Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Laissez Faire

According to this article from The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), which also appeared on here (think it's available to all), Starbucks would not let the words "laissez faire" appear on one of their customizable gift cards.

Because "laissez faire" is either "threatening," "derogatory," or I suppose "overtly political." Uh huh. (By the way, I disagree with author's assertion that laissez faire is part of what made Starbucks a successful company, since laissez faire has not--if ever--existed in this country for a good. long. while.) Here is the policy:

We review each Card before printing it to make sure it meets our personalization policy. We accept most personalization requests, but we can't honor every one. Some requests may contain trademarks that we don't have the right to use. Others may contain material that we consider inappropriate (such as threatening remarks, derogatory terms, or overtly political commentary) or wouldn't want to see on Starbucks-branded products.

Sure. Rejecting trademarks is the right thing to do. And of course Starbucks gets to refuse whatever they like--it's their company and they can do what they like. That's the beauty of (mostly) free enterprise--if you have a company and don't want to use your company's products to promote things you don't like, then you don't have to do it.

And as a consumer, I don't have to go there either--not that I go there all that often, but there is one close to my house and it's nice to swing by some mornings. But still, the coffee isn't all that great and it's just as easy to make better coffee here at home.

I am very curious, though, about this anti-laissez-faire stance they've taken and decided to test it for myself. I have requested a custom card that says "Ayn Rand was right!" I'm just wondering if that statement would be threatening, derogatory, or overtly political in the view of Starbucks. And if it would be worth the $29 for them to reject it. I suspect it might be rejected. If not, then I guess I've got a whole bunch of mornings of paid-for coffee coming to me.

I'll let you know how it turns out. Either way, I think I'll make even less of an effort to get to Starbucks in the future. Caribou Coffee is a bit further, but the coffee is better anyway.


Flibbert said...

Actually, Starbucks is opposed to Capitalism in principle. This is stated all but explicitly in word and practice. You need look no further than their remarks on "fair trade" coffee.

I blogged about this a while back:

They irk me.

Cal said...

A smart friend suggested sending in "Give me Liberty, or give me death", and seeing if they think that's politically incorrect.

Rational Jenn said...

Oh my, then I will pass out with shock if I get my Ayn Rand card! I have obviously not been paying enough attention to Starbucks as a company. They are ubiquitous and sometimes I partake and they show up in the news sometimes, but really, I haven't paid attention--they've just been in my peripheral, you know. So I guess I will wake up and smell the, you know. (Okay, that was silly.)

And I'd be interested if they would print Patrick Henry--although I'm not willing to put any $$ behind it yet.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hmmm. I don't do Starbucks that much, either. I prefer the flavor at a little local company, Satellite Coffee. But even that is a "sometimes" item in the budget. Mostly, I purchase beans at Satellite or Seattle's Best, and make my own coffee. Much cheaper per cup, and it tastes better, too. And the scenery here can't be beat.

That said, one of you ought to try "Who is John Galt?" and see what they do about that.

As for me, well, I'm still trying to imagine a really good one. Hmmm.

C. August said...

I think EHL has the right idea. "Who is John Galt?" is perfect. Either that or a 72pt dollar sign.

And Flib is right... Starbucks is the anti-business business. They've reached the height of contradiction. Although I don't think they live their collectivist egalitarian values quite like Ben & Jerry's. I think -- much like companies that "go green" for marketing only -- that Starbucks is a real corporation using the altruist ethics and hippy northwest lifestyle as a brand image. Their major investors are still just as concerned with profit and projections as any other.

So maybe they aren't opposed to capitalism in principle. They just oppose it superficially so they can hang with the popular kids.

I still like their French Roast, though. I've tried others, and they just don't have that certain.. special... feeeeling.

Flibbert said...

Nah. I think they're anti-Capitalist in principle. They just haven't figured out how to make socialism work or worked up the nerve to just put the gun to their heads.

Starbucks' performance on the market reflects a losing struggle with their principles, though. Just check out the two year performance of their stock: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=SBUX&t=2y&l=on&z=m&q=l&c=

If you look at the 5 year performance, you'll note that their peak is in 2006 which is not very long after they got all "socially conscious" with things like that damn Ethos water (SBUX bought Ethos in 2005) and the Fair Trade coffee.

Instead of the gun, it looks like they've opted for slow poison!

In less philosophical news and veering wildly away from the topic at hand, their old CEO just came back to the business (he was gone for something like 8 years) and I've heard he's refocusing the business on coffee (See also that Pike's Place Roast they introduced just yesterday). Although I doubt Schultz will bring principles to the business, I do expect him to cut back on some of these more costly activities. They've had at least two widely publicized price hikes in the past two years and they were already well-known as an expensive brand.

The company isn't doing so well and it's my hope that they wake up and realize the cause.

(I do agree that they aren't as hippy-dippy and Ben & Jerry's Ice-cream, but B&J has the advantage of being a subsidiary of a parent company who can finance their fail.)