Tuesday, October 18, 2011


With the poverty rate at 15% in the world's richest nation and with private philanthropy this year (at best) flat this sign on the door of a New York City East Village soup station says it all.

The delivery of basic services to the most vulnerable has always been an uneasy and highly unbalanced partnership between public money and private charity. The majority provider has always been the public side. The idea that private charity can replace government is a long discredited notion that nonetheless has gained new currency (so to speak) in this presidential election cycle.

Republicans and Democrats alike are falling all over themselves in arguing that less government is more and that government is the root of evil. As Occupy Wall Street underscores, government is not the problem except in the sense that Obama inherited eight years of increasing laissez faire among government regulators. The unhappy result is known to all.

Now comes Howard Schultz founder and CEO of Starbucks who has had the simple and possibly loopy idea that with the support of its millions of customers the chain can act as a middleman for delivering micro-loans to American small business. Schultz is very much among the 1% against whom OWS rails, But he demonstrates that not everyone is driven solely by self interest. That this scheme will drive up Starbucks' sales (that fell off during the worst of the recession) is quite unlikely and, call me silly, not his motivation. It is just possible that he is sincere. I am a Starbucks guy, always have been. (Road warriors know to look for a Starbucks as very often it is the only place to buy a New York Times - and enjoy a good if not sublime cuppa).

That one of the country's great banks could have come up with this seems to me obvious. Other than finding new ways to gouge customers in the new ideas department the banks are closed. Until further notice.

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