Starbucks' CEO could lead some much more productive causes, and with authority

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The notion that the chief executive of Starbucks can lead an honest national conversation on race is as unrealistic as his quest for pragmatic politics when one of our two great political parties wants to repeal the Nixon administration, the Great Society and the New Deal.

White Americans are afraid of saying anything beyond harmless bromides for fear of being branded racist. And there are racists (see how President Obama has been insanely questioned about his birth certificate and his love for country — do you think this would happen if his name was Barry O’Bama and he was white?).

Much of black America believes whites pay insufficient attention to police shootings and the unequal incarceration rate, the state of black K-12 more than 50 years after the Brown decision, much less the American exceptionalism of Jim Crow and lynchings and continued inequality. And this is before the all-important issue of class is added.

This is perilous ground that makes one question Howard Schultz’s judgment, whatever his good intentions (and even these will be questioned).

Neither Howard nor I know what it’s like to be black. I’ll leave it at that.

A more productive conversation is how the service industries that predominate America, and where Starbucks is a leader, could create “port of entry” jobs, as creative class scholar Richard Florida puts it, that allows millions of low-wage employees to rise and increase their wages as was the case when America was a manufacturing superpower. Would Schultz back unions?

Another would be to shine the light on the destructive “shareholder rights” movement that has helped hollow out the middle class and local economies. Should Wall Street and transient speculators who are only nominally shareholders have this much power? Should “maximizing shareholder value” so trump the national interest compared with the era when the middle class was at its zenith? How about a transaction tax on Wall Street? Or taxes on the carry trade? A return to real antitrust enforcement?

Use Starbucks to push an ongoing discussion of climate change. Plenty of oligarchs are paying big money to ensure many Americans and lawmakers believe it is a “hoax.” Business, the 10,000-mile-supply chain and capitalism itself has an enormous role in causes and responses.

We need powerful business leaders who are willing to honestly discuss what ails the nation. But it won’t be easy when Americans are more divided than any time since the Civil War.

But some of the conversations above might get us somewhere. They might even help on race relations, too.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Yellen won’t be quick

To kick up interest rates

 Downturn averted