It’s a strange thing that all the leading progressives feel schadenfreude toward all the Starbucks closings around the country.
I mean, this institution samples all the fashionable attitudes in music, aesthetics, and politics, subtly embracing the ethos of the arch-lefty consumer class: happy to promote commercialism provided that the commercialism points to all the right environmental and social-justice causes.
Still, Starbucks expanded too quickly and too aggressively and eventually, for whatever reason, earned the wrath of the tribe. (The Wobblies seem particularly annoyed that they have avoided unionizing.)
For my part, I’m glad to see Starbucks go down the old-fashioned way: bested by a rival. In this case, it is the least likely rival that one might expect: McDonalds. Have you seen their amazing coffee machines that crank out lattes and cappuccinos with the best of them? Yes, I know that these treats have long been available in urban areas, but they only recently reached my home town.
The machines that make the stuff are sheer wonders. They have two canisters on top with beans that get ground fresh with each new cup ordered. The entire machine is self-contained with digital operation. And they do it all in minutes for $2 per cup. I’ll never stand around Starbucks for 10 minutes listening to bad 1980s alternative rock again.
The blogs are furious about it all, of course, with people denouncing McDonald’s for stirring in the foam and other heresies of coffee-drink making, but I could not care less. I find them delicious and I’m thrilled to be free of all that Starbucks pretense.
McDonalds feigns attempts at latching on to current political trends, offering low-fat this or that or claiming to be environmentally friendly, but it is never very convincing (“Our standard operating procedures include regular litter patrols of the areas around our restaurants”), and thank goodness. This is a company that is all about the thing they do well, which is bringing to life the Jetsons world of push-button food, a vision that has enticed me since childhood.
One has to appreciate this company’s capacity for continually reinventing itself and bringing all of its products to all social classes. They perfected the kids’ playground. They have a pitch for the hip urban class. They have a country side too. They do fish. They do breakfast. And sometimes it seems like a Quarter Pounder is the best thing in the world. What’s more, they don’t do what they know they can’t do.
Now they have taken a luxury drink like a cappuccino and found a way to bring it to every living soul, in a package that is a beautiful and unashamed mimic of the competition. In this sense, it embodies the very soul of capitalism: efficiently universalizing society’s most desirable things.
One of the reasons that the elites loathe places like McDonald’s, or Wal-Mart, or Target, or any of these places that cater to Everyman — and you might suppose that the champions of the workers and peasants would love these places — is precisely their capacity to rob the rich of their distinctive social markers. One day it was a sign of class and distinction to drink a latte; the next day, every construction worker is doing it.
Places like this make it difficult for the rich to set themselves apart from everyone else. This is a message I pick up from both Mises’s Anti-Capitalistic Mentality and Garet Garrett’s wonderful novel Harangue. They both seek to explain the strange elitism of the Left and its opposition to capitalism for the masses. And they both discern that the answer lies in the way that the market is so slavishly devoted to serving the needs of the average person as opposed to society’s philosopher kings.
And that’s why McDonald’s effort to latitudinize the latte is not garnering accolades from the blogosphere. No matter: this is a success, as you can see by the lines and all the excitement. It is especially pleasing to see how much the employees enjoy the action. Next time you are in, ask about the machine and talk to the management about it how works, how they were trained, and how it is drawing new crowds in the restaurant.
Yes, it is all about profits. Sorry socialists: this also means that it is all about people.
Jeffrey Tucker [send him mail] is editorial vice president of www.Mises.org.