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The History of Starbucks: From Founding to 2024, A Complete Guide

starbucks store

To say that Starbucks is a household name is a hilarious understatement. Starbucks is not just one of the world’s most well-known coffee brands; it’s one of the most well-known brands, period. It’s hard for younger people to imagine a world without Starbucks, and even some older folks might not remember what it was like before there was a Starbucks on every major corner in town.

In this article, we’re going to walk through the history of the coffee giant Starbucks. How did Starbucks get started? Who owns Starbucks? Is it a chain, or not? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this complete Starbucks history.

  • When Was Starbucks Founded?

Starbucks was founded in 1971 in Seattle, Washington, by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker. The three founders met as students at the University of San Francisco. The history of Starbucks is inextricably linked with another coffee company. Baldwin, Siegl, and Bowker were taught how to roast coffee by Alfred Peet, founder of the world-famous Peet’s Coffee & Tea .

The name Starbucks was agreed on by the three founders after a brainstorming session focused on coming up with as many words starting with the letters “st” as they could. Gordon Bowker owned an advertising agency and wanted to focus on “st” names since he thought they were particularly prevalent in successful brands and companies. Among the “st” names was Starbuck, a character from the Herman Melville novel Moby-Dick. The rest, as they say, is history.

  • Rise of an Empire

From humble beginnings in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Starbucks grew to a total of six stores in the Seattle area by 1986. In 1987, the original owners sold the Starbucks brand to a coffee business owner Howard Schulz who piggybacked on top of his existing brands to expand the company aggressively.

In the same year, the first Starbucks locations opened outside of Seattle in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Chicago, Illinois. A mere 2 years later, in 1989, there were a whopping 46 Starbucks locations spread across the western United States and Canada. This was only the beginning of Starbucks’ rise to prominence, and 3 years later, in 1992, Starbucks went public with 140 locations and an impressive $73.5 million revenue.

  • Global Presence

The Starbucks we know today is a worldwide phenomenon filling every corner of the globe. In 1996, however, there were no Starbucks outside of North America until July, when the first location opened in Tokyo, Japan. Soon after, in December 1997, the second Starbucks outside of North America opened in the Philippines.

With its foot in the door of the international coffee market, Starbucks continued to expand , and soon there were locations in the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Australia. At this stage, in the early 2000s, Starbucks began acquiring other coffee companies to increase their reach and means of production. Seattle’s Best Coffee, Torrefazione Italia, and Peet’s Coffee were all part of the Starbucks brand by April 2003.

As of 2004, there were approximately 7,000 stores worldwide in over a dozen countries.

  • A Brief Interruption

Despite the meteoric rise, the global recession in 2008 put Starbucks’ Cinderella story on pause while the world’s economies sputtered and crashed. Starbucks announced in July that they were closing 600 Starbucks locations, a staggering number considering that 10 years prior, 600 stores would have been about half of all their locations.

Although the recession ultimately cost Starbucks a sizable chunk of its stores and a large number of its worker’s jobs, it proved to be little more than a speed bump. Starbucks began to recover and thrive as the recession eased and economies kicked back into gear.

  • Starbucks Today

It’s easy to lose sight of the mind-boggling fact that Starbucks is not franchised. Unlike another global giant McDonald’s, each Starbucks is owned by the parent company. Individuals cannot own and operate a Starbucks in the way a McDonald’s franchise owner can. Instead, Starbucks operates under a license agreement.

As of September 2020, there were 32,660 Starbucks around the globe in 83 countries. Starbucks’ growth over time shows a clear exponential curve indicative of the explosive impact they’ve had on the coffee industry. It is infeasible to expect the growth rate to continue at this level, with Starbucks themselves targeting 55,000 locations worldwide in the next decade. Starbucks has already reached over a billion dollars in annual revenue, posting an astronomical $2.3 billion in revenue in 2020.

Starbucks continues to innovate and adapt to the changing times and push the boundaries of what it means to be a mainstream coffee chain. From vegan-friendly choices to an extensive array of tea and snacks, Starbucks has grown beyond its purely coffee origins to be a one-stop shop for coffee and snacks for people on the go, wherever they may be.

