ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shut Up & Brew My Coffee

(rip off of Laura Ingraham's Shut Up and Sing).

A bit of light news today... in the WSJ today, David Boaz found that Starbuck wouldn't print a customized gift card with the text "Laissez Faire" on the front. However, no worries with "Si se puede" or "People Not Profits::

Starbucks and 'Laissez Faire'
April 7, 2008; Page A12

Laissez-faire. It's a policy that made Starbucks vastly successful. But don't try to put that phrase on a customized Starbucks Card.

The cards are supposed be personalized to reflect customers' tastes and uniqueness. They are available in a range of colors, often given as gifts and used by regular customers who prefer to prepay for their java.

But when my friend Roger Ream, president of the Fund for American Studies, received a Starbucks gift card for Christmas, he found there was a limit to how personalized a card could be. His card required him to customize it on the company's Web site. So he went to the site and requested that the phrase "Laissez Faire" be printed on his card. A few days later he was informed that the company couldn't issue such a card because the wording violated company policy.
And so, at my suggestion, my friend went back to the Web site and asked that his card be issued with the phrase "People Not Profits." Bingo! Starbucks had no problem with that phrase, and the card arrived in a few days.

I wondered just what the company's standards were. If "laissez-faire" is unacceptably political, how could the socialist slogan "people not profits" be acceptable?

My assistant and I tried to get the company to explain its policy. We started by trying to purchase a card with the phrase "Laissez Faire," and were rejected as my friend had been. We then asked a company spokesperson why. He suggested that it might be because "laissez-faire" is a foreign phrase. That seemed possible and a reasonable precaution.

So we tried another foreign phrase – "Si Se Puede," or "Yes we can." It's the United Farm Workers slogan, now adopted by Barack Obama's presidential campaign. That sailed right through. The senator's political campaign slogan was acceptable.

We called again. Several spokespeople at Starbucks and at Arroweye, the company that actually creates personalized cards for Starbucks and other retailers, said that they couldn't be sure, but that the phrase was probably rejected because it is political. They explained that they would not allow a customer to print "McCain for President" or "Support the Democratic Party" on a Starbucks card. And they noted that they had rejected a request for "My coffee is a weapon." But fewer than 1% of card requests are rejected.

They had no explanation as to how "People Not Profits" and "Si Se Puede" could be regarded as less political than "Laissez Faire."

I'm still hoping that it was all a computer glitch, and that some day my latte-drinking, non-tax-hiking friends will be able to get their very own customized Starbucks gift card with "Laissez Faire" emblazoned on it – even if it does risk a sneer from the barista.

Starbucks has prospered mightily in a free economy. For the most recent fiscal year, the company earned $672.6 million on revenue of $9.4 billion, a very healthy profit. And these days, in the wake of a California Superior Court judge's order that the company repay $100 million in back tips that were shared by shift supervisors, Starbucks honchos just might like a little less government intervention in their affairs and a little more laissez-faire.

Mr. Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of "The Politics of Freedom" (Cato Institute, 2008).

I am going to be ordering several Starbucks cards with the following political statements and see which ones are acceptable by the coffee corporation:
  • Viva el Che!
  • Viva la Revolucion!
  • From each according to his abilities, to each according to his means
  • you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet
  • Live Free or Die
  • Don't Tread On Me
  • I believe in the 2nd amendment

And I wonder what the reaction of the barista will be when I hand them the card...

Should be an interesting experiment. Anyone want to help out?

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Comments (1)
Jason said...

It's a private company. They can and should be able to establish whatever restrictions they want on gift cards.

It's likely an image problem. The company probably wants to get on the good side of the "people not profits" crowd as they are the most likely to smash the Starbucks storefronts at the next IMF, World Bank, etc meeting.