Opinion

Gotta love the blame-it-all-on-Starbucks theory

It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity. – Dave Barry

In a recent article in Slate (or is it “on” Slate?), Daniel Gross puts forth an argument he calls his “Starbucks Theory of International Economics,” which holds that the higher the concentration of expensive, nautically themed, faux-Italian-branded Frappiccino joints in a country’s financial capital, the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic losses in the global economic meltdown.

In support of his theory, Gross points out that the recent crises had its roots in the tragic coupling of frenzied real estate markets centered in California, Las Vegas and Florida, and a nationwide credit mania centered in New York. If you could pick one brand that personified the wretched excesses of these two forces, Gross argues, it’s Starbucks, the ubiquitous purveyor of all things coffee, with nearly 200 stores in Manhattan alone, including one located in the lobby of the Bear Stearns building.

Gross suggests that Starbucks provided the high-test fuel that powered real estate brokers and their client’s insatiable appetite for already overpriced real estate, kept financial deal jockeys up all night devising ever more complicated and, as it turned out, risky financial vehicles, and enabled ethically-challenged mortgage brokers to stay up late processing dubious loans documents for even more dubious borrowers.

Gross also points out that there is pretty good correlation between the location of Starbucks’ many international stores and a place where a financial meltdown has occurred. For example, London, now experiencing major banking problems, has 256 Starbucks. Madrid, suffering a burst in its overheated real estate bubble, houses 48 Starbucks. South Korea, with its collapsing financial infrastructure, sports 253 Starbucks outlets.

On the other hand, countries which have largely escaped the current economic crises, such as most of the nations of Africa and Central America, have virtually no Starbucks presence (only three stores in Egypt, and none at all in Central America). Brazil is doing OK, with a total of only 14 stores serving it’s entire population of nearly 200 million. Italy is also doing fine; no Starbucks in Italy. All of Scandinavia is doing OK; only two stores in Denmark, three in the Netherlands, and none in Sweden, Finland or Norway.

The Starbucks Theory of International Economics is akin to Thomas Friedman’s famous “McDonald’s Theory of International Relations,” which held that once two countries evolved into prosperous, mass-consumer societies with a middle class able to afford to eat at a McDonald’s, they would generally find peaceful means of adjudicating disputes between themselves rather than resorting to violence and war. They’d toss Happy Meals at one another rather than bombs, as it were.

Friedman’s theory, unfortunately, was largely discredited by the recent fighting between Israel and Lebanon, just as Gross’s theory suffers from the fact that Russia, which has only six Starbucks outlets, has nevertheless suffered catastrophic financial collapse. But just because a theory is demonstrably wrong is no reason not to believe in it and act upon it, as our soon-to-be-past administration has so consistently and doggedly demonstrated over the past eight years.

Had I known that the study of economics and international relations involved theoretical constructs based on fast food and coffee, I’d have been more likely to have taken such classes in college rather than sticking with the slightly less challenging courses that made up the bulk of my college curriculum such as Mascot Selection Dynamics in Professional Sports, Simple Mathematics for the Numerally Challenged, and American History from 1915 through 1916.

Never one to let an opportunity go unseized, I’m working on a couple of important theories of my own. I’ve been researching a little something I call Tyner’s International Theory of the Meaning of Men in Speedo Swimsuits on Public Beaches, and the Law of Constant Correlation Between Bad Haircuts and Baristas.

Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney

for the Trust for Public Land. He is author

of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”

a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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