Friday 4 November 2011

No one said you can't have a coffee.

From the earlier comments. We were discussing the anti-capitalist protest.

The line 'aren't protesters even allowed to have a coffee now?' was used on QT yesterday, to excuse the protesters their Starbucks and bottled water and wifi and laptops and phones and pop up tents and general privileges. It was successfully used on HIGNFY to destroy Louise Mencsh. A bit unfairly too.

The point is not whether a protester should be allowed a drink of coffee.

Its that coffee was, and is, a major global trading commodity. It is almost THE symbol of globalisation and commerce. Coffee was traded between 15th century Europe and North Africa as a major commodity in the spice caravans. The Venetians traded coffee to sell at outrageous prices to the Venetian elite. Introduced into England it was taxed by the gallon, so was brewed and then stored cold in barrels awaiting reheating. Sounds lovely!

By the time of the Great Fire of 1666 there were 80 coffee houses in London. They were similar to today's where people went to meet socially and read the pamphlets and get some work done, have a business meeting, use the place as an office,and exchange information. The Lloyd's coffee house in Lombard Street was a good example. Edward Lloyd's little coffee house was a meeting place for merchants and shipowners. It grew into the Lloyds of London insurance market. By 1675 there were 3,000 coffee houses in England.

Coffee is environmentally unfriendly, has directly led to the millions of deaths of the indigenous peoples of South and Central America, Caribbean and Asia. The revolution in Haiti was partly African slaves revolting against the terrible coffee harvesting conditions. Coffee was a major contributor to world slavery. Between 1511 and 1886 over 1 million slaves were imported from Africa to Cuba in order to work their crops. That's just Cuba. Imagine the numbers in Brazil? Coffee is still mostly grown in the developing world. Vietnam is the second largest world producer after Brazil. {That's a world second after using private market reforms. Under the state central planning they couldn't grow enough for their own needs.}

The coffee trade encourages inequality in wages throughout the globe. Coffee growers claim unfair payment for crops. Coffee shop workers are in the poorly paid hospitality/retail sector. And coffee profits are immense. It is a product, sold with up to 1000% mark up, that directly caused the 2-300% UK high street rent rises of the the mid 90's. Those rises collapsed other long standing businesses who couldn't pay the 'new' market rates.

Mobile phone shops were another contributor, but it started with Starbucks. Starbucks started with some coffee enthusiasts and some savings from friends. Its now a global empire. But it has been attacked along the way for its supposed poor wages and reducing benefits for its employees in hard times and its unfair payments to farmers and a whole host of other wails from the left. It was a popular anti-globilisation target before that pointless movement morphed into the current even more pointless occupy ones.

It was also a target for environmentalists, save the earth's water supplies, recycling movements, unions, unfair competition lobbies and just about everyone else too. Its a miracle they ever got to so many stores {17,000 odd} and 135,000 employers, and serve 5-10 million people every day.

So coffee today is still almost THE defining symbol of capitalism.

So, no. No-one objects to a thirsty protester having a break from singing folk songs and engaging with like minded believers deciding to pop over to Starbucks for a Doubleshot® Energy+Cinnamon Dolce Drink and a Blueberry Oat Bar.

Its just that if they do, they are rather enjoying and feeding probably everything they ever campaigned against, whilst they refresh under the very logo of capitalism..

{What really tickles is the latest from Wall Street.}

After the end of trading Thursday, Starbucks (ticker: SBUX) reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings of $358.4 million, or 47 cents a share, up from 37 cents in the year-ago period. The quarter included a 10-cent gain related to real-estate sales and joint venture acquisitions. Revenue increased 6.8% to $3.03 billion. Analysts were predicting earnings of 36 cents a share on revenue of $2.95 billion. Investors were abuzz about the results, sending shares up 7.4% to an all-time high of $44.48 in morning trading.


CityUnslicker said...

super read BQ.

roym said...

Great post. Personally I can't stand SB, crap product in identikit locations.

Lots of comments on the protest being pointless but can we hand on heart say capitalism as currently deployed is truly benefiting all?

If these people shine a light under a few rocks and encourage people to question the banking hegemony then all the better.

Timbo614 said...

@BQ you have swallowed the mass media line, sorry to disagree but The Occupy movement is NOT anti-capitalist or anti capitalism.

