Money is nice but it can be distracting. Captains of industry pile up millions and sometimes imagine that profits makes them prophets, wise and learned in things they don't know anything about.
Everybody wants to be rich. Not being rich in modern America is a symptom of sloth, indolence and failure. clever people who aren't rich have to bear the taunt, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" But there's a corollary for blowhard capitalists who make millions selling a cup of coffee in a paper cup for $4 and a plain cheese sandwich for $5: "If you're so rich, why ain't you smart?"
Howard Schwartz, the CEO of Starbucks, has volunteered to eliminate racism in America, and if he gets an early start with a bracing cup of strong coffee he might finish the job by noon. He has instructed his "baristas," the young men and women who push the buttons and pull the levers that steam the milk and brew the coffee, to lecture their customers about the evil of their benighted ways. If he serves enough lectures and the latte is hot enough, Ku Klux Klansmen will lie down with Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Eric Holder to sing each other to sleep with a verse of Kumbaya.
Mr. Schwartz is obsessed with his mission. He even invited a rapper to instruct his stockholders about how he wants the company to supply "the great need for empathy, compassion, understanding and metaphorically trying to put your feet in someone else's shoes." When a stockholder expressed mild skepticism, Mr. Schwartz told him to sell his stock, go home and buy shares in somebody else's dream. He understands that he won't persuade every customer to trade shoes with a neighbor right away, and so far he has earned only ridicule and derision from customers, black and white, who only want a doughnut and a cup of coffee, a little peace and a place to enjoy it. But he insists that this is not a marketing or PR exercise. This is to do one thing, to use our national footprint and scale for good."
The caffeine mogul was inspired by Eric Holder, who once chastised Americans as "cowards" for not talking more about race, having not noticed that race is already all Americans do talk about. He came up with the idea of instructing his baristas to write the words, "Race Together," on the paper cup, and the barista will add the lecture to a vanilla-bean frapppucino with chocolate sprinkles atop a dollop of whipped cream, all at no extra charge. (Who needs a lecture with that?)
Mr. Schultz is not your usual cold-hearted capitalist, interested only in selling you a chocolate-chip cookie to go with a cup of joe. He is known for turning on the waterworks when he hears a sad story, and he says people come up to him with sad stories all the time. Now he's got a sad story about the worst idea he wishes he had never had.
He's not the first CEO who has had to learn that he's not as smart as he thought he was, (though he's still rich). One of the most famous bad-idea merchants was Henry Ford, who built the Model T that made him rich, famous and a worldwide icon. But he couldn't leave well enough alone.
He saw World War I approaching in 1915 and set out to do what he thought nobody else was doing. He chartered a ship and took a boat load of pacifists the newspapers called it "the ship of fools" to Europe to set the kings and their generals straight. They sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey a few days before Christmas and a crowd of 15,000 saw them off.
The band played "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier," and one man who just missed the boat jumped in and swam after the ship until harbor cops pulled him from the sea. "I was swimming after public opinion," he said.
William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Edison, Jane Addams and John Wanamaker were among those invited aboard, but all declined. With so many pacifists aboard, it was inevitable that fighting would break out, over the wording of messages, memoranda and manifestos. Then flu leveled nearly everyone aboard ship, including Ford. The reception in Europe was cool to cold, and after four days Ford slipped out of his hotel in the night and returned to America. Alas, war, like racism, will always be with us, and men and women of good will continue to struggle against it.
Ridicule has curdled the cream in Howard Schwartz' coffee, but he should put a little extra froth on his double macchiato and be glad he's not a barrista brewing a double mocha with a long line of customers yelling at her to cut the lecture and make the coffee.