The coffee industry faces new challenges every day. From climate change affecting growing conditions to unsustainable farming practices, the future of coffee has never been more uncertain. One thing is certain, however. Wherever the coffee industry goes in the next several decades, Starbucks is sure to be there, leading the way as the de facto face of coffee.

You may also be interested in: 

  • Starbucks Caffeine: What’s in Your Favorite Drink?
  • How Much Caffeine in Starbucks Grande Coffee? What to Know!

Featured Image Credit: Natalie Kim, Unsplash

Table of Contents

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History of Starbucks

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Published: Jan 4, 2019

Words: 701 | Pages: 2 | 4 min read

  • Starbucks went public on June 26, 1992 at a price of $17 per share (or $0.53 per share, adjusted for subsequent stock splits) and closed trading that first day at $21.50 per share.
  • Starbucks was incorporated under the laws of the State of Washington, in Olympia, Washington, on Nov. 4, 1985.
  • Starbucks Corporation’s common stock is listed on NASDAQ, under the trading symbol SBUX.

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history of starbucks essay

Pioneering Minds

The Story Of Starbucks: “Everything Matters”

Drink its coffee but sip deeper to glean starbucks’ lifestyle impact.

The Story Of Starbucks: “Everything Matters”

Starbucks Coffee Company grew from a small, regional business into the leader within the specialty coffee industry. How did it achieve it? By buying only the best quality coffee beans and providing an unmatched store experience. Starbucks, being a specialty coffee retailer, produces and offers coffee drinks and food items, as well as beans, coffee accessories, teas, and CDs. In the US, the company also owns and franchises the Seattle’s Best Coffee and Torrefazione Italia chains. In addition, Starbucks markets its coffee through grocery stores and licenses its brand for other food and beverage products.

Says Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks: “While we are a coffee company at heart, Starbucks provides much more than the best cup of coffee. We offer a community gathering place where people come together to connect and discover new things. We are always looking for innovative ways to surprise and delight our customers.” But it is undoubtedly coffee – and the myriad innovative ways it is marketed – that lies at the heart of Starbucks’ success.


The reason: coffeehouses had mushroomed everywhere and became more accessible than bars. The image of coffee also went through an image change – from being a breakfast drink to a beverage that cultivated company and conversation. Coffee drinkers wanted higher quality coffee, it was a drink that was rapidly becoming a lifestyle. Increasingly, coffee shops became places where people sat back and enjoyed a cup of coffee and relaxed with their friends or business associates.


Each of these men with an entrepreneurial spirit decided to contribute $1,350 and borrowed another $5,000 to open a store that sold coffee beans, which they ordered from Peet’s. At first, due to money constraints Siegl was Starbucks’ only paid employee. Bowker and Baldwin kept their day jobs but their little project was an immense success and sales exceeded expectations. In late-1972, they opened a second store in the University District. In 1980, Zev Siegl sold out to pursue other ventures. By that time Starbucks had six retail outlets.

Schultz put forward this idea to his partners but it took a lot to convince them about its feasibility. The concept, however, was an enormous hit and within two months the one store he had been allowed to experiment with was serving 800 customers a day, which on an average was twice as many as their best-selling whole bean locations.

So with the Starbucks brand name, Schultz modified its mermaid logo into a more socially acceptable figure and converted the six existing Starbucks roasting shops into elegant, comfortable coffee houses. Starbucks’ coffee history was just beginning to take shape and so Howard Schultz, at the age of 34, became the Starbucks’ president and CEO.


As the company began to expand rapidly in the ’90s, Schultz said: “The main goal was to serve a great cup of coffee and attached to this goal was the principle to build a company with soul.”

