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Life and politics, Media

Is Howard Schultz just another politician?

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

He claims he is not. So far, his exploration of a presidential candidacy creates no vibe.

More is expected from one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our times. From living in public housing to becoming a billionaire – by exploring an opportunity in something as mundane as coffee, Howard Schultz built a worldwide business empire. Even more, he provided pay and benefits, including health insurance for part-time employees, that were much better than offered by others. He succeeded by living by American ideas. One could expect that when a man with such credentials takes on the core problems of our nation, he would analyze our problems and shock us with conclusions that would be so logically obvious that we all would be astonished how it could be that we had not seen them before.

Nothing like that is happening. His well-balanced speeches and interviews do not excite listeners and do not send waves across the media. His website – more about it below – is full of nonspecific promises. His promotional emails, which I regularly receive, are exactly like the ones I get from other politicians. He sounds like a decent but incredibly boring guy. He sounds like an ordinary politician.

$400 away from financial catastrophe
One day about a year ago there was news that about 40% of Americans cannot cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing money or selling some assets. Howard Schultz picked up on this, claiming that millions of Americans are left behind. Are they? How many of these Americans living paycheck to paycheck own the newest model of smartphone, when a less-fancy one costing about $400 less would suffice? How many of them subscribe to $100-per-month cable TV? How many of them drive an SUV despite the fact that they can afford an economy car only? How many of them bet on their good luck by spending more than $50 per week playing the lottery? Lastly, how many of them do not brew their coffee at home, which would cost them no more than a quarter per cup, but buy it at Starbucks, where the cheapest cup of coffee is about 10 times more expensive?

The question is what a president, or a government in general, can do about it. If, for the sake of argument, those 40% were given an extra $400 from time to time, would they keep it for an emergency, or would they spend it quickly for something they otherwise would not buy? The greatness of America started diminishing when, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy needed to remind Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” America became great when Americans knew that in their hearts and worked hard on enriching themselves, building a great nation in the process. America is in very bad shape when a person aspiring to be the best presidential candidate is afraid to tell Americans as it is: that they need to educate themselves how to advance economically by resisting spending money they cannot afford to spend.

Howard Schultz promises to get the federal budget under control and reduce the national debt. It is troubling that he does not see a connection between too many Americans living above their means and our flamboyant national spending. As individuals and as a nation we behave as though we are much richer than we truly are. Even worse, when spending public money, Americans are more reckless, falling for the illusion that they are not spending their own money. As president, Howard Schultz will not be able to fulfill his promise to reduce the national debt if Americans who do not understand finances elect to Congress similarly ignorant representatives.

One might expect that Howard Schultz would tell poor Americans that the only way out of economic distress is the one that he took. Unfortunately, like all other politicians he is trying to get elected not by telling Americans how it is but by telling them what they like to hear.

Immigration is not about decency and humanity …
… as Howard Schultz once stated. It is about the economic interests of the United States.

The crux of Howard Schultz’s presidential proposition is that he would be a centrist. As he explains on his website, he would sign major legislation only if it is supported by both parties. He does not tell us how he will do this on immigration, because the parties have not agreed on any major legislation on this issue since 1986.

Howard Schultz simply shows his lack of knowledge when stating that the problem with immigration has been going on for 20 years already. Anti-immigration sentiment has been around since the beginnings of the nation. But it came to the forefront in 1907 when Congress established a Joint Immigration Commission, also known as the Dillingham Commission. The findings of that commission led to the first immigration restrictions, legislated in 1917, and then to the Immigration Act of 1924, which – despite later modifications – in its spirit, is the law of the land today.

Beginning in 1917, our government “protects” us from undesirable immigrants. Before that, our immigration functioned fine, and this is how America became great in the first place. Without elaborating on details, the more politicians did to make our immigration system work better, the more screwed up was the immigration system we got. Ronald Reagan’s famous statement that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” describes this the best.

The key problems are in how many immigrants should we admit and how should they be selected. Let us say that Starbucks or the Trump Organization sees a need for hiring foreigners. Can we trust them that they would hire good, hardworking people, or should we have a massive immigration administration under President Trump or President Schultz to protect us from bad people coming in? Then, can we trust the market that, after all the needs of our economy for foreign labor are satisfied, new immigrants, even if coming in, would not be able to find a job and therefore would be returning home? In other words, can we imagine the possibility of resolving our massive illegal immigration problem not by building the wall or militarizing a border, but by creating a legal immigration system that would make it unrewarding to come and stay here illegally? After all, Canadians did it; illegal immigration is less problematic there.

The difference is that in Canada, foreign born are 21.9% of the population, whereas in the United States, including illegal immigrants, they comprise only 13.7%. It is logical to ask whether we can eradicate illegal immigration by increasing meaningfully legal immigration. None of the mainstream politicians would even mention this for public consideration. Sadly, Howard Schultz is joining this crowd by talking roundly about the need for a reasonable solution.