"Capitalism in Crisis" is nearer the meaning. In it's current form the concentration of capital in the top 1% is not benefiting countries or the general populace. It has become too extractive, too predatory and is supported in this predation by the state - if we had true capitalism then there would only be half the banks in Europe and the US left standing. 6 Supermarkets do not a market make and so on.

Concentration of capital and the control of it is mainly what the protesters are trying to bring to peoples attention. I don't have time to continue this morning but hopefully you get the gist!

appointmetotheboard said...

I'm making no excuses, but I personally don't think that the majority of people in the Occupy movement are ant-capitalist per se. I think they are looking for jobs and a fairer deal. Most would be happy for Starbucks to make a profit if they paid their employees a living wage.

Budgie said...

I think the point that BQ was making is the protesters don't "shine a light under a few rocks". His comment seemed to me to highlight their rank hypocrisy, protesting at capitalism yet making use of the very symbol of exploitative capitalism, and being excused for that by their main stream hangers-on.

Unfortunately these protesters are rather dim. Anything more complex than a single sentence 10 word slogan is beyond their wits. So BQ's excellent description would pass them by.

Then again there is their outright bigotry. I saw one socialist (not a protester) blame the recent family home snatching from elderly people paper on the Conservatives. When it was pointed out to him that it was actually Labour, he said Tessa Jowell was really a Tory, so he was right after all.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I prefer Costa.

The more intelligent protesters are of course in no way anti-capitalist, they are anti-CORPORATIST, which is a different thing. I am also anti-corporatist, which is why, for example, I am anti-EU.

Bill Quango MP said...

Roym: I very rarely drink any coffee. A recruitment headhunter once sent me for a Starbucks post. There were hundreds of applicants all very eager to join, sipping frothies and so on.I really, really wanted to ask for a tea. I think my total lack of aroma judgement ruled me out early on.

Tea is even more of a corporatist world pillaging symbol than coffee. Its just that it past its globalisation symbolism peak a hundred years ago. Silk another and pepper from much earlier.
The founding of the USA - Tobacco,Cotton and Coffee where the original successes of colonisation.
All the evils of the world...

Timbo and AMTTB: Thank you for delicately saying "you're wrong!Idiot!"
I am aware of some of the groups aims. I've been watching the Bristol one more closely on the news. The trouble is there aren't any real aims. Just a protest.
"Anti-this, fairer that." But its a bit self indulgent. You won't find many on this blog who think ther banks shouldn't have been given a massive spanking. Or that Tesco controlling 11% of ALL retail spending in the UK is not a giant monopoly.Or the incredible disparity between top bosses wages and lowest workers and so on.

But we have ALWAYS had those inequalities in the UK. Its not new. At the time of the industrial revolution a gentleman inventor could make more profits in a factory than an entire undeveloped country. The Downtown Abbey type homes that the industrialists and rail barons and brick empires wealth created was earned at 0%. No income tax. Just trade taxes. And those trade taxes hurt the poorer far more. Glass history in the UK is fascinating. It was partly so expensive because of the taxation. So the poor sat in the dark because the rich could afford the duty, and the revenue needed to soak somebody.
Taxation of the rich landowners from 1909 almost ended agriculture. England was at its lowest level of food production for hundreds of years, in 1940, with just half our current population. Nowadays we are about 85% self sufficient, but it took the EU and subsidy to restore what had existed adequately, if incredibly unfairly and unjustly, for centuries.

So..I'm all for protest for and an end to the excesses and the no-risk, high reward culture amongst the top of society that exists throughout schools and hospitals and councils and boardrooms. But tent sitting and whinging and saying 'Jesus wouldn't wear it' and proposing a UK only bank levy or an end to government is no serious way to go about it.

Bill Quango MP said...

Yep, that's about it. If the BNP set up outside a church to complain about inequality no one would take them seriously. For some reason having taking a Glastonbury kit along gives you a moral voice.

MW: If I'm pushed, its Costa, but only because its local. I'm not even overly anti-corparist. I think Starbucks does more good than harm. If it didn't exist at all hundreds of thousands of jobs wouldn't. Millions and millions of $ tax is lost. Local premises would be empty, business rates unpaid. developing world farmers would have nothing to eat but coffee beans. Countries like Vietnam would not be using the agriculture route as a quick foreign currency earner to allow them to import higher tech.
And that is why i don't like these protestors. Its just too easy to mouth "big company = bad. Small = good." There's always an upside and a downside.

