In Defense of Starbucks: Setting Businesses Free to Be Culture Makers
Religion & Liberty Online

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

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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Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.