Panera Cares is Shutting Down

Editor’s Note: This is a commentary on Vox’s article titled, “Panera once operated 6 pay-what-you-can stores. Now the last one is closing.

Op-Ed Note: This piece is missing an Op-Ed. If you would like to write one to be published on, please let us know in the comments.

Panera Cares’ system was actually working as socialism, just not as a social business. A social business is one that is self-sustainable like Grameen Bank or its derivatives. A social business takes on investment without promising an ROI.

Panera Care locations were running at a loss to Panera itself, which is actually a good reflection of how socialism tends to work – the wealthy (Panera) subsidized the loss.
Yet, the issue is, they figured out they can’t do that forever. Why? To quote Margret Thatcher, “They’ve got the usual Socialist disease – they’ve run out of other people’s money.”

It isn’t hard to see how one can’t take a loss indefinitely. Not to mention an increasing loss – as human nature dictates over time less people will pay above the suggested cost and more people will begin to pay less or nothing at all – forcing Panera to subsidize more and more customers.

But one thing is missing between this model and a socialist state model like Ocasio Cortez or Bernie Sanders or Lenin or Stalin would espouse: Panera can opt out.

Under those people’s plans, the wealthy (or middle class) cannot opt out. Panera can call it quits after 8 years, but you and I could not. The government would still tax us despite our wishes and demands, and at an increasing rate to continue to subsidize its losses.

Which is the difference between the secular concept of socialism and the spiritual concept of giving. Giving is a choice, and one which the bible says “should not be done out of compulsion” (2nd Corinthians 9:7). Why? Because giving is not just for the benefit of the receiver, but for the giver also. It should bring joy, not despair, to the heart of the giver – “…for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Thus, the secular argument is for a theory of Utilitarianism – do the actions which bring the most good to the most people, no matter the means. Whereas the spiritual argument is for one of Kantianism – never use someone as a means to an end, but only as an end in him/herself. In other words, it is unjust to force your wealthy friend to purchase all of your Panera meals at risk of a prison sentence. Even if you believe the ending is good, it is not worth the sin of stealing from your neighbor. And it is stealing. Nine people in a room who, by democracy, vote to take the tenth person’s wealth to subsidize their Panera are still guilty of stealing even if they are spreading the responsibility out among themselves.

It is far better to work toward a culture that cultivates giving in the heart of all – from the wealthiest to the poorest. Remember the old lady gave two copper coins and our Lord said she had given more than anyone else. Why? Because she gave from a good place in her heart, and the actual amount didn’t matter. God is able to multiply the loaves and the fish. He doesn’t need our wealth to take care of others – He just asks that we obey and step out and give what we can. One thing He forbids though, is stealing or giving under compulsion or out of obligation. It ruins the entire plot, and in the end our Panera will be forced to close down.

Photo by Fiona Smallwood on Unsplash

Written by James Thayer