By 2002, the once small, regional cafe grossed over $3.3 billion. It had more than 5,800 locations in 30 countries serving approximately 20 million customers a week. At the time of its IPO in 1992, Starbucks had 165 outlets, but by 2003, in a short span of 11 years, it had doubled its number of outlets by purchasing Seattle’s Best Coffee and Torrefazione Italia from AFC Enterprises. This brought Starbucks’ operated locations worldwide to more than 6,400. In October 2004, the company launched the Hear Music media bar. In 2005, coffee lovers around the world drank 400 billion cups of coffee. With more than 8,500 retail stores around the world and 20 million customers visiting its coffeehouses each week, surely more than half of them would have visited their nearest Starbucks outlets. With the specialty market amounting to about $22 billion, Starbucks currently has a marketshare of over 40 percent of the specialty coffee market.

Starbucks recently entered the film business as Starbucks Entertainment and is a co-producer of the film Akeelah and the Bee expected to release this year. It is a diversification Starbucks afficianados will follow with keen interest.


Starbucks also faced competition from major nationwide coffee manufacturers like Kraft General Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Nestlé which had a great distribution network and distributed their coffees through supermarkets. This made coffee an easily accessible drink. Further on a number of coffee companies began to sell coffee beans in supermarkets. But despite all this competition Starbucks survived and created an image and brand-loyalty among its customers. The key reason: innovation.

A typical Starbucks store is an artfully designed place with tables and chairs of various sizes. Modern fixtures and subdued lighting dominate the atmosphere. It looks nothing like a traditional coffee shop; instead it has the feel of a cozy place to sit with friends and enjoy coffee.

Depending on the size and locality of the stores the product mix varies. Larger stores carry a broad selection of the company’s whole bean coffees in various sizes and types of packaging, as well as an assortment of coffee and espresso-making equipment and accessories such as coffee grinders, coffee makers, espresso machines, coffee filters, storage containers, travel tumblers and mugs. Smaller Starbucks stores typically sell a full line of coffee beverages. They also have a more limited selection of whole bean coffees and a few accessories such as travel tumblers as well as logo mugs. A few even carry a selection of sandwiches and salads.

Schultz speaks about the basic Starbucks philosophy: “ While we are a coffee company at heart, Starbucks provides much more than the best cup of coffee—we offer a community gathering place where people come together to connect and discover new things. We are always looking for innovative ways to surprise and delight our customers.”

Being an innovative company, the wide and different ranges of coffee its stores carry is well planned. All its stores are located at well-thought-out locations like high-traffic and high-visibility herbs at airports, downtown and suburban retail centers, office buildings and university campuses.

Starbucks is a disciplined innovator as it keeps a check on the introduction of new products and doesn’t over-crowd its timeline. In 2002, it introduced the new Frappuccino Blended Beverages. In 2003, the Iced Shaken refreshments product line was launched. In 2004, it introduced the new Frappuccino Light blended coffee. This shows Starbucks’ ability to come up with new products as well as improve its already existing range and keep it a step ahead of its competitors.

Starbucks did not invent the coffeehouse but copied it from Milan. The earliest known coffeehouse was in 1475 in Constantinople. But Starbucks definitely created a new image of the coffee house and revolutionized the way people thought and drank coffee.

Who would have thought that a store selling coffee for over $3 a cup would become a multi-billion dollar business when all others were selling it for 85 cents? By going against the unofficial set upper price limit Starbucks showed great innovative foresight. It not only took the world by storm but also created an image that people with exclusive taste drink Starbucks coffee. Its strategy has been the same since its inception: to sell premium products at premium prices, and to create Starbucks’ brand awareness by introducing new products and through the development of new distribution channels. So what is new? Starbucks is utilizing its existing channels to sell music it is producing with celebrated artists. A food company is now in the music industry. There is more possible than we think.

Ask Schultz the secret of Starbucks’ success and he recounts four principles: “Don’t be threatened by people smarter than you. Compromise anything but your core values. Seek to renew yourself even when you are hitting home runs. And everything matters.”

Source: Pioneering Minds

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Starbucks Corporation: Background Information Research Paper

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Starbucks Corporation can be considered as the largest multinational chain of coffeehouses. The company first opened in 1971 in Settle, Washington, by three students Gordon Bowker, Zev Siegl, and Jerry Baldwin (“Company information,” 2021). In 1981, Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, was inspired by the idea of transmitting the Italian coffeehouse culture throughout the globe by expanding the overall reach and scope of the business, which is why he joined the chain.

