An Open Letter to Howard Schultz and Other Oligarchs

Dear Billionaires,

Some of you inherited your wealth. Some of you say you earned it, maybe even pointing to humble beginnings. And maybe you did work hard, and you were lucky, and you amassed a fortune. But you didn’t do this by yourself. You had a lot of help.

You didn’t have to build roads, schools, fire houses, or police departments. You didn’t build utility infrastructure so that you could turn on the water and the lights. All of that was available to you already. And when you did get your idea, or more likely, luck into the seed of your business, you could never have done it alone.

Mr. Schultz and others, your fortune is made on the backs of many hard-working people. Without cheerful baristas, janitorial staff, truck drivers, designers, manufacturers, sales reps, and marketing staff, Starbucks would be nothing. “Ah, but they get paid for that work,” you say. Yes, they do. But not enough to live on. Not enough to have money in savings for a $500 emergency. And really, why should Kevin Johnson make 1,049 times more money than a barista? Why shouldn’t workers see a greater share of the profits? Do you really value the barista — the engine of your company — so little?

I know what you’re thinking. Your benefits are very liberal! You give your employees stock! You pay tuition! How can I complain?

Some of these benefits cost you a lot less than would, say, a living wage. And you know this. While your frills are terrific, and definitely a step in the right direction, nothing changes the fact that a barista cannot afford rent in Seattle on their salary. Or in most cities. $26,000 a year is poverty wages. In the meantime, you had so much money that you bought a basketball team. Jeff Bezos couldn’t think of anything better to do with his money than build rockets. The problem with standing at the apex of a pyramid is that it takes one hell of a large base to GET YOU THERE. And all of you owe them more than this.

I make a decent living and have decent employee benefits. Even so, my employer-provided healthcare premiums take one-third of my paycheck. For a family of four. Since none of you oligarchs value the workers you’re standing on in your pyramid of fortune, you know what would give me an instant pay raise? Universal healthcare. I would get one-third of my salary back.

So I’m not buying your crocodile tears, Mr. Schultz, about paying more in taxes. You can easily afford to pay more to support the roads, the schools, the infrastructure, and the people who frankly do the lion’s share of the work to keep you in your billions. It isn’t “unAmerican” to contribute to society. It isn’t “unAmerican” to ensure that working(!) people don’t have to scrape by in poverty and illness — which go hand in hand, I might add. What IS unAmerican is being selfish and narcissistic enough to think that you alone created an empire, and you alone should have all the money. That you don’t owe anything back to the society that made it possible for you to achieve what you did.

Medicare for all is necessary, it is popular, and so is the need for a green revolution. Sell your oil stocks, if you must, and get with the program because you’re on the same ship as the rest of us, and if we go down, so will you. And save your tears for people who deserve them.

The Backs You’re Standing On

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