Blogs > Liberty and Power > Starbucks and the Socialism of Fools

Aug 4, 2008 11:29 pm

Starbucks and the Socialism of Fools

"Commentators' glee at the closure of 700 coffee shops, and the loss of more than 12,000 jobs, exposes the inhumanity of anti-globalisation." Marxist Brendan O'Neill has had quite enough of contemporary anti-capitalist sentiment.

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John Hays - 8/5/2008

"As far as I’m concerned, Starbucks’ casual closure of more than 600 stores and its slashing of 12,000 jobs is the worst thing the corporation has ever done. In an effort to protect its profits in a time of economic difficulty, it has chucked thousands of workers – from the migrant workers who serve the coffee to office workers in its Seattle HQ – on to the scrapheap. It has sacrificed the wages or livelihoods of thousands of people on the altar of Preserving the Profits for a few. It is capitalism at its most ruthless."

Seems pretty obvious that he DOES think Starbucks should have held onto those stores and employees despite their lack of profitability.

Obviously, I don't think you agree with O'Neill's Marxism. I think it's pretty clear that you do, however, subscribe to the notion that "modern anticapitalists" or "modern antiglobalists" are "inhumane" -- and I think it's pretty clear that the intent of your post was to show a supposed common ground between libertarians and "sophisticated" Marxists on the other on this issue. I just think that O'Neill's article is silly, its arguments incoherent, and its caricaturization of Starbucks "opponents" is disingenuous.

Mark Brady - 8/5/2008

Brendan O'Neill is nobody's fool. He's an established journalist and the editor of spiked-online, a website that came out of the Revolutionary Communist Party (UK, 1978-1997). Like his colleague Mick Hume, he's a self-identified libertarian Marxist who, unlike so many on the left today, takes Karl Marx seriously. He welcomes global capitalism as a liberating force. Hence this article. Actually, I doubt if "O'Neill believes that Starbucks should have held onto thousands of workers at unprofitable stores, just for the good of the employees." Like any clear-thinking Marxist, he recognizes how the profit motive drives the market economy. He regrets the fact that 12,000 workers have to lose their jobs. I agree with him. I see why it occurred and I'm sure he does too. And I'm sure he doesn't believe that "market transactions are zero sum." Where I think he's mistaken is that he anticipates capitalism generating material abundance on such a scale that private property and markets are superfluous. But that's an argument for another day.

Finally, a clarification and disclaimer. Quite often I post links to articles that I think would interest readers. This is one such piece. It doesn't necessarily follow that I agree with what the author writes. (In this particular case I sympathize with much of what O'Neill says without, of course, endorsing his Marxist beliefs.) And readers shouldn't conclude that I necessarily "cling to the implications [that they think] he draws out from it." I don't.

Some of you may enjoy reading Neil Davenport's review of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine that spiked-online published last year.

John Hays - 8/5/2008

A silly article and an even sillier attempt to score points against the anti-Starbucks crowd.

O'Neill believes that Starbucks should have held onto thousands of workers at unprofitable stores, just for the good of the employees. A noble sentiment, maybe, but hardly a conclusion that libertarians usually jump to defend. If we reject O'Neill's main thesis, why cling to the implications he draws out from it? Silly.

And while I think it's generally bad form to cheer when people lose their jobs, why pretend, as O'Neill seems to believe, that market transactions are zero sum? The closure of 700 new coffee shops leaves a lot of niches unsupported, and exploiting those requires workers too.

O'Neill's glib speculation into the motivations underlying positive reactions to Starbucks' financial trouble is similarly uncompelling. Perhaps the "coffee snob" just thinks Starbucks puts out an inferior, burnt-tasting, coffee? Why does he have to be a brainwashed localist who hates capitalism and couldn't care less about the plight of its workers?

It's understandable why an unrepentant Marxist might think so - but much less clear why a putative libertarian thinks the rest of us should.