling them they will never succeed in life.  Though if he did, that would be perfectly fine too – free speech and all.

I’m guessing Jeffries’ motivation is to make money.  And one way a company makes money is to differentiate itself from its competitors.

In Humphreys’ world, a store that only sells women’s clothing is probably discriminating against men.

Here’s what she – and everyone else outraged by Abercrombie and Fitch – is missing: the incredible thing about capitalism is that it provides a bevy of options for consumers to chose from – if you don’t believe me, consider a grocery store in America versus one in Cuba or North Korea.

Abundant choice is among the greatest gifts that a free market provides a potential consumer.

But how easy it is to forget that markets are built on voluntary exchange.  And the buyer is only one-half of that process.

The seller makes choices too – choice about where to set up shop, what prices to charge and what services to provide.

If Jeffries refused to sell orange-colored clothes in his stores, would anyone have a problem?  Likely, people who wanted to buy orange shirts and pants would simply shop elsewhere.

And that’s the other great thing about the choices provided by free markets – if you don’t like the products or services at one location, you don’t have to shop there.

Better yet, you can encourage others not to shop there, which seems to be part of the goal of some commentators.

But don’t try to argue that the man who owns the business is not allowed to run his business any way he wants – or that he is a bully out to destroy the self-esteem of millions of Americans who might not fit into the clothes he is offering for sale.

Boehm is a civil liberties reporter for PA Independent.

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000470197950 Matt Goodwin

    ….actually it would not be fine to chase overweight children shouting abuse at them. I don’t mean ethically, I mean legally. For a variety of reasons. Come on dude(tte). It would be unfortunate to undermine your point while being facetious, but we seem to have averted that scenario as you have so very little to say. It’s a free market and here is how that works. Is your opinion of your normal readers’ grasp of very basic ideas honestly that low? How sad.

    I hope you had fun though!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004667346146 Jay Bee

    Responding to your last paragraph – Mr. Jeffries is free to run the business as he chooses. I don’t see where Sara “the worst of them” Humphreys is suggesting anything beyond a consumer boycott . . . a tactic you appear to support. BTW – Jeffries owns about 3% of the stock. He’s a big shareholder but not the owner. Strictly speaking, he’s an employee.

    What exactly do you think should prevent a person from arguing that another person is a bully? I happen to agree that the message Mr. Jeffries spits out is destructive. You’re certainly free to dispute that, but as a free-thinking individual, I figger I’m entitled to think and express the notion.

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