The Case for Public Starbucks

Capitalism has convinced us we must consume to simply exist.

You’re busy, so TLDR:

  • We have to buy things just for a place to relax, use the restroom, or rehydrate.

  • Citizens shouldn’t have to consume to exist.

  • This is why local governments should build “Public Starbucks.”

  • Q: “But how are you going to pay for it?” A: MATH!

We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re waiting for a bus, or you need to use the bathroom, or you just forgot to hydrate before your walk, and now you feel like if you spend another second in the sun you’re going to pass out face-first into the sidewalk.

Thankfully, a glimpse of that familiar sign beckons you into the Starbucks/Dunkin/etc. etc. to relieve your anguish. But this establishment isn’t a rest stop! Buy Something Moocher!

So you hurriedly order the cheapest thing on the PumpkinSpice-themed menu as you ask the barista-slash-aspiring screenwriter for the bathroom code, praying he remembered to restock the toilet paper.

This is occurrence is so commonplace that we don’t stop to think about what just happened: we were coerced into consumption merely so we could exist. The original goal — shelter from harsh weather, rehydration, “natural relief,” or just finding somewhere to sit — had no need for a market interaction; we wanted the most natural of things, to temporarily be without unpleasantry, while we waited for a taxi to come, a friend to join us, or the rain to pass. From inside our capitalist bubble, where everything is framed for profit potential, it’s difficult to recognize that we’ve privatized what should be collectivized. In an advanced civilization like ours, people shouldn’t have to pay to simply be. Sitting, standing, drinking water, accessing WiFi, using the restroom, or even grabbing a coffee to warm the soul shouldn’t require commodification. 

State’s Rights

It’s well agreed upon that states exist to enable humanity. Even the most ardent libertarians on agree governments should protect human rights and liberties. 

But doesn’t a citizen have the right to exist in their city, free from the unavoidable torments of thirst, the call of nature, and unpleasant weather?

I say they do. This is why I think local governments should build “Public Starbucks” (we’ll need a better name) for people to rest, relax, relieve, work, wait, or just be. These don’t have to be fancy. As much as I enjoy the endless menu of teas and pastries, what we’re aiming for is more practical: air-conditioning and heating, comfortable seating, free WiFi, water fountains, public restrooms, and perhaps some coffee and snacks. Keep it clean, and this achieves our goal of bettering society by protecting the human right to exist without pain, which is an agreed-upon function of any state.

“I simply wish to sit in the city to which I pay taxes without getting skin cancer or shitting myself,” said the man.

“Fuck you, you Communist!” the other screamed.

Don’t We Already Have Parks?

At this point some are saying: “You’re being ridiculous Joe. Every city has water fountains, benches, trashcans, and public parks. You’re just [insert critique of millennials referencing “safe spaces,” likely taken from an anti-semitic Facebook page].”

To which I would say: “Yes.” Citys do have public parks. Benches aren’t hard to find. Water fountains are less common, but some even have little ones for babies to drink from.

So why shouldn’t we upgrade these community staples? We don’t limit public schools to the chalkboards and clap erasers of 50 years ago? I’ve yet to read anything in National Review saying park benches lead to gulags, so there doesn’t seem to be an ideological issue to these public resources. If we agree that We The People should fund the slightest comforts so We The People can live happier lives, shouldn’t we improve these facilities to a modern standard? I say “yes,” but I hear a rumbling coming through the trees...

Wait for it…


Almost there…

“But how are you going to pay for it?”

Let’s dust off the ole’ TI-85 and use the city of Boston as an example.

  • $450,000 (The cost to build one Starbucks store) / 700,000 (the population of Boston) = 64 Cents per Bostonian to build 1 Public Starbucks

  • $1770 (Estimated daily Starbucks operating cost) x 365 (Days in a year, according to / 700,000 = 92 Cents per Bostonian to operate 1 Public Starbucks per year

  • 64 Cents (Construction cost) + 92 Cents (Annual Operating Cost) = $1.56  (Total cost to a Bostonian to built and run 1 Public Starbucks)

Given the cost of building and operating 1 Public Starbucks is less than the cheapest item on the Starbucks menu (which must be purchased every time someone wants to sit/rest/pee), it’s fair to say we’ve won economics.

Note: the costs above are for “cutting edge” Starbucks shops that satisfy the chain’s tyrannical aesthetic demands and expansive menu. Given our public version wouldn’t need 5 types of dairy and imported mahogany countertops, it’s fair to assume ours would cost a fraction of this.

Tomfoolery aside, at the heart of this issue is the question of what should and shouldn’t be a commodity. Please note, my argument is not “nationalize Starbucks,” as I don’t believe humanity has reached the stage where specific personal tastes and interests (like wanting a cold brew over an iced coffee) can be centrally planned. Perhaps our descendants will get there, and while I congratulate them on their utopia, in the here-and-now we should seek to shed the unnecessary and wasteful layer of fat that is profit wherever we can. In this case, there’s no need to extract surplus value for simply wanting to sit, stand, sip, or be without unpleasantry.

As I said, I need a better name than “Public Starbucks,” so please comment below with your idea, and don’t forget to subscribe. 

For my next letter, I’m deciding between “The Superman Fallacy of American Foreign Policy” or “A Brief Explainer of Central Planning vs. Markets vs. Socialism vs. Capitalism.” Tweet at me your preference of what you’d like to read next.

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