And to go full circle even the invasion of pox ridden, murderous, barbaric Europeans had an upside.

They bought the horse and the sheep and the cow with them.
The Brazil coffee nation wouldn't have got far with just the turkey and the dog for draft animals and food supply.

"Hmm... if only we had some sort of ground bean we could add to boiling water to improve the taste of the disgusting dog's milk and wash down this bone dry turkey."

Old BE said...

BQ awesome post, put neatly a train of thought I was struggling to crystallise.

The "Occupy" movement seems to be based on two false premises: 1) that we have free market global capitalism and 2) that we could easily throw out capitalism in favour of a freer "fairer" system.

The rather awful system we have now is not free market capitalism but a regulated crony system of the kind Ed Miliband said he wanted where some industries are favoured and others are frowned upon.

But private business and "capitalism" have produced this rather rich free world we live on. You don't have to go very far back in history to find a much less "fair" or "equal" society.

Those at the bottom of Western society don't have a very high chance of huge life success, but they have hugely better opportunities than they did 100 years ago. And even if you do get trapped at the bottom you probably still have a home and food and warmth.

Anonymous said...

Every great revolution begins with incoherent protest. Ideology tidies up the mess created by activist instincts. And these people have an instinct that a tiny international "executive" caste is abusive to the natural and human environment. Their instincts are right.

Even the greatest philosophers have failed the consistency test. If we wait for a consistent ideology power will go on concentrating in the hands of international corporatists.

The "growth economy" has been running on empty for a few decades now based on financiers creating debt money. This has concentrated the power and wealth to such an unjust degree that we serfs are ready to rebel.

The writing is on the wall, guys. And you worry about beverages? Both Churchill and Castro smoked Havana Cigars. Which proves...???

There is wood and there is trees. And you are looking at the leaves and beans on the undergrowth.

Electro-Kevin said...

The best thing about Starbucks is the name. Sometimes that is all you need. A good name.

And a good location.

My friend's coffee shop went bust. It's location was too quiet. A great product and a fantastic place to sit but not enough turnover.

One of those coffee stalls outside a busy London station has to be the best money spinner surely ?

How to deal with the 'campers' outside St Pauls.

Hoses dousing cold water over the paving slabs will make life a misery for them. They'd be gone soon enough.

No violence. No extortionate legal expenses (a bigger rip off than coffee) Just a rather heavy water bill.

lilith said...

Great post.

It does rather strike me how fawning and interested in the Occupy protest the media seems to be.

When I was part of a protest encampment 28 years ago we had clear aims. We were frightened and horrified to have "first strike" nuclear weapons stashed in the middle of the country. Nuclear warheads to be launched on notoriously inaccurate Cruise missiles. It was a "woman only" camp not in small part to make the point that the "vulnerable" ie. women and children were not happy with the "protection" on offer. Greenham was organised and clear in it's rational aims. (Perhaps young people now don't know just how fucking scary the whole arms race cold/war was.)

But the press slaughtered the camp. Shocking and sneering headlines and all sorts of nonsense written about the women and the peace camp. Women beaten up by Thames Valley bastards drafted in for the day with no shoulder numbers. Scores all tried by the same magistrate on the same day for the same offence.

Today the papers and the BBC can't get enough of Occupy. What's that all about? Is it because they are more frightened of a recession/pay cut than they were of nuclear armageddon?

Philipa said...

Top post, BQ x

Bill Quango MP said...

Thanks BE: Its tough times, but they have been infinitely tougher before. The Greeks are suffering but its been far worse for them before. In living memory of many of them.
And while we're on it a great post of your on Greece. I know I feel i don't agree with it but can't find any holes in the arguments. That're probably right!

