Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, has always been the kind of boss who wears his heart on his sleeve. So it came as no surprise to Starbucks employees when, on Monday, he sent out a long, passionate, companywide e-mail entitled “Leading Through Uncertain Times.”
In it, he wrote about his frustration over “the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda” — creating an enormous crisis of confidence in the process. He said that Starbucks had a responsibility “to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company.” It needed to continue creating jobs. It had to maintain its generous package of employee benefits. And it was critical, Schultz wrote, for employees “to earn our customers’ trust by being respectful of their own life situations — whatever it may be.”
No, the surprise wasn’t the e-mail; it was what happened next. Although he has made his share of campaign contributions — “to candidates in both parties,” he told me on Friday — Schultz is hardly a political activist. Yet the response to his e-mail — not only from within the company but among a group of some 50 business leaders he shared it with — was so overwhelming that it galvanized him…
In effect, Schultz thinks the country should go on strike against its politicians. “The fundamental problem,” he said, “is that the lens through which Congress approaches issues is re-election. The lifeblood of their re-election campaigns is political contributions.” Schultz wants his countrymen — big donors and small; corporations and unions — to stop making political contributions in presidential and Congressional campaigns. Simple as that. Economists like to talk about how incentives change behavior. Schultz is proposing that Americans give Washington an incentive to begin acting responsibly on their behalf. It’s a beautiful idea…
He believes Congress needs to come back from the August recess now, instead of waiting until September. Then, he says, the president and Congress should hammer out a debt deal, which will restore confidence. And finally, and most importantly, they should start focusing “maniacally” on the nation’s most pressing concern: job creation. Once they’ve done that, the boycott would be lifted…
Is Schultz’s idea a long shot? Yes. Is it worth trying? You bet it is.
First, here’s a link [.pdf] to the original email to Starbucks employees, partners and the 50 CEOs outside the company.
Second, though I have been an activist in both the Republican and Democrat parties years ago – more so in the former than the latter – the contemptible, opportunist and egregious policies of most of our politicians was enough for me to turn my back on both their houses decades ago. I haven’t contributed a penny to either party’s electoral campaigns since the 1950’s.
What I have done and continue to do is support progressive political action within and without the Democratic Party. If I lived in one of the mythical enclaves where moderate Republicans who care about working people still live and breathe, I would do the same – as I did in the past. That’s not very likely in New Mexico.
As a cranky old geek living on my social security check supplemented by a couple of geek investments [no – I still don’t give public equities advice] I can’t afford to donate much of anything, anyway. So, I will continue to advocate for progressive politics, modern economics from Keynes to Leontiev, existential solutions to social, economic and political questions. None of which would I ever expect to find embraced by either dogpile of semi-useless politicians.
Go for it, Howard! Though buying “local” is our usual style, I’ll stop by for a coffee, this weekend, when we come to town for grocery shopping.