Howard Schultz's Bold Gamble: Is America Ready for an Unctuous Billionaire Preaching Austerity Economics and a Full-Throated Defense of the Status Quo?

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I swear, Benevolent Billionaires For President season starts earlier every cycle. This year’s model is Howard Schultz, who is stepping down as chairman of Starbucks in order to spend more time with campaign hacks who want him to spend the next two years helping them afford down payments on new houses. Schultz went on CNBC today as part of his media “listening” tour, wherein the dopiest people in TV news listen, fawningly, to his aw-shucks, faux-humble ‘golly, I just don’t know if I’ll run for president’ bullshit. (Schultz has been “working closely” with two public relations firms run by John McCain’s campaign manager and former Hillary Clinton staffers, according to the New York Times. Again, congrats, guys, on the new houses.)

During his half-hour interview on CNBC, he embraced economically illiterate fear-mongering about the deficit—the usual political prelude to destructive austerity politics and top-down class warfare—and then tutted about unnamed Democrats who are going too far with this whole wanting to help make America a more just society business:

“It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, ‘How are we going to pay for these things,’ in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don’t think that’s something realistic. I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises.”


How are we going to pay for these things, I wonder from my $25 million home? Well, Schultz is worth $2.8 billion. Perhaps, and I’m just throwing this out there, if we were to “redistribute” most of his “wealth” from his “stupid fucking bank account” and “big dumb houses” to “people who need healthcare,” and do the same thing with the 540 other billionaires in America, we might get there. A crazy idea, I know.

Because Schultz, like most members of his class, is quite dense, and has never had to think very hard about any of these things, he also does not ask, “who is paying for the current system, and how?” A single payer “Medicare for All” type system would, if implemented correctly, probably be cheaper than the ass-backwards private system we have now, and it would involve much less of the costs being borne by people least likely to afford it. It would even save his own stupid business the direct costs of providing its employees with healthcare.

Is Schultz actually running for president? If he hires anyone with a shred of integrity, they will have the decency to tell him that he’d get laughed out of Iowa, as Michael Bloomberg eventually figured out in 2016. But shreds of integrity are surprisingly hard to find in the political consulting class, so if Howard does take the plunge, he’d do well to note that single payer is increasingly popular, and no longer something you can wave away as a crazy socialist idea.

While he’s making up his mind, Schultz will continue to get a bunch of positive media coverage for talking in meaningless cliches about public service and Leadership. And much of that coverage will depict Schultz as a true friend to the workers who made him very rich. People will bring up Starbucks’ decision to offer healthcare to part-time employees who work 20 hours a week, instead of just those working 35 hours as required by law. When they do, they should also note that Starbucks’ plans mirrored a problem of the Affordable Care Act in general—problems that wouldn’t exist under single payer—where many of the cheapest plans have absurdly high deductibles that mean many people end up with gigantic bills anyway, as the Los Angeles Times found in 2016:

“This is great for Starbucks’ healthier workers and for shareholders,” said Peter Hilsenrath, a healthcare economist at University of the Pacific. “But sicker workers likely will have to pay more.”

The problem, he said, is that without healthier employees helping to subsidize the company’s more comprehensive health plans, rates will go up for those desiring (or requiring) more coverage.

“You could say Starbucks is exacerbating a problem that we’re also seeing on the insurance exchanges” under the Affordable Care Act, Hilsenrath said. “Costs keep rising for people who need more coverage because the healthier people choose cheaper, high-deductible plans.”


On the Starbucks Bronze plan for 2018, the deductible (meaning the amount of money you have to spend on healthcare before insurance will pay anything) is $3,000 or $6,000 for families. On Silver, the company’s recommended “starting point” plan, it’s $750 or $1,500 for a family.

So let’s run through a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say you’re a Starbucks barista earning $11 an hour (Glassdoor information put the average Starbucks barista wage at $9.43 in 2016) and you work 20 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. That’s $11,440 per year, or $440 per two week pay period. Starbucks says it “guarantees a partner-only Silver medical option for $35 biweekly,” which sounds low. But that’s 7.9% of your $440 paycheck, before you even get to food, rent, student loans, bills, medicine, or childcare. So maybe you’d choose the cheaper Bronze plan, to save enough to buy a few nights’ dinners or toys for your kids—only to regret your decision when, halfway through the plan year, your appendix bursts or you get diagnosed with cancer, and you’re suddenly stuck with a $3,000 deductible to hit before your billion-dollar insurance company kicks in anything to help out. Perhaps you’ll be able to lean on all the savings you put aside from your $11,400 annual income?


This isn’t to say that Starbucks’ health plans are “bad.” They’re certainly more generous than other companies for part time workers. That’s the problem. Starbucks’ health plans might be better than most, but they remain a massive indictment of America’s private health insurance system, and something that would vanish under single payer. You should not have to pay out-of-pocket for your healthcare at all, particularly while billionaires are a thing; you should not have to choose between saving money on premiums while hoping you don’t get sick, or having less money each week to pay rent just in case you do get sick. You wouldn’t have to make that decision under single payer, which Schultz opposes, from his $25 million house.

Perhaps we don’t need to thank or praise billionaires for making business decisions, particularly if they also oppose policies that would more efficiently fix the problem (poor people with no access to healthcare) they’re supposedly fixing at their businesses with their generosity (expanded health coverage). Perhaps we should, on the other hand, call Howard Schultz a massive greedy bastard for accruing $2.8 billion selling burnt-ass coffee and espresso milkshakes while opposing policies that would free millions of working Americans from the struggle, torment, and indignity of fighting for their lives with insurance companies. Maybe Howard Schultz should fuck off back to his $25 million home while he still has it.