Semper: We can't wait for a coherent protest because the situation is now too bad? Too bad for whom? Too bad for a family facing eviction from their home and the loss of possessions to the bailiffs? That would be terrible {its happened to me} but the evil and uncaring state will provide adequate food and shelter and basic luxuries to all.
No one goes without food. Lets face one goes without TV.

protesting about the bad guys is fair enough. We all know, or think we know who the bad guys are. But what do we do about it?
How do you replace capitalism and corporate 21st century society.
Its these lack of answers that I'm concerned about. The Bishop bandwaggoning on Tobix isn't an answer.
The woman who was seriously advocating a barter system {Bristol camp} is in a fantasy land. We have had a barter system. Everyone died. Mostly young too.
She was confusing money, a means to conduct complex transactions without pulling a menagerie behind you, with wealth.
Yet she was given plenty of airtime and , as ever, there was no counterweight. I wait in vain for a reporter to say "..Yeah..isn't that just..very, very silly though?"
So the whole camp , to me at least, looks like a freakout.
You may be there and no better. But until there is a proper argument, what's to listen to?

The horrid banks and their billions of £ of profits did build the modern schools and hospitals of today. Before Big Bang that level of investment wouldn't have been possible. What's most incredible was even with two or three times health spending, its still not enough.

Bill Quango MP said...

EK: you're moving into Wadsworth territory here. Supply/demand/the economies of scale and gross profits. How much does it cost to rent a kiosk on Victoria station?
About as much as it does to rent a train.

Electro-Kevin said...
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Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Electro-Kevin said...

I hope I didn't come across as reading your post superficially, BQ.

It was well considered and written brilliantly.

My point was that there is more to making coffee profitable than putting together hot water and some beans by means of exploited labour.

You have to convince people to shell out a lot of money for nothing too.

That's the clever bit.

Bill Quango MP said...

I got it EK. Good comment too.
They used to teach economics with examples of Farmer A and farmer B and how far from the well they were. Now they do it with coffee shops and how close to the station.

Lilith: I had no idea you were a Greenham gal. Its not a protest that I ever thought achieved anything. it seemed a bit wishful and muddled to me. But I was never what would I know?

There were definite aims and a determination to proceed with a strategy to achieve them. a real determination.

I see what you are saying about modern protests. The St Pauls is a portaloo, Iphone, pop-up protest. It has no aims that could be measured. No options. No solutions. See CU above.
I'm reminded of the woman at the anti-Iraq war protest {now that was 1 million - and they didn't represent the 99% either..they were just a lot closer to that number than the OWS and copycats.}

That lady said "I'm a primary school teacher..and violence is never, never the answer."

Well, not in a primary school it isn't. But sometimes it is the answer.

The 99% have more in common with Al Qaeda. Unachievable aims through unachievable means.

James Higham said...

Logic is not the protesters' nor in fact any leftist's strong suit. Disingenuity is.

Phil said...

It seems the Occupy London group is far more Socialist / Left wing than OWS & it's ilk in the US. The Economist was firmly taken to task in the letters page this week for describing OWS as "anti-capitalist". Perhaps they had been rather misled by parochial London experience?

That said, coffee may be a stand in for "capitalism" as envisaged by Adam Smith, but our current hybrid plutocracy / oligarchy can hardly be reasonably described as such.

Anonymous said...

I had a rather simpler view of it all. Starbucks is £2.50 a cup. Rather more expensive than a flask of the brown stuff warmed over a butane burner.

I can't afford Starbucks but then I'M A FECKIN TAXPAYER!

Bill Quango MP said...

JH: Have you seen the video of the interview of the protestors over at The Commentator?
My fav bit is the man reading out his prepared statement on the ills of capitalism..reading it off his Iphone.

Phil: quite rightly you remind us that just because the protest appears to be without any foundation or aims or support, doesn't mean it can't succeed.
With a bit more dedication and some strong leaders who knows?

The Czar was very surprised to wake up one morning and find that his country had been pinched by serfs.
The french aristocracy on the way to the chop must have considered whether they could have done with a little less topiary and provided a little more land for the poor.

And let's hope the protestors realise what a revolution brings. More died and were impoverished from the changes wrought in both those famous examples than would have if things had stayed as they were.

Bill Quango MP said...

Great piece from the Commentator again. Good description of how the capitalist process works. It makes something such as a jar of coffee to be common and cheap enough to be able to lose it without tears.
In the USSR such an event would be a minor catastrophe. The loss of the money spent..the loss of the jar..and the irreplaceable contents until the next food queue.
Make yourself a cup
and have a read