June 14, 2018

June 14, 2018

Howard Schultz—Scourge of the Homeless—is a Republican. On Tuesday, in one of the most raw and callous displays of the power that major corporations can wield over cities, the Seattle City Council voted to repeal a business tax it had passed just four weeks ago to generate the funds the city needs to deal with its epidemic of homelessness. Seattle ranks third among all U.S. cities in the size of its homeless population, even though it is just the 18th-largest city in the land. (LA and New York rank first and second in both overall population and homeless population.)

Seattle doesn’t have a lot of options to fund increases in its spending. Under Washington state law, it can’t levy an income tax (it tried; a court struck it down). So it tried to capture a share of the city’s great wealth by imposing a tax on corporations with at least $20 million in yearly revenues. Each of those companies would pay a $275 tax for every worker it employed locally. The city’s largest employer—Amazon—has 45,000 employees within the city limits, which means it would have had to fork over $12 million annually. As Amazon’s revenues last year came to $178 billion, the tax would have been the proverbial drop in the bucket.

But Jeff Bezos, a committed libertarian, was made of sterner stuff. Rather than accept the tax, he teamed up with Howard Schultz at Starbucks and a group of other local CEOs to launch an initiative campaign to repeal the tax, and an accompanying propaganda campaign to ensure they’d get that initiative passed. That was enough to persuade the Council, by a 7-to-2 vote, to repeal the tax on Tuesday.

Unlike Bezos, the above-mentioned Mr. Schultz is not a libertarian. Indeed, he resigned as CEO of Starbucks—the company he founded—last week, encouraging speculation that he’s planning to run for president as a Democrat. In the past few weeks, he’s clearly made moves to bolster his Democratic bona fides by closing down 8,000 Starbucks so that its employees could grapple with racism. Then again, he’s also been giving interviews in which he’s said that Democrats need to reduce the nation’s spending on “entitlements”—that is, on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

But it’s the timing of his resignation—coming a couple weeks after he directed Starbucks’s assets into the campaign to gather signatures for the tax repeal initiative, but one week before that campaign compelled the Council to reverse course—that looks most interesting to me. Maybe, just maybe, he realized that if Starbucks was about to take away the last available funds with which Seattle could build and find shelters for its homeless, it might be a good idea if he were no longer the company’s CEO.

America being a land of opportunity, everyone, Howard Schultz included, has the right to run for president. But I think he’s running in the wrong party. Billionaires who say we’re spending too much on Americans’ retirement security and who invest their company’s dollars in campaigns to block aid to the homeless have a clear political home and it’s not the Democrats. Howard, boychik—you’re a Republican.