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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

January 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM

The perils of a dive into the venti dysfunction of U.S. politics

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s No Labels organization to fix government has attracted much praise from the pundit class. An example comes from Joe Nocera’s column about the fiscal standoff this past Saturday in the New York Times:

“Where is the leadership?” asked Howard Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, echoing the sentiment of much of the country. Schultz had been trying for months to rouse the country into thinking hard about why our political system has run aground. “We can’t do this too many more times,” he said, referring to crises like the fiscal cliff. “We are sapping the country’s spirit. Our political system is broken.” He blamed, among other things, the practice of gerrymandering and the big money flowing into campaigns.

He’s right.

But not everybody is on Howard’s bandwagon.

Schultz asked baristas in D.C. to write “come together” on customers’ cups as the “fiscal cliff” deadline neared. Frank Rich of New York magazine said, “this kind of hollow bipartisanship is a marketing gimmick for self-regarding Beltway pundits, entrepreneurs hawking bogus, do-nothing organizations like Americans Elect and No Labels, and, of course, Starbucks Coffee.” He continued:

It’s based on the false premise that both political parties are equally to blame for our current plight and ignores the fact that one of our two major political parties has fallen into radical hands. The bipartisan boosters seem to think the only issues at stake are collegiality and an ability to “come together” over budget cuts. These are the same people who would have reckoned that the Missouri Compromise was a lasting resolution of the slavery debate in the decades before the Civil War. It’s particularly offensive that full-page newspaper ads pushing the Starbucks “come together” campaign offer as their sole text a quote from Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln died to sell lattes? Much as I loathe everything the Koch brothers stand for, at least they push an actual agenda rather than merely decaffeinated sanctimony.

At the heart of our governing crisis are a plutocracy (e.g. the Koch brothers and big banks) that has seized control of much policy, but also a deep, sincere divide among politicians and voters about the very nature of our troubles. Do we have a debt emergency right now, or one of a slow economy and unemployment? Climate change, or, as an outsized minority asserts, that’s just a hoax to foist light rail and socialism on the republic? Historic income inequality, industry consolidation and corrupt banks that are bad for capitalism — or this is life, deal with it and “let the market work”?

It’s a divide that can’t be bridged by sincerity alone. (Let the angry Sonics commenters begin their cannonade).

And Don’t Miss: Microsoft is fast turning into a side show || Forbes

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Basel and Fannie

Surrender to the big banks

Crime pays, with interest



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