Sunday, July 20, 2008

State College Keeps All Starbucks Stores

Starbucks released the list of the 616 stores it intends to close by next March, available here. Of the cities I am familiar with, I wasn't terribly surprised, though it is a relief to know that all State College stores will keep their doors open.


Alison M. Kilmartin said...

Yay! More fraps for me! Now if we could only convince them all to offer free wifi . . .

Tip: For those who have the Penn State VPN client on their laptops, the Starbucks on College Ave. across from the College of Engineering can pick up the VPN across the street.

Jim Chen said...

I'm surprised that the city of State College hasn't made a municipal project of providing ubiquitous WiFi. Everyone's favorite numbers are 802.11 and zero — as in the protocol and its price.

I'd have two questions for the city:

1. How much would it cost?

2. Could you finance it through, say, an additional tax on people exercising their 21st amendment rights in places of public accommodation?

Anonymous said...

An interesting question is whether, economically, Starbucks is the worse for having overexpanded. In theory, the market has now revealed to Starbucks the outerbounds of its sustainable size; rather like onery barbarians provided the same intelligence to the Roman Empire. It is unclear how, save over-expansion recognized retroactively by market indicators, Starbucks could have found their optimum saturation point. And I suppose it is unclear also that that is what they've found; we only know it is their optimum level under the present market conditions (e.g. oil expensive enough to cause T. Boone Pickens to start building windmills).

My favorite number is also zero. As in the number of times citizen group A should be able to take money from citizen group B for some discretionary thing they want, but not enough to pay for themselves. Of course, the Vox Populi is just that, and if it calls for universal internet access downtown, then so be it.

Still, I would enjoy my alcohol less knowing some portion of the purchase price went to subsidizing someone's Huffington Post (for example) habit.

Jim Chen said...

Hi Anonymous,

You caught my attention with the assertion that "the number of times citizen group A should be able to take money from citizen group B for some discretionary thing they want, but not enough to pay for themselves," should be zero.

You missed the memo that described the twofold nature of law. First, to enforce private arrangements unless they offend broader public values. We call that "rule of law." Second, but no less important, to redistribute wealth for the betterment of all. We call that "civilization." See generally Fugitives and Agrarians in a World Without Frontiers.

The second function needs some discipline, lest it run amok, and some attention to the financial mechanism would be nice. For all their faults, progressive and degressive income taxation are the least objectionable ways for funding government. But our society seems to affirmatively enjoy sumptuary taxes, especially on alcohol, and in that "spirit" I recommended (an expanded) sumptuary tax for State College, Pa.

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

In that case, I would say that those in State College paying the sumptuary tax would, for the most part, be the ones benefitting from the tax. I am pretty sure that the students hitting the bars are also surfing the web. They will pay a little more for a brewsky, but will save on no longer having to pay for wireless access.

For a sneak peak into the minds of undergrads at Penn State, hop online anywhere near downtown and check out the domain names. Pretty interesting!

Jim Chen said...

Not to mention that the usual targets of taxes on liquor, meals away from home, hotels, and taxis live outside Centre County (in some cases as far as Jefferson County, Ky.) and are therefore unlikely to raise too strong or too effective a political protest at getting taxed. :-)

Not everyone who is taxed for public benefit gets her or his "fair" share of subsidized services. But that's what it means to redistribute wealth through taxation.

Anonymous said...

John, Ouch! Thanks much for the lecture on the rule of law and civilization. Very charming. You seemed so much to want to give it that you missed my voice of the people qualification. In short, if the democratic process elects and sustains politicians in office who redistribute wealth in a certain way or with a certain unrestrained enthusiasm, than that is a result, however much I may work to change it, that I nevertheless accept. That is, I don't disagree in terms of theory with anything you had to say; though my remaining feeling has been hurt (that's not true).

It seems though that the growing complexity and size of modern societies has a way of alienating the benefits of taxation from those who paid them (as Alison correctly points out, this particular example may have a significant, and therefore happy, overlap). Such may be an evitable consequence of those changes, but there is nothing immemorial (or perhaps even sustainable) about the arrangement; nor again is it the evolutionary culmination of Justice.

