There Are No Good Billionaires: A Lesson I learned from Howard Schultz

I live in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York. I wouldn’t describe my home as ‘remote,’ but it is a thirty minute drive to the nearest city. We make the trek several times a week for groceries, shopping, to visit my parents — and to stop at Starbucks. I’m a voracious coffee drinker and my daughter loves cake pops. So Starbucks has always been a staple of our trips into town. Unfortunately, that will no longer be true.

I was under the mistaken impression that the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, was one of the ‘good ones.’ I believed him to be a billionaire and corporate business leader that understood the value of supporting his employees. After all, Starbucks’ policies are fairly progressive — benefits extend to part-time employees and the company even offers free college tuition for eligible workers. I dismissed complaints about Starbucks crushing competition. After all, isn’t that the goal of a corporation?

That all changed when Schultz began exploring a presidential run. It did not take long for him to shatter the benevolent illusion Starbucks worked to create. In one of the most tone-deaf statements I have ever heard, Schultz announced; “I’m a billionaire, I thought that was the American Dream.” The American Dream never included a dollar amount and it never should. The American Dream is far simpler than that. Any American should have the ability to succeed, to build a comfortable life for them and their family without fear of poverty or tyranny. Billionaires always paint a picture of the majestic predator. They picture themselves as a shark, a wolf or a lion, surviving off their acumen alone. In reality, they are no better than a jackal, scavenging the last few scraps from the corpse of the American Dream.

Donald Trump, another self-avowed success and supposed billionaire, forced the Democratic Party to confront one of their chief problems. They haven’t been progressive in generations. At best, they’ve been a Republican-Lite lesser evil that does little to help the average person. Now, we are seeing a new renaissance for progressive politics — millennial fighters like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, working with experienced veterans like Nancy Pelosi to achieve maximum impact. The instant that their policies gained traction — popular policies that would help the average American — Schultz crawled from the woodwork to undermine them.

He claims that America cannot afford universal healthcare. He even went so far as to say it is ‘not American’ to ensure our citizens are healthy and prosperous. He advances the myth of the all-encompassing 70% income tax. I find it difficult to believe that a CEO doesn’t understand how tax brackets work — but I’d absolutely believe he doesn’t want to pay. Starbucks benefits from public infrastructure and social programs far more than the average person. The ultra-wealthy have done their level best to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and our roads, bridges, schools and social support structures have suffered for it. Schultz even has a history of being anti-union — a fact he unfortunately shares with the CEO of Costco. Schultz is not putting forward common-sense policy. He is propping up the same tired libertarian logic that all corporate malefactors parrot.

The last shred of my respect for any billionaire disappeared with Schultz’s foppish presidential aspirations.

I will no longer see Elon Musk as a science fiction mogul, attempting to advance humanity to the stars. I will see the man who doesn’t understand why sleeping on the floor of a factory doesn’t make him suffer more than his employees. His employees would probably be happy to get some extra sleep — but they’d be fired.

I will no longer see Bill Gates as a paragon of philanthropy. I will remember him as a terrible boss that treated his employees like garbage. I’ve had a boss like Bill Gates (Who, thankfully, never became quite as successful.) My quality of life was atrocious at the time and I actively turned down a promotion to avoid the man. His policies didn’t make the business more successful, and Gates probably could have done just as well without being a jerk to his employees. We won’t even talk about Steve Jobs and his long line of horrendous actions.

There are a handful of other coffee shops in town and I’ll be honest — I like their products less than Starbucks. But I’ll be damned if I am going to help fund another billionaire with presidential aspirations. America doesn’t need to be run like a business. It needs to be run like a country — a country suffering from a severe wealth disparity crisis.