Monday, November 14, 2011

USA! USA! USssigh….

I’m at Starbucks right now, ostensibly doing some freewriting in preparation for a possible future novel, which is a huge indulgence because the circus novel isn’t anywhere near done. But a few drafts in, I get itchy to start something new, and I’m not nearly practical or short-winded enough to just work on a short story.

I’m also drinking a salted caramel hot chocolate, another huge indulgence (360 calories; thanks, stupid new law requiring Starbucks to inform me of this).

But I was distracted from my indulgences by these wristbands that Starbucks is selling. They look like little loops of bungee cord sealed with a metal square. I have to admit they’re more attractive than the LIVESTRONG-style bands. The red and blue bungee bands promote “Americans Helping Americans Create Jobs.” If you buy the $5 wristband, some money will go to a domestic micro-loan program.

My first thought when I saw this was Oh my god, we’ve become our own third world charity case.

I’ve done my fair share of holiday shopping at The Hunger Site, and I would definitely prefer to give someone a fair trade Taureg* ebony and coin silver cuff bracelet from Mali than sweatshop-made Muppet-fur boots from Claire’s Boutique. Nevertheless, I’m always a little skeptical about shopping for any cause. Is making ebony and coin silver cuff bracelets for Americans as helpful as, say, making food or clothing for fellow Malians? Does buying a bracelet lull us into a false sense of good deed-doing and prevent us from writing our congresspersons or donating cash to an organization that would make a bigger impact?

I genuinely don’t know the answers to these questions. I just know that such transactions smack of paternalism in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe just because they let us pretend we didn’t create our own crappy post-colonial world in the first place.

According to some statistics I’ve heard,** the U.S. is officially a second-world country now, meaning that while we have stuff like the internet and Chipotle, we also have a giant chasm between rich and poor. So now we’re treating ourselves in the same well meaning but half-assed and unsustainable way that we treat Mali or Haiti or Guatemala.

Because let me tell you, every mug, thermos, and eco-friendly reusable Starbucks lunch bag they’re selling here is stamped Made in China. Call me crazy, but I have this idea for how we could create jobs in the U.S.

*The site says Taureg is a “term used to identify numerous groups of nomadic peoples in the Sahara Desert.” Is that why Volkswagen named their SUV “Touareg”? Because driving around in an all-terrain vehicle is kind of like being a nomadic person of the desert?

**The Second World by Parag Khanna. Also, my yoga teacher.


Sincerely, Jenni said...

You know... companies used to always say they outsourced manufacturing and other jobs overseas because it was cheaper. If thats the case, why does every piece of crap they sell at Starbucks cost so frekin' much? Holy hell, they charge a small fortune for a coffee mug!

/end rant :-)

Raardvarks said...

Or... I could just give ME five dollars!!
Starbucks already gets my five dollars on a regular basis for delicious drinks, and the money goes to them, who claim they are creating more jobs (I have seen the "Opportunity" signs in almost every window). So I am confused. Third party making new jobs through loans? Only they are selling bracelets instead of coffee??
Me like coffee.

Cheryl said...

J: It's all about profit margins I suppose. Instead of paying Americans (or Chinese people, for that matter) a decent wage--or at least keeping prices down--Mr. Starbucks CEO is selling $15 mugs, pocketing the profit and selling useless wristbands.

R: I've heard that Starbucks offers benefits and pays above the minimum wage, so that's a start. But yeah, the thinking seems kind of topsy-turvy.