Industry Type

It is important to note that the company operates in the industry of snack stores and retail coffee. The industry is highly close to the food and grocery retail field, which are targeted as sales of consumables for the customers. It is a competitive area of business due to a relatively low barrier for entry and a limited range for significant differentiation in regards to the product itself.

Position Within Industry

In the case of Starbucks Corporation’s position within the industry it operates, both evidence and common knowledge support the fact that it is a top leader in coffee retail and snack store. It is stated that “Starbucks has about 182,000 employees across 19,767 company operated & licensed stores in 62 countries” (Geereddy, n.d., p. 2). In other words, no other competitor has the similar reach and scope as Starbucks Corporation does in the given industry.

Evolution of Growth

Starbucks started in 1971 with a single store opened by three students and did not plan to expand to becomes a multination corporation until the arrival of Howard Schultz in 1982. The growth of the company was initiated in 1987, where it implemented the coffeehouse concept for the first time (Starbucks Corporation, 2020). Throughout the 90s, Starbucks expanded from 55 stores to 3501, where some of its branches were opening in other countries, and currently, it has 32660 units (Starbucks Corporation, 2020).

Legal Structure

One should be aware that for the majority of its existence, Starbucks was and still is a corporation, which makes it a separate legal entity with its own property and operations. It also has a so-called matrix organization structure, where it mixes a wide range of different, simple, and basic organizational elements to work in conjunction with the main headquarters (Meyer, 2019). It is due to the prevalence of thousands of coffeehouse units.

Organizational Structure

It is important to point out that Starbucks also utilizes a matrix organizational structure across its entire business due to numerous stores throughout the globe. Since each unit operates in a culturally and geographically different environment, the company faces major challenges in regards to the standardization of its operations. Therefore, combining all business structure elements into a matrix ensures that efficiency and effectiveness are put in place.

Organizational Culture

One should note that organizational culture plays a central role in the company’s management. It is stated, “Starbucks Coffee’s organizational culture is a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity” (Ferguson, 2019, para. 3). In other words, the cultural features are in tune with the interests of the organization since it is itself highly diverse and spread out across the globe, which means unity can only be achieved through inclusiveness.

Management Style

In the case of the management style of Starbucks, the company puts a great deal of emphasis on its employees. It is stated that “Starbucks Corporation has a servant leadership approach, which characterizes the behavioral manifestation of the company’s organizational culture among leaders” (Ferguson, 2019, para. 5). Therefore, the company highly values its employees and aims to lead, focusing on their inherent interests and goals.

The company has a clear and decisive mission, which encompasses its core aims and objectives as well as illuminates its values. It is stated that Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time” (“Company information,” 2021, para. 7). Therefore, it reflects the corporation’s focus on its customers, product, and communities surrounding the company.

The company’s vision is to dominate the market through exceptional service and products and to remain financially strong. It is stated that the vision “is not only to deliver outstanding financial results by offering exceptional and unique products and services but also to create a strong connection with the communities where we operate” (“Form 10-K,” 2020, p. 12). In other words, the business values people and experience more than financials.

Core Values & Competency

The core values of Starbucks are comprised of four main elements. These include creating a culture of belonging, delivering the best service, connecting with transparency, and acting without fear (“Company information,” 2021). In other words, despite its large size and history of success, the company continues to challenge the status quo and remain innovative, which are typical competencies of startups. Competencies include top-quality product and service delivery and the creation of coffee culture.


The political factors affecting the company are not solely present in the United States but also in the countries from which the raw materials come, which means that there needs to global awareness of political instabilities. The company needs to follow fair trade policies and regulations in order to avoid scrutiny. In addition, employment laws and tax policies are also major political factors.

