July 19, 2012; Source: Dissent

Writing for Dissent, the venerable “democratic socialist” journal, Keith Spencer is no fan of the job creation strategy of the Starbucks chain, an initiative called Create Jobs for USA. Spencer writes that it is “actually nothing more than a loan operation, a souped-up version of charitable micro-lending.” The Starbucks campaign is funneling money to and through the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), the network of community development financial institutions (CDFIs) for lending to small businesses. Starbucks contends that small businesses are job creators but are struggling for access to capital.

Spencer finds the Starbucks campaign ironic. In his view, “megaliths like Starbucks are partially responsible for that ‘financing squeeze.’” Small businesses, he argues, can’t compete with multinational corporate competitors and, in the specific case of coffee shops, they lose when a Starbucks opens up nearby. He suggests that small businesses don’t get credit because they’re bad credit risks in that “most of them fail.”

But Spencer is not much more sympathetic to the “mythologize[d]” Mom-and-Pop stores, which he says are often “just as exploitative, pollutive, and disruptive as large corporations.” He also takes a dim view of some nonprofits, citing the Cato Institute as an example of an organization within the nonprofit sector that “serve[s] as the ideological and propaganda arms of corporate interests.”

He concludes by challenging the Starbucks model for this corporate social responsibility initiative, stating that “this top-down project has a price of admission: a purchase of a house blend, ‘indivisible’ beans, or a branded bracelet.” Spencer would prefer job creation not depend on the corporate initiatives of multinationals like Starbucks or on charitable donors like you and me. Spencer asks, “[I]s our government so anarchic that we must turn to Starbucks for solutions to unemployment? In the Starbucks-OFN literature, the cause of the economic crisis goes unmentioned; the solution is to give to business owners as if they were running charities.”

Spencer seems to attack everyone in one fell swoop—business social responsibility, nonprofits, charitable giving, you name it. Is the argument that all corporate social responsibility initiatives like the jobs program of Starbucks, which the NPQ Newswire has previously lauded, are just window dressing for the failure of government? Are nonprofits simply the handmaidens for corporate schemes? Nonprofits usually face pretty scathing critiques from the right, but this one is distinctively from the left.—Rick Cohen