I think too there is something unseemly about rendering the fruits of government dependent on the dependencies created by vice (e.g. many states are now in the position of looking upon Big Tobacco as the Goose with the Golden Eggs, to be constantly squeezed but never killed; of course, if the goose is killed, maybe we can make up the shortfall- and save civilization- by taxing blogs.

Kelly J. Bozanic said...

Dear Anonymous,

As you brought it up, I am interested in your take on the tobacco issue. Are you referring to the MDL of tobacco products? If so, can you elaborate on your thoughts? From what I have read (which is only the background from a few antitrust opinions), it seems that the states are in the right position to "squeeze" as you say, those tobacco companies whose practices directly resulted in increased medical expenses to the states. I do understand that smoking is a choice, but the courts have already ruled on the culpability issue.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kelly,

Your reference of MDL refers either to Multi-District Legislation or Method Detection Limits. This latter refers to processes by which the level of nitrosamines in whole tobacco is determined. I hope you refer to multi district litigation as I know nothing about method detection limits and because elsewise you have spent some portion of your life thinking about the level of nitrosamines in whole tobacco. Whatever the case, I will assume you are talking about the multi-district legislation which resulted in the states winning a very big award against big tobacco.

First let me say that I positively loathe smoking, and would feel the same about smokers if some of them weren’t my friends. And so I happily concede that the issue as to whether tobacco companies have imposed costs on public budgets in terms of health care has been settled in favor of the states. That the companies are liable to the states to that extent (this figure more or less made up) has likewise been settled. My soul smiles (but see caveats below).

Concerning the point I was trying to make in my earlier email, I did not there intend to question the propriety of the legal result you refer to. Rather, what I find distasteful, and certainly confused, is the states’ current position of at once demonizing the tobacco industry and relying on it for balanced budgets. Ahab in his madness ranted that he would smite the sun if it dared insult him. The states, in equal darkness, wish merely to forever insult Big Tobacco but never to see it extinguished. To be utterly dependent on something you loathe and demonize breeds self contempt, which does not stay self directed for long, but is re-directed out toward that upon which you are dependent (see e.g. the European form of anti-Americanism). The situation represents poor ethical hygiene.

And now for the caveats:

1) If states can gouge industries for costs they inflict on society, then next they may come for Ben and Jerry’s. As gratifying as it would be for me to see two aging hippies fleeced, the slippery slope danger hardly needs to be pointed out. Still, my take on this argument is that smoking is not a private activity. When someone ‘chooses’ to smoke, they make that choice too for whoever is around (perhaps in this John- whose actual name is Jim- espies the beginnings of civilization, or equally likely though diametrically opposed, a justification to estop the offender). This arrogation clearly exceeds even Mill’s expansive notion of freedom (i.e. do what you want but your freedom of action stops at the other person’s nose). Unless and until folks start flinging Rocky Road at passersyby, this slippery slope argument seems inapposite.
2) Smokers die earlier, and so the aggregate cost of smoking to society, when costs savings from Social Security payments never made or Alzheimer’s care averted (for example), is negative. This may be true, and if so would suggest, under the logic of the MDL, that Big Tobacco should get tax credits.

Kelly J. Bozanic said...

Anonymous, I have to say, bravo! You have rendered me speechless and amused me a great deal! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they are certainly interesting.

Jeffrey H. Kahn said...

On anonymous point 2 (re the early death of smokers), this is a great example of a legal argument that is likely true but too damaging (PR wise) to make in court.

This also reminds me an article I saw where some British doctors believed that NHS treatment should be denied for those who lead unhealthy lifestyles (such as eating too much ice cream).

Anonymous said...

Professor Kahn,

In re: point 1, maybe it could be the subject of a law review article. You could call the thing the Logan's Run defense.

In re: point 2, it is funny (and we may find, unavoidable) how 'universal' can start to be redefined as 'deserving', and so on and so forth until "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others". Everyone should read Orwell.