Friday, July 18, 2008

Catch a Falling Starbucks: Can a federal barista bailout be far off?

This may well go down as I Just Take it Black Friday.

The Starbucks coffee shop universe, which burst on the American scene with such a big bang, now is contracting, demonstrating that even the brightest stars in America's corporate constellation are subject to the fundamental laws of economics. Here's the list of the 600 stores to be closed, in case you're sitting, edgily on the edge of your seat, wondering where your next vanilla bean no whip frappuccino is coming from.

I say, better latte than never. But I also wonder: Does this mean we'll soon see a federal bailout of unemployed baristas?

After all, when they got into the industry it was booming -- a seemingly endless line of increasingly complicated and expensive coffee drinks stretching to the horizon. It wasn't cheap enrolling in The American Barista & Coffee School. Now there are federally-guaranteed student loans to pay off. These people were easy prey for predatory coffee-peddlers, who never fully informed them of the risky side of the barista biz.

If they don't get government help, and re-training, an army of unemployed baristas will soon be back in the job market, desperate for work, creating a surplus of labor that will depress the wages of employed baristas, who also have rents to pay, children to feed, student loans from barista schools to pay off. And the dominoes will begin to fall, sending another shudder through the U.S. economy. Coffee culture itself could crumble, at least in America, leaving us decaffeinated, sluggish, at a competitive disadvantage to economic rivals with coffee shops on every corner.

Clearly, we all have a stake is seeing that out-of-work baristas -- and coffee shop workers generally -- are cushioned against this harsh and unanticipated blow. Let me be the first to propose the Preserving Coffee Culture for American Competitiveness Act of 2008.

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