The reasonable solution is by determining in public debate the number of immigrants that is good for our economy. For the last 20 years it has hovered around one million per year, but about half of these new legal immigrants are so-called status adjustments, meaning foreigners already in the country on temporary visas or illegally who managed to get a green card. Some Americans advocate for lowering legal immigration to about 300,000 per year while others would increase legal immigration to at least two million per year. A small minority would lift all immigration restrictions and would let the market decide how many foreigners we need to work here. The decision needs to be made by a scrupulous analysis of the facts, rather than basing it on how many misinformed Americans support or oppose any given option.

This can be done only by someone who dares to say that we might be facing our ongoing immigration crisis only because most Americans are wrong on immigration, because they support a policy that, due to its original faults, never could work and never will. Trying to be a centrist between advocates of closed borders and proponents of a relaxed immigration policy boils down to standing for what we have now.

What to do with Obamacare?
Howard Schultz spoke against the public option for health care insurance but left me unsatisfied, with ambiguous reasoning behind it.

Health insurance by its definition is a form of a contract where most of us contribute a little for the uncertain eventuality that we might need a major medical expense. It means that most of us take from this contract much less than we contribute. This has not been the message behind the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. A system constructed on the assumption that most of us take more than we contribute cannot stay solvent. It is worth noting that the lengthy ACA document does not have a definition of health insurance. If it did, it would invalidate the very concept behind it. Under the terms of health insurance, Obamacare guarantees many medical services that legally are health maintenance. This is not sustainable. I bet that the businessman Schultz understands this perfectly. I am concerned that when aspiring to become a politician, businessman Schultz does not bring this critical fact to light.

Also, in order to be solvent, health insurance needs contributions from many healthy people who barely see a doctor. But these people would voluntarily contribute only if their contribution would guarantee them health care for the duration of their whole life, not just for a one-year contract. Those very basic economic rules are poorly understood by most Americans. The biggest challenge in establishing an efficient and effective health care system in the United States is not in overcoming our dysfunctional political system in Washington as Mr. Schultz is saying. It is in explaining in plain terms to Americans what can and what cannot work, and why. It might mean to tell boldly to many that they are simply wrong. A leader would say it; a politician would not.

In particular, a rejection of Medicare for All needs to be explained that it will create a labyrinthine system where the flow of money would be so intricate that many could be deceived that 2+2 equals 5. It would be intriguing to know what the centrist would do when trying to find a compromise between the populists convincing us that that if we act by our hearts, we can make 2+2=5 happen, and the cruel accountants firmly standing by 2+2=4, regardless of how we feel about it. I know what businessman Schultz would decide, but from his emphasis put on the centrist position, I am not sure that President Schultz would not settle for 2+2=4.5.

Why America is dangerously divided?
On his website Howard Schultz starts his message with a statement that America is dangerously divided. It would be interesting to know his opinion as to how and why this happened. Then, how he proposes to fix it. It is not there. But, let us stop for a while and think seriously: Why are we so deeply divided? Is it God’s punishment for our sins? Is it Russians’ manipulation on social media? No, it is something within us.

In the case of Americans left behind, we found earlier that it is due to a lack of basic economic education. On immigration, why should we assume that people with poor math skills suddenly would be able to think logically when analyzing our immigration problem? On health care, again, the lack of ability to reason points Americans toward socialistic illusions.

John Kerry once said: “In America you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be.” We are so dangerously divided, not due to the dysfunctional political system in Washington. We have the dysfunctional political system because too many Americans exercise the right that John Kerry was talking about.

A critical reader can comment that, writing with such temerity, the author of this text is one of those Americans abusing the right that John Kerry was talking about. It is a valid point that I am ready to refute in a fair academic debate. There is no other way to overcome our dangerous divide than by discussing our differences candidly.

Howard Schultz proudly claims that he built Starbucks by a collective effort of its partners. He credits people who had the audacity to speak aloud against views assumed to be unquestionable. Logically, one could expect that, aspiring to the presidency, Mr. Schultz would use this experience to lead a reunification of the dangerously divided nation by opening a frank public debate on the most igniting political issues. Nothing like that so far.

Instead, Mr. Schultz asks rhetorically:

Isn’t it time for a government that works for you?
This implies that if he is elected, I can sit on a sofa, watch TV, order a pizza and have a beer. In the meantime, the government will take care of all our problems.

America became great in the first place not by what the government did, but by what people did without any, or with very little, government involvement. They were not smarter than Americans today. They were given an opportunity to pursue happiness the way they wanted. They did not expect anything to be given to them.

Since then, in exchange for us giving up a little bit of our liberty here and there, the government offered us many small comforts and securities. Somewhere in the process, our mentality shifted from entrepreneurial citizens to government’s serfs. Our great past should inspire us when shaping the future. We can make America great again, or as Mr. Schultz calls it #ReimagineUS, not by electing a government that works for us. We can do it only by Americans rolling up their sleeves and doing more to advance themselves. The best that a president and government can do is make sure that Americans who take this path have as few obstacles as possible. Regretfully, like all other presidential candidates, this is not where Howard Schultz looked for ideas in his presidential platform.

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