Starbucks Socialists: What They Get Wrong
I have a class that I love, a political science class where we look at European countries and look at their government structures. In this class there is a classmate of mine who generally sits in the back. He is fairly attentive and generally wears black clothing, and I noticed that his laptop has two stickers that don’t make sense to me when put together. One is a sticker of the Chromulon, an alien race from the adult cartoon show Rick and Morty. The other is a sticker of the logo for Antifa.
This caused me to ask myself “How can the student be supportive of Antifa and still like Rick and Morty? One is a militant communist organization while the other is a show produced by capitalists?”As a matter of fact “How does he continue to use a laptop as a supporter of Antifa? And how about his clothes? His glasses? His education?”
This is not a new question. On the British political-satire show Have I Got News for You former MP Louise Mensch brought up the same question about far-left protestors in London back in 2016, to which other members of the show were quick to agree with her. And let's not forget all of the memes that have been made online about socialist college students, professors and academics about this conflict of interest. Even Elon Musk had the urge to say on Twitter "Those who proclaim themselves “socialists” are usually depressing, have no sense of humor & attended an expensive college. Fate loves irony." Later on he then decided to remind Twitter users that he WAS a socialist, which brought the question on him as a rich entrepreneur.
So why then do there seem to be so many socialists that openly critique capitalism while lavishing in it's blessings. Well, luckily for us, there are some arguments for this from these Starbucks Socialists (as they're called), so let's dive into them.
The first argument from Starbucks Socialists is one more forgiving to capitalism, which goes along the lines of "I'm not against capitalism in general, just how it handles certain industries like health care and college education." This is probably the smarter argument among them, especially considering the fact that so many advocates for socialism these days look to Scandinavia as a model, a region with some of the freest economies in the world.
However, there are questions that should be raised. For one there is the question of how much one would like to have the U.S. economy emanate that of Scandinavia. Denmark for example has an average tax-rate of 55.8%, which is extraordinarily high for even the most generous U.S. citizen, while also having no official minimum wage and a corporate tax rate of 24.5%. Europe is no paradise by any stretch of the imagination and while the people of Denmark may be the happiest in the world, simply copying their public sector to get that same happiness among American citizens ignores many facts about Scandinavia that go beyond their socialist policies, mainly a small population, small land area and their close proximity and relations to other more powerful economic powers like Britain and Germany.
Secondly there is the question of preferred industries for socialists to tackle like health care and tuition. While it's understandable to an American under a rock that health care and tuition costs are enormously high these days, that doesn't render those respective industries impossible to operate without government. Health care and college are largely so costly not because of capitalists, but rather because of the joint actions of bureaucrats and lobbyists in allowing only a select few institutions to control them. In the case of health care, free market alternatives to hospitals and doctor's offices like retail clinics have been shoved under the rug by the American Medical Association, while tuition has skyrocketed largely because of how student loans motivate a rise in demand for education that was once in low supply.
Then there is the argument made by more ardent supporters of socialism is the idea that they are using the system against itself. In other words "I'm using the products of the rich to amass a revolution for the poor." This is a common one in leftist circles, and it's based on the fact that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used the inheritance of the Engels family to publish the Communist Manifesto. However, this does give rise to several question, two of which stand out.
Firstly, consider your coffee cup. You might not think that it's rare to get coffee, but imagine living in 18th century Europe, where coffee was a product only consumed by the super rich in fancy coffee houses. Coffee had to be imported from a then far poorer Latin America than the one that exists now, and took far more time and money to import into Europe than it does now. Industrialization (guided by ideas of free-market capitalism) allowed coffee to be consumed not just by the super wealthy, but by the average Joe in places like Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks. This same phenomenon is true for the laptop or phone you are using to read this blog post, the clothes you wear and even seemingly useless products like Rick and Morty stickers. Capitalists (when competing with one another) ultimately help the world in finding innovations, thus helping those at the bottom by providing a better life at the simple cost of profit for those at the top.
If you are trying to achieve a world where capitalism no longer holds sway over the people, it is a little weird considering the use of wealth and prestige of capitalists to achieve it. Perhaps Vladimir Lenin knew this best when he found out the problem of central planning. After having fought in a brutal revolution and initiated one of the worst dictatorial regimes in history, Lenin decided to take on policy changes that we would likely associate with Mikhail Gorbachev in liberating the marketplace and allowing some (though certainly not a lot of) room for entrepreneurship and market-based innovation. Perhaps the Soviet Union would have lasted much shorter had Lenin recognized the error of his revolution and reversed it, rather than allowing Joseph Stalin to continue Lenin's reign of communist terror over Russia.
The truth is that all human beings are born with biases and prejudice, and we cannot simply act as though human beings are simply good or evil. Businesses, like all institutions, are driven by humans with the same flaws and the same basis of self-interest, but what capitalism does is that it takes what for thousands of years was a drive for war and destruction into a drive for greater wealth and power for all people on the Earth.While of course there are still tremendous issues in the world today like poverty and climate change, we dont have to scrap economics to solve them, since with the human drive for exploration we can find out solutions to those problems which we all want to know, and to those problems we didn't know we had.