June 19, 2005

Predatory Coffeeshop Capitalists!

David Adesnik fisks a perfectly silly front-page article in the Washington Post about how Starbucks supposedly ruins college students forever – yes, even into retirement – with their high-priced fancy-pants lattes.

That article is only about Starbucks on the surface. The complaints therein could apply to absolutely any coffeeshop, anywhere, owned by anyone – corporate, independent, or co-op. (No newspaper in the Pacific Northwest would dare publish such a ridiculous piece. That would be like bitching about wine and cheese in France or burritos in Mexico.)

I am not a starving college student who has to count his pennies, but I’m not rich either. I make my living writing and editing and I don’t have a day job. You figure out how much money I probably make. It ain’t six figures yet, let’s put it that way.

I don’t “waste” three dollars a day on gourmet coffee. I spend, on average, six dollars a day. That’s twice as much as college students who are supposedly wrecking their future are spending. So I’m being financially raped twice as badly by Starbucks and every other tin pot coffeehouse exploiter in Portland. Woe is me! Where do I sign up for the class-action lawsuit?

If coffeeshops left Portland I would have to leave Portland along with them. I can’t live anywhere that doesn’t have coffeeshops and, no, I’m not kidding. When I was in college I did my homework in coffeeshops and, yes, I’m still paying off my student loan that partially funded those lattes. Today – every day – I get at least half my work done in coffeeshops. I don’t have an office to report to. But I have to get out of the house and go somewhere during the day. Coffeeshops are my “office.” I’m not going to take my laptop and hang out at McDonald’s for four hours in the middle of the afternoon. Six dollars a day for “office space” rental that comes with lattes instead of cheap drip coffee is a pretty good deal, I have to say.

What this silly anti-Starbucks screed fails to take into account is that coffeeshops create a pleasant “third space” environment (meaning it’s neither work nor home) for people to spend quality time in. That’s something worth paying good money for. Feeding a caffeine habit at home can never replace that.

Complaining that Starbucks rips off college students and ruins their future financial livelihood, as though it were some nefarious predatory capitalist plot, strikes me as a product of the same reactionary impulse that drives fundamentalism: the fear that someone, somewhere, might be having fun.

If you think three bucks for a latte is a rip-off, fine, don’t buy lattes. But don’t think you can get some hard-hitting investigative journalism out of that little opinion of yours without being scoffed at.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2005 10:52 PM
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