Acton Institute Powerblog

In Defense of Starbucks: Setting Businesses Free to Be Culture Makers

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In an effort to foster goodwill amid fiscal cliff negotiations, Starbucks aimed to send a message to Congress by instructing its D.C.-area employees to write “Come Together” on every cup of coffee sold.

Critiques abound, with this post from Mickey Kaus grabbing much of the attention, asking, “Is Starbucks a cult?”

From Kaus:

“Room for smarm in your latte?”Isn’t there something creepy about Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz having [in Politico‘s words] “asked his Washington-area employees to write ‘Come Together’ on each customer cup today, tomorrow and Friday, as a gesture to urge leaders to resolve the fiscal cliff”? Did Schultz take a poll of his employees–sorry, “partners,” he calls them–before ordering pressuring asking them to join in this lobbying effort? What if he were, say, the CEO of Chick-fil-A and he “asked” his “partners” to write “Preserve the Family” on the outside of cups and containers?

…if you go to work for a HuffPo outfit like AOL or Patch, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect. But Starbucks?  Maybe Schultz’s baristas came for the (admirable) health benefits, not because they wanted to join him in some mushy Tom Brokawish corporate budget crusade.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster says not so fast, arguing that although many businesses “don’t currently do a good job of stewarding their cultural role,” it’s largely because “we’ve spent more than half a century trying to teach businesses to pretend they’re not moral and cultural.”

For Forster, we should “set businesses free to be culture makers,” not tie them down. As cheesy, ineffective, or “creepy” as the Starbucks campaign may be (it’s all of the above, in my opinion), only when we’re comfortable with the inherent cultural purpose of business will we be able to “re-humanize” companies accordingly.

As Forster explains:

You see the attitude about work that’s embodied here? People take a job because it pays the bills, not because they’re making the world a better place by doing their work. That’s exactly the cultural signal that’s destroying the working class by dehumanizing work as an activity.

Kaus demonstrates the seamless connection between a dehumanizing view of work and the militant secularization that threatens to destroy religious liberty. The most basic reason why businesses like Chick-Fil-A should be free to affirm marriage and Hobby Lobby should be free not to pay for employees’ contraceptives is because economic work is human action, and all human action is moral and cultural. Therefore businesses are moral and cultural institutions whether we like it or not.

Given that business is and must be culture making, we should set businesses free to be culture makers rather than try to force them to conform to an impossible model of moral and cultural neutrality. That means you can’t make the businesses’ moral/cultural identity hostage to any one employee who objects to something…The right of the business itself to be what it is – a moral and cultural institution – is simply not on the radar.

Read the full post here.

For more resources on restoring a proper view of work, see Work: The Meaning of Your Life and Wisdom and Wonder.

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For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD

For the Life of the World is an entertaining film series that explores the deeper meaning of Salvation. Have you ever wondered, “What is my Salvation actually FOR?” Is it only about personal atonement, about getting to heaven, or something that comes later? Is it just to have a “friend in Jesus?”

Join Evan Koons and his friends – Stephen Grabill, Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, Makoto Fujimura, John M. Perkins, Tim Royer and Dwight Gibson – as they discover a “new perspective,” the BIGGER picture of what it means to be “in the world, not of it.” This seven-part film series will help you, your friends, church or organization investigate God’s Economy of All Things – OIKONOMIA (a Greek word that has a lot to say about God’s plan for his creation, the world, and us.)

Explore how God’s purposes are woven into every area of our lives: family, work, art, charity, education, government, recreation and all creation! The Bible calls us Strangers and Pilgrims, living in "the now and not yet" of God’s Kingdom Come on earth. We are also called to be salt and light, to have a transforming presence among our neighbors. Rediscover the role of the church and how our lives lived on earth matter in God’s plan for the world.

Designed for deep exploration, the series invites viewers to watch the series again for new insights. Also, check out the companion Field Guide to jump-start group and individual investigation and enhance the film experience! FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD Field Guides are available in print or via streaming access at StudySpace.org.

2nd Edition

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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