Starbucks has not had much good publicity in Britain recently: first it is said to avoid taxation by all legal means possible (unlike the rest of us, who struggle might and main to increase our tax bills to the maximum), and second it is alleged to treat its staff badly, paying them as ungenerously as it is able.
My objection to Starbucks is quite different and much more profound: the receptacles in which it serves its coffee. The aesthetically degrading custom of serving food and drink in polystyrene receptacles (or some such material), has a coarsening effect on daily life. Not only does it suggest that eating and drinking on the hoof are normal, socially acceptable and perhaps even economically necessary, but it also promotes some of the most unsightly littering. Who has not seen the indestructible polystyrene receptacle abandoned in the street by the incontinent consumer of drink or food, often with some of the evil-smelling and looking contents left in it?
The rise of the polystyrene receptacle is a social, cultural, aesthetic and nutritional disaster. I have no scientific proof, but I should not be at all surprised if the grossly obese consumed a higher proportion of their calories from polystyrene receptacles those of normal body weight. By encouraging the consumption of food always and everywhere, usually in the coarsest possible fashion, the polystyrene receptacle plays its part in the destruction of civilisation.
To the polystyrene receptacle as an enemy of civilisation must be added the brightly coloured can, of course, which contains the vivid and livid artificial drink with which the fat, sugar and salt laden food contained in polystyrene receptacles is often or even usually washed down. The canned drink is another social, cultural, aesthetic and nutritional disaster.
A population that does not mind the sensation of holding polystyrene receptacles and eating and drinking from them is one that must be singularly lacking in aesthetic discrimination or concern. Of course, the question arises whether Starbucks and the like aesthetically coarsen the population, or merely take advantage of an already coarsened population. I suspect the answer is somewhere between the two, the relationship being what Marxists used to call a dialectical one.
So I am in favour of taxing Starbucks heavily, not for the trivial reason of raising government revenues so that the government may increase its power of patronage in society, already far too great, but in order to drive it out of business and save civilisation.
First published in Salisbury Review.