Economic Factors

The primary economic factors include inflation rates in the countries of interest, operational costs, labor costs, and currency exchange rates. Since Starbucks operates in several countries, the increased awareness of these economic elements is of paramount importance in order to remain and stay competitive as it is at the moment (“Form 10-K,” 2020). The economic impact of the pandemic also needs to be accounted for to ensure profitability.

Social Factors

The social factors mainly revolve around the problem of quality versus pricing because, in order to reach lower-income customers, the quality of the product needs to be compromised, which can deter the higher-income consumers. In addition, environmentally cautious and aware groups pose a challenge in terms of forcing the company to adopt green policies, such as the reduction of plastic waste-related pollution.

Technological Factors

Technological advancements define the modern century, which is why the current technological factors affecting the company are not merely limited to Wi-Fi or the internet. Agricultural developments influence raw material production, which is coffee beans, and biotechnological advancements determine the effectiveness of the company in regards to pollution and product growth efficiency. In addition, various innovative technologies can improve the overall customer experience, such as mobile app use for ordering.

Legal Factors

The key legal factors are centered around the policies and regulations related to caffeine consumption and production. Health experts and relevant authorities also have a close interest in monitoring coffee use and its impact on the public health elements (“Form 10-K,” 2020). It should also be noted that various employment and trade laws can severely alter the performance of the company since it operates in multiple countries across the planet.

Environmental Factors

Lastly, the environmental factors are mainly focused on plastic pollution due to Starbucks’s business format, which relies on the use of cups, straws, and other related items in high volumes. The company cannot underestimate its environmental impact due to its widespread presence, which is why environmental regulations can also affect its performance (“Form 10-K,” 2020). Operational costs might increase with the ban of plastic use, which can reduce profitability.

Financial Analysis

Starbucks Corporation’s revenue metrics were increasing before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, which is why the company experienced a sharp decline in 2020 and is still experiencing it in 2021. The revenues for 2018, 2019, and 2020 were $24.72B, $26.509B, and $23.518B, respectively (“Form 10-K,” 2020). Therefore, it is evident that there was an 11.28% decrease in revenue value from 2019 to 2020, which is due to lockdowns.

Operational Expenses

It is important to note the fact that Starbuck’s operational or operating expenses are in tune with its profitability and pandemic-related factors. The operational expenses for 2018, 2019, and 2020 were $20.836B, $22.431B, and $21.956B, respectively (“Form 10-K,” 2020). Thus, there is a 2.11% decrease in operating expenses from 2019 to 2020, which primarily due to worldwide quarantine measures in order to limit the spread of the virus.

Profit Margin

In the case of profit margins, the given metric evaluates the overall profitability of a company by dividing net income by revenue. The profit margins for 2018, 2019, and 2020 were 18.71%, 13.81%, and 2.87%, respectively (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, the corporation was already becoming unprofitable before the pandemic but experienced a severe drop in margins in 2020 due to closures of stores and lockdowns.

Stock Performance

The stock performance metrics of Starbucks have been relatively stable in comparison with other financial performance indicators. Since 2018, the SBUX stock has been steadily growing in price, with stock values of $63.39, $88.13, and $106.98 for 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, the lockdowns and pandemic-related disturbances did not affect the company in the long term since there is a strong trend of growth.

Latest Market Value

In the case of the company’s latest market value, it is important to understand that estimations might vary based on the approaches. However, in accordance with the current financial report data, the market value of Starbucks is $137.902B (“Form 10-K,” 2020). The given value is indicative of the fact that the corporation is a large one since it is as big as Walmart Inc. or Nike, Inc.

It should be noted that one of the fundamental financial elements is debt in both its forms because it shows how the company is managing its resources. It is stated that Starbucks has $1.69 billion in short-term debt and $14.66 billion in long-term one, which amounts to total debt of $16.35 billion (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, the company has a large portion of its debt in long-term form, and cash-equivalent adjustments decrease the overall debt value.

Cash Position

The cash position of a company is important to consider as a key financial statement element. It is stated that annual cash flow from operating activities for the years of 2018, 2019, and 2020 were $11.938 billion, $5.047 billion, and $1.598 billion (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, there is a sharp decline in annual cash inflow values, which started prior to the pandemic but reached its peak during the latter.

