Friday, April 11, 2014

Hobby Lobby Hypocrisy

Much has been made lately of the news that Hobby Lobby is engaging in rampant hypocrisy.  One such example is this article from Mother Jones:
When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, the company's owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm's owners cite in their lawsuit.
I think this is a great conversation piece, so I wanted to address it.  More than anything else, I would encourage some perspective. First, Hobby Lobby is not trying to purge all forms of contraception from their plans, just the ones that somehow eliminate a fertilized egg (i.e. thus meeting their understanding of abortion). Second, we're talking about mutual funds - Hobby Lobby has no control over what companies are represented in each fund. That's what the fund management company does. This would be like buying season tickets to the Kansas City Chiefs because I love football and then being called a hypocrite because a couple of Chiefs players play baseball on the side. The Chiefs administration team decides which players the Chiefs employ, not me. I simply participate and watch the players they provide.

The author of the article raises the fair question of why Hobby Lobby hasn't been using faith-based funds if this is a major problem for them. I would be curious to hear that answer, and I suspect we will before too long. But let's say Hobby Lobby did have the authority to pick their funds. Even then, hypocrisy isn't a compelling assertion. The article itself describes how there are up to hundreds of holdings in each of the nine funds in question, meaning there are potentially several thousand companies in question. To charge hypocrisy against Hobby Lobby in this scenario is to assert that they should have thoroughly researched the full business practices and product lines for each one of those several thousand companies (and many thousands more, if they're evaluating the remaining 15 funds, too). Furthermore, since a company's products and services change over time, they would need to be constantly evaluating each of those thousands of companies, would they not? This is an unrealistic and unsustainable effort for any company that is trying to run an actual business (and precisely why fund management companies exist - this work is their business). It seems more likely to me that Hobby Lobby didn't think much about this at all until Obamacare forced the issue a couple years ago. At that point, the chain re-evaluated its own plans first and realized they needed to make some changes (and then made them). That doesn't strike me as hypocrisy. Negligence, perhaps, but not hypocrisy.

For those who claim it is, I would ask if they have examined the thousands of companies in their own portfolios to identify and eliminate any product or service or action -- whether it be contraceptives, oil companies, weapons manufacturers, environmental damage, or whatever is important to them -- from any company that could be considered objectionable, and taken steps to remove those companies from the portfolio...and then repeating the exercise annually.

Hypocrisy is a tricky beast, isn't it?

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