The Mermaid’s Leftovers Can’t Make Much More Than Fish Feed
The flatscreen TV in my apartment complex’s gym told me this morning that Starbucks plans to drop collection boxes in select outlets soon, for coffee-grabbers who want to boost the hiring among small business. In my sweaty LifeCycle haze, I thought I’d dropped some mental plank in this plan- I could have misread the captioning- but now it seems solid. The nation’s premier lifestyle franchiser sees small businesses as a charity case.
I have no dispute with Starbucks, or with franchising, or with the idea of raising civic awareness through shopping. But I do worry that the Kiva model, or the Kickstarter model, makes it too easy to declare your allegiance to plucky small business and too hard to invest in ongoing learning or civic life. We hear droning from politicians that small businesses drive our national progress, yet economists and naturalists never endorse this view. Economies of scale, in which many people share a resource or a burden and crowd-guess their way to better management, drive growth. And our stagnant economy needs new kinds of jobs making soil tillable and water drinkable under widely new weather patterns.
Put another way: I’d rather see the Federal Highway Administration collect money at toll booths for bike repairs and playgrounds, or see the IRS introduce a checkbox for afterschool programs. I’d feel more assured of carbon-light economic growth if we voters got a clear message that small businessfolk can make profits by finding cleaner ways to bring about connection and progress within communities.
Nobody invented anything that could seed hundreds of jobs, to my knowledge, in a coffee shop. Coffee and graphics and words and ideas keep us reaching for ideas that breach our many social gaps. But Starbuckses are too diffuse and too distracted to be the garages for the next Mac. And so we need to be serious about how, and in what volume, we want to join together to invent new ways out of an economy that keeps us all sleepy and increasingly generic.
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