The Bourgeois Virtues and Disaster Relief, Joplin Version
In my work on Walmart's role in the response and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, I also highlighted several other private sector firms that had gone to extraordinary lengths to provide relief to Gulf Coast residents in ways that could not be understood only as profit-seeking. I argued that the very language they used to talk about their efforts was the language of ethics and values and not (just) what was good for business. In a book chapter published last year, I used the framework of McCloskey's The Bourgeois Virtues and documented the ways in which McDonald's, Marriott, and Procter & Gamble provided important relief after Katrina.
Well P&G is at it again, this time in the aftermath of the recent tornadoes. The New York Times reports:
Days after the tornado, two of the company’s brands, Tide and Duracell, arrived with their own specially equipped trailers and crews, which set up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Joplin.
One trailer housed the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry, first dispatched to post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005, which provided free wash-and-fold service. The other was the Duracell Power Relief Trailer, which provided free batteries and flashlights as well as charging stations for phones and laptops.
I take special pleasure in noting that they set up shop in a Walmart parking lot.
As the Times also notes:
“You have to be incredibly careful around natural disasters because you don’t want to be seen as an ambulance chaser, and you cannot merchandise on the back of a disaster,” said Carol Cone, managing director for brand and corporate citizenship at Edelman.
But Tide has steered clear of pitfalls, Ms. Cone said.
“What they came up with is to give superhuman powers to their brand to help out during disasters,” Ms. Cone said. “In a disaster people have lost everything, but what Tide realized is that just bringing in a laundromat gives people a modicum of normalcy, a moment of humanity.”
Here is commerce meeting virtue: by giving away their product, they have enabled people to navigate a terrible situation with one less thing to worry about and to at least have the dignity of clean clothes while they rebuild the rest of their lives.
Capitalism makes it possible to engage and deploy the whole range of bourgeois virtues.
(Thanks to Claire Morgan for the heads-up)