Starbucks giving up

Unlike the plucky fighter pilot of the same name, Starbucks the corporate coffee giant has wilted and turned like Monty Python’s King Arthur.

According to Channel 4:

Given the week ahead, Starbucks may have been trying to pre-empt criticism by issuing a statement saying: “Starbucks has complied with all the tax laws in this country but has regretfully not been as profitable as we would have liked.”

“We have listened to feedback from our customers and employees, and understand that to maintain and further build public trust we need to do more,” Starbucks said. “As part of this we are looking at our tax approach in the UK.”

© Diego Duarte Cereceda

Starbucks could at least have had the courtesy to duke it out for one Saturday lunchtime against UK Uncut. I would have cheered if, in a statement of uncomfortable truths, Starbucks had announced that due to public misconceptions we have been forced to restructure our tax affairs in order to voluntarily pay additional UK Corporation tax and would therefore, as a direct result, be adding 10p to the price of a coffee in order to protect staff wage increases inline with inflation. Such would be the policy of Gibbo’s Coffee Emporium public relations department, had it existed. As it is, Starbucks’ new approach to public relations helps to conceal the fact that it’s actions were ultimately in everyone’s best interests. They might not have made the case that tax is better spent by them, which would be easily arguable to anyone familiar with Mises, but would at least have exposed the real cost of tax to the UK public and refocused the debate.

What I’ve learned from following this story is that the UK public discourse is narrow-minded and hubristic when it comes to taxation. You often hear people, colleagues, family, charities, talking about what they think should be done with tax money. There is a strangely arrogant tone to it which is married with a kind of modestly that causes them to believe that the people in power could also do an okay job too if it weren’t those pesky Tories/Tax evaders/establishment types/special interests. When you consider economics as a problem of knowledge, skills and decison making though, it’s obvious that the more spending power is decentralised the better will be our economic progress. None of that is reflected in the media discourse on this story. The media would have you believe that tax is an unqualified good, not the unjustifiable error that it is.

I had thought of heading over to Starbucks with members of the meetup to give those arrogant UK Uncut types a stern dressing down well composed leaflet about Austrian economics, and try to get some media traction. If I had gone ahead I would have been busily taping cardboard to placard poles on Sunday evening when I heard about Starbucks’ change of heart. The deafening silence and earnest lack of co-operation I got when I floated it on Facebook saved me a wasted weekend. Just as the UK media are years away from being able to properly discuss these ideas in a balanced way, the UK’s libertarian tendency is not ready to take to the barricades. I wonder if that because my colleagues have realised long before me how far the UK media are away from taking libertarian ideas seriously, or whether we must focus for a few more years on simply running up the flag and building up the strength of the community.

UPDATE: feedback from the pub is that it was a technology failure. I’m pleased, that’s considerably easier to fix.