Liquidity Measurement Ratios

On the basis of the company’s latest report, the liquidity measurement ratios do not seem the most appealing, but it is capable of paying out its short-term obligations. The current ratio is 1.07, the quick ratio is 0.84, and the company has $4.004 billion cash on hand (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, Starbucks is in a relatively good position when it comes to its liquidity and ability to pay its debts despite the pandemic.

Starbucks Corporation’s product offerings and lines mainly involve coffee products in various forms and sizes. The majority of its products are offered and sold in the company’s coffeehouses, but it also sells coffee beans on its website. These include Starbucks Veranda Blend, Starbucks Espresso Roast, Starbucks Dark Roast, and Starbucks Medium Roast (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, the company offers a highly specific set of products, which coffee.

Core Products

It is important to note that although Starbucks is attempting to differentiate and be less dependent on its coffeehouses, the core products still revolve around coffee drinks. The coffeehouses sell various forms and sizes of different coffee drinks, such as Americano, Latte, and Espresso. In addition, it also attempts to sell snacks alongside its main product line, but the primary source of income and revenue is coffee itself.

Distribution Method and Strategy

One should be aware that the company has long shifted from relying solely on its company-oriented coffeehouses as the main distribution method. The company is actively involved in developing a wide range of distribution channels, which include joint venture, direct-to-customer market channels, warehouse club accounts, grocery channels, licensed partners, and arrangements with food companies. Therefore, there a number of distribution pathways available to the company.

Target Audience

The company’s target market can be considered relatively young since 90% of its income comes from two distinct age groups. The largest market is comprised of adults between the ages of 25 and 44, and the second largest group includes people between the ages of 18-24 (“Form 10-K,” 2020). In other words, these metrics are indicative of the fact that the company is sustained and driven by sales made by younger adults and adults.

Main Competitors

It should be noted that the industry of coffee drinks and snacks is a highly competitive one. The main competitors of Starbucks are Dunkin Donuts, Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, and other popular local coffeehouse chains. In the case of the latter, it can vary since, in some nations, local coffeehouses can become the primary competitor, whereas, in other ones, the larger multinational chains pose a threat.

Geographic Reach

Starbucks Corporation can be considered as a highly omnipresent company with its reach covering Africa, the Middle East, Europe, China and the Asia Pacific, and the Americas. It is important to note that Starbucks failed to succeed in Australia due to local customer specificities as being more demanding for higher coffee quality and predominance of local competitors. However, the company still has a high degree of reach on an international scale.

Advertising and Promotion Strategy

The corporation of interest primarily utilizes a multi-channel promotional strategy, where it mainly uses in-store displays, social media channels, and a core website. The company also actively uses print media, direct marketing, event marketing, sales promotions, and public relations to stay visible. In other words, the enterprise does not limit itself to a limited number of promotional channels and utilizes all effective means of marketing measures.

Pricing Method and Strategy

One of the most interesting abilities of the given can be observed in its approach towards pricing. Starbucks utilizes a value-based pricing method in order to capitalize on its brand and customer-perceived image. Value-based pricing is a challenging approach, which focuses on consumers’ willingness to pay for products rather than actual costs, but Starbucks employs precise and accurate customer analysis to achieve the desired outcome.

Positioning Strategy

The company’s positioning strategy is primarily focused on its customers and their experience. In other words, Starbucks wants to provide the best customer service on a global scale with the goal of ensuring superb customer satisfaction by combining a high-quality product with a higher quality of service. In addition, it prioritizes employee satisfaction as well in order to avoid public scrutiny, such as the case of Amazon.

Value Proposition

The core value proposition of the company is tightly tied to its positioning strategy, where the emphasis is put on customer experience by connecting with them through a wide range of methods. For example, writing down a customer’s name on a cup is among numerous examples of how Starbucks wants to achieve such a connection. It might not have the highest quality coffee, but service is the factor that defines the company.

