Stephen Foley: Washington battened down for a storm in a Starbucks coffee cup

 

US Outlook: Howard Schultz has brewed up a storm with his pledge to withhold campaign contributions to US politicians until they stop their destructive squabbling and put a proper budget deal in place – a budget deal that cuts the national debt in the long term with the mix of cut and tax rises that every economist says are necessary, and also gives an urgent boost to the economy now.

The Starbucks chief executive has a long and growing list of major company bosses who have signed up with him, from AOL's Tim Armstrong, through Walter Robb of Whole Foods supermarkets, to Pete Peterson, the Blackstone private equity co-founder.

As far as starving the beast is concerned, Mr Schultz's boycott will be about as effective as taking one box of Tic Tacs out of the candy store. A corporate pledge never to fund lobbying operations, either their own or indirectly through industry pressure groups – now that might start to drain some of the money from US politics and get some attention in Washington.

But Mr Schultz's campaign is more interesting than just another howl of rage about the state of US politics, revealed in its full horror by the antics of the Tea party and the half-ass, eleventh-hour, anti-stimulus deal that was signed last month to raise the debt ceiling. The open letter he wrote last week that kicked the movement off, and which has now spawned a website – uphillspiral.org – has two parts, and the second part is more interesting than the first.

"We also believe in leading by positive example," he wrote, by way of segue. The world's largest economy is frozen in a cycle of fear and uncertainty, with companies afraid to hire, even though record levels of cash are piling up in corporate treasuries. "The only way to break this cycle of fear is to break it," he said.

So the second part of the pledge to which he and his fellow chief executives have signed up is to start hiring. Now. In numbers.

A favourite pastime of corporate bosses in the last couple of years is to bleat about "regulatory uncertainty" or "anti-business rhetoric" from the White House, as if there is someone, somewhere refusing to wave their wand and magic away the economic woes caused by the bursting of a spectacular credit bubble. Yes, politicians can make things worse or better, and in very profound ways, but Mr Schultz might be about to re-teach a lesson first taught by Henry Ford 97 years ago.

The best way for businesses to ensure demand for their goods and services is to create it themselves.

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