Entrepreneurs of Coffee, the Battlefield, and Missing Minerals

InventionOfEnterpriseBK2012-11-04.jpg

Source of book image: http://img.qbd.com.au/product/l/9780691143705.jpg

[p. 167] The book . . . contains a variety of entertaining stories and colorful facts about entrepreneurship that could potentially be used for teaching. [p. 168] Murray, for instance, explains that the word “entrepreneur” was borrowed from the French language in the late Middle Ages, a time when it was used to describe a battlefield commander (p. 88). Kuran describes how Middle Eastern coffee entrepreneurs originally faced harsh resistance from many clerics who believed that “coffee drinkers reap hell-fire” (pp. 71-72). Hudson traces early merchant activity and entrepreneurship all the way back to Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC (pp. 11-17). These cities, made rich by their fertile alluvial soil, still needed to acquire other important minerals, missing in their own ground, from the distant Iranian plateau or Anatolia. Since military conquest proved too expensive and because the Sumerian cities really needed these resources, they pioneered international import-export activities in their temples and palaces.

For the full review, see:
Bikard, Michael, and Scott Stern. “The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times.” Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 1 (March 2011): 164-68.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the page numbers in square parentheses refer to the review; the page numbers in curved parentheses refer to the book under review.)

Book being reviewed:
Landes, David S., Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds. Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Coffee Facilitated the Age of Enlightenment

(p. 54) Coffee is a stimulant that has been clinically proven to improve cognitive function—particularly for memory-related tasks—during the first cup or two. Increase the amount of “smart” drugs flowing through individual brains, and the collective intelligence of the culture will become smarter, if enough people get hooked. Create enough caffeine-abusers in your society and you’ll be statistically more likely to launch an Age of Reason. That may itself sound like the self-justifying fantasy of a longtime coffee-drinker, but to connect coffee plausibly to the Age of Enlightenment you have to consider the context of recreational drug abuse in seventeenth-century Europe. Coffee-drinkers are not necessarily smarter, in the long run, than those who abstain from caffeine. (Even if they are smarter for that first cup.) But when coffee originally arrived as a mass phenomenon in the mid-1600s,it was not seducing a culture of perfect sobriety. It was replacing alcohol as the daytime drug of choice. The historian Tom Standage writes in his ingenious A History of the World in Six Glasses:

The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak “small beer” and wine. . . . Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of work improved. . . . Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.

Source:
Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air

InventionOfAirBK.jpg

Source of book image: http://stevenberlinjohnson.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/10/invention_final_81908.jpg

Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, about the determined entrepreneurial detective work that uncovered the cause of cholera, is one of my all-time favorite books, so I am now in the mode of reading everything else that Steven Johnson has written, or will write.
The most recent book, The Invention of Air, is not as spectacular as The Ghost Map, but is well-written on a thought-provoking topic. It focuses on Joseph Priestley’s role in the American Revolution. Priestley is best known as an early chemist, but Johnson paints him as a poly-math whose science was of a piece with his philosophy, politics and his religion.
Johnson’s broader point is that for many of the founding fathers, science was not a compartment of their lives, but part of the whole cloth (hey, it’s my blog, so I can mix as many metaphors as I want to).
And the neat bottom line is that Priestley’s method of science (and polity) is the same broadly empirical/experimental/entrepreneurial method that usually leads to truth and progress.
Along the way, Johnson makes many amusing and thought-provoking observations, such as the paragraphs devoted to his coffee-house theory of the enlightenment. (You see, coffee makes for clearer thinking than beer.)

The book:
Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Starbucks Hypocritically Censors Its Customers

(p. A12) Laissez-faire. It’s a policy that made Starbucks vastly successful. But don’t try to put that phrase on a customized Starbucks Card.
The cards are supposed be personalized to reflect customers’ tastes and uniqueness. They are available in a range of colors, often given as gifts and used by regular customers who prefer to prepay for their java.
But when my friend Roger Ream, president of the Fund for American Studies, received a Starbucks gift card for Christmas, he found there was a limit to how personalized a card could be. His card required him to customize it on the company’s Web site. So he went to the site and requested that the phrase “Laissez Faire” be printed on his card. A few days later he was informed that the company couldn’t issue such a card because the wording violated company policy.
. . .
Maybe Starbucks considers the phrase inappropriate because it’s “overtly political commentary”? Certainly my friend regards it as a firm statement of political philosophy.
And so, at my suggestion, my friend went back to the Web site and asked that his card be issued with the phrase “People Not Profits.” Bingo! Starbucks had no problem with that phrase, and the card arrived in a few days.
I wondered just what the company’s standards were. If “laissez-faire” is unacceptably political, how could the socialist slogan “people not profits” be acceptable?
. . .
Starbucks has prospered mightily in a free economy. For the most recent fiscal year, the company earned $672.6 million on revenue of $9.4 billion, a very healthy profit. And these days, in the wake of a California Superior Court judge’s order that the company repay $100 million in back tips that were shared by shift supervisors, Starbucks honchos just might like a little less government intervention in their affairs and a little more laissez-faire.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BOAZ. “Starbucks and ‘Laissez Faire’.” The Wall Street Journal
(Mon., April 7, 2008): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Why Starbucks Coffee is a Bargain

 

(p. 161)  These coffee places, most of which didn’t even exist ten years ago, had several virtues.  They were always in convenient locations.  They permitted, even welcomed, patrons to sit and talk for several hours.  And they had tables for spreading out my materials and electrical outlets for plugging in my equipment.  In short, they provided a four-hour office rental for the price of a three-dollar latte.

. . .  

(p. 162)  Starbucks and its caffeinated cousins are part of what I call the free agent infrastructure.  The components of this infrastructure, which I’ll review in a moment, include copy shops, office supply superstores, bookstore cafés, overnight delivery services, executive suites, and the Internet.  Like America’s system of federal highways, the free agent infrastructures form the physical foundation on which the economy operates.  But unlike the federal highway system, which was planned and paid for by the government, this infrastructure emerged more or less spontaneously.  Like so many other aspects of Free Agent Nation, it is self-organized.  Nobody is in charge of it.  That’s why it woks.  It  works so well, in fact, that few people realize that this collection of commercial Establishments even constitutes an infrastructure.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 

Anti-Wal-Mart is Anti-Free-Choice

     Source of logo/header:  http://www.muddycup.com/mudlane/img/header.jpg

 

The article excerpted below reveals the soul of much of the anti-Wal-Mart movement.  It is not anti-big; it is anti-competition and anti-free-choice.

 

How in the world did a guy who started his first coffee shop on Staten Island six years ago and now runs five others in far-flung Hudson Valley towns become the moral equivalent of Wal-Mart and Starbucks? “Well, it’s now official,” he announced last month on the Web site that promotes his Muddy Cup coffeehouses. “I am now head of the evil empire.”

. . .

And now the talk of New Paltz has to do with something far more important than mere marriage — coffee. More specifically it’s whether Mr. Svetz is plotting an act of entrepreneurial imperialism by presuming to open one of his Muddy Cup coffeehouses next door to the ultimate green icon in town, the funky 60 Main coffee shop operated in conjunction with the nonprofit New Paltz Cultural Collective.

. . .

Little did he know. As word filtered out he began receiving a blizzard of e-mail messages from 60 Main proponents, reacting to an urgent appeal from the collective. The messages threatened a boycott and told him to stay home. “If we can stop Wal-Mart we can stop you,” said one.

“We do not want to become yet another small town taken over by huge corporations,” read another.

. . .

Mr. Svetz is still stunned by the whole thing, particularly his sudden status as a giant corporation. He says that just as lots of bars coexist in town, several coffee shops can too. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. He’s not Wal-Mart, but maybe it’s fair to ask how many artist-friendly coffeehouses the village can support. But it’s hard to argue when he says that even in New Paltz, businesses generally have to compete to survive, not find a way to build a Berlin Wall around town.

“When a community starts building walls and saying you don’t belong here or you don’t think like we do, that can’t be a good thing,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

PETER APPLEBOME.  "Coffee Puts Laid-Back Town on Edge."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., March 4, 2007):  21. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

We Need Caffeine

MohinderAndSylar.jpg   Mohinder on left; Sylar on right.  Source of photo:  http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/images/photos/scet/645/NUP_104904_0252.jpg

 

In the hit series "Heroes" episode "Parasites" Sylar (pretending to be someone else) unctuously thanks Mohinder Suresh for giving him hope.  I loved Mohinder’s response:

Hope is great; we need caffeine.

 

(The "Parasites" episode was first broadcast on NBC on 3/5/07)