Differentiation Strategy

The process of differentiation is a critical one for Starbucks, which especially true due to the effects of the pandemic. It ensures that the company can be sustainable, which is achieved through the prioritization of both product quality and customer service. Unlike other coffeehouses, Starbucks wants and strives to become “the third place,” where the company wants to become a go-to place after one’s work and home.

Customer Relationship Management

Customer relationship management or CRM is a set of methodological tools, which are designed to help companies to organize their relationships with their customers. Starbucks utilizes simple customer apps, 2D barcodes, gift card programs, and loyalty programs in order to ensure that customers are rewarded for continuously choosing Starbucks over other coffeehouses. In other words, the company is leading the market through the integration of innovative methods.

SWOT Analysis

The key strengths of the company are highly effective loyalty programs, brand image, international presence, quality standardizations, and employee treatment. The weaknesses are procurement practices, high imitability, and relatively high prices. The opportunities are enhancing online channels, delivery, coffee trends, and developing markets. The threats include the pandemic and related lockdowns, economic recessions, a high degree of imitability of customer service, and smaller local coffeehouses becoming more appealing.


The given thorough analysis allows one to conclude that Starbucks is currently in a relatively good position. The plan of action is that the company needs to survive the effects of the pandemic with minimal losses, which why closing unprofitable branches should continue, but the servant leadership needs to persist as the main catalyzer of sustainability (Ferguson, 2019). In addition, the high imitability of its service needs to be countered by high-quality product offers, which is achievable since customers are willing to pay higher prices. The company should also be more proactive online to have an even stronger internet presence.

In conclusion, it is evident that Starbucks’s key to success was its aggressive expansion and brand image development. Although such measures worked for almost 50 years, the major disturbances, such as the pandemic, need to be accounted for through more extensive differentiation. The company is large enough to be able to take in the losses, but more online channels need development in order to reduce high imitability and reliance on physical stores.

Company information. (2021). Web.

Ferguson, E. (2019). Starbucks Corporation’s organizational culture & its characteristics. Panmore Institute. Web.

Form 10-K. (2020). Web.

Geereddy, N. (n.d.). Strategic analysis of Starbucks Corporation [PDF document]. Web.

Meyer, P. (2019). Starbucks coffee’s organizational structure & its characteristics. Panmore Institute. Web.

Starbucks Corporation. (2020). Timeline [PDF document]. Web.

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Literary genius. Academic prowess

history of starbucks essay

The History of: Starbucks

April 26, 2022 by Dayvin Mendez Leave a Comment

Starbucks is arguably one of the biggest coffee places in the world with over 32 thousand stores, but not a lot of people know the background of Starbucks. The first Starbucks opened in Seattle, Washington, on March 31st, 1971. Jerry Baldwin, Zev Sieglm, and Gordon Bowker were three peers from the University of San Francisco, who had a common interest in coffee and tea. The name Starbucks came from the first mate in Moby Dick, Starbuck. When it came to what inspired them to start selling coffee, they were inspired by Alfred Peet, who had shown them his way of roasting beans, and decided they wanted to sell high-quality coffee beans and equipment. Their store was opened in Pike Place Market and they offered fresh-roasted beans, teas, and spices from around the world. By the early 1980s, Starbucks opened up four more stores in Seattle and eventually caught the eye of Howard Schultz. Schultz joined as the director of retail operations and marketing in 1982 and after a trip to Italy in 1983, wanted to take Starbucks in a new direction. Instead of just selling products to people and having them go about their days, Schultz wanted to make Starbucks a coffee shop. 

Schultz was inspired by the coffee shops he saw in Milan. He took notice that these shops were a place for people to relax and be somewhere that wasn’t just home and work. The original founders were strongly against the idea and wanted to stick to just selling coffee beans and equipment. They did test Schultz’s idea of making Starbucks a coffee shop, in one of the locations in downtown Seattle, and it was a success. This is where the first Starbucks Caffè Latte was served and with the success of this experiment, Schultz created his own coffee shop. In 1985 Schultz founded Il Giornale, offering brewed coffee and espresso drinks, and giving the Starbucks experience he envisioned. Il Giornale was very successful and Schultz was eventually to acquire Starbucks, combining Il Giornale and Starbucks, and renaming everything Starbucks Corporation. From this, Starbucks was able to take off across the country with stores opening in places like Chicago, Illinois,  and even internationally to Vancouver, Canada. 

Starbucks continued to grow in popularity and success for decades following this rebrand. In 1996, they opened their first store in Japan, in 1998, they opened locations around Europe, and in 1999, they opened locations around China. Starbucks dominated the coffee market, by continuously finding new ways to reinvent the way people traditionally thought about coffee, and finding new ways to keep people interested in the brand. They started to sell a bottled version of their Frappuccinos, they started the Starbucks Foundation, which was all about benefiting local literacy programs, they were the first privately owned company in the United States to offer a stock option program for part-time employees, etc. This constantly wanted to make sure the brand was innovating and improving. 

Starbucks is still a favorite of many people. It’s the place to get a good cup of coffee, just to hangout, and even work. Starbucks has been able to maintain their place at the top of chain coffee shops and because of that I’d imagine it’ll be a place that’s around for a long time.

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  • The Weekend Essay

The petit bourgeois insurrection

Family-owned firms now sit at the heart of America’s fraying democracy.

By William Davies

history of starbucks essay

There is an argument that breaks out from time to time between the critics of global capitalism (often represented by left-leaning NGOs) and economists. It starts with the former comparing the size of multinational corporations to that of national economies. So, for example, Microsoft’s market capitalisation is now larger than the GDP of France. At this point an economist is guaranteed to show up to rubbish such comparisons on the basis that they compare a corporation’s “stock” (market capitalisation) with a country’s “flow” (output over the course of a year). The former represents a quoted asset price that may or may not be realised; the latter represents the sum of goods and services that have been sold.

These rhetorical games came of age during the brief period of the “anti-globalisation movement” – the time of the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organisation and Naomi Klein’s No Logo. That movement spoke to a rising anxiety that, regardless of which measurement tools one used, multinational corporations had acquired a level of autonomy and clout that exceeded that of many nation states. While US car giants were exploiting the Nafta trade deal to move production across the Mexican border, corporations such as Nike and Starbucks seemed intent on flooding every spare corner of public space with their brands, unconstrained by geography or politics. Polemics such as Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God and novels such as Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (in which a dotcom start-up seeks to sell Lithuania to investors) expressed a kind of anti-capitalism that resolved largely into a critique of corporate power.

Today, the comparison of financial stocks with productive flows looks a lot more interesting than big-brain economists are willing to admit. Indeed, it is precisely this kind of comparison on which the post-2008 era’s definitive work of political economy, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century , is built. But one key difference is that corporations are no longer such a focal point. Piketty’s memorable proposition, R>G, states that returns on capital typically outstrip growth in income: stocks grow faster than flows, resulting in an exponential trend towards oligarchy. Those returns don’t only manifest in the form of corporate profits or dividends, and may accrue almost invisibly in the form of asset appreciation (especially of real estate) that is not always easy to measure. The mood at the turn of the millennium, that corporations were now bigger or more powerful than states, has given way to a different anxiety: that there is plenty of money out there, but it’s been effectively withdrawn from circulation and stored indefinitely as wealth, evading public scrutiny and taxation. A 2022 Financial Times headline put it most succinctly: “Britain and the US are poor societies with some very rich people.”

To this daunting thought, Melinda Cooper’s Counterrevolution adds a more provocative one: what if this was the plan all along? What if the neoliberal revolution of the past half-century was never really about increasing GDP growth , productivity or industrial profitability, but only ever about nurturing asset appreciation? Critics of various stripes continue to fixate on growth as the central indicator of progress, whether they are bemoaning this obsession (on environmental and social grounds) or complaining that policymakers have failed to deliver enough of it, as everyone from Liz Truss to Rachel Reeves now agrees. Notions of “secular stagnation” and the “long downturn” continue to judge economic performance in terms of productive output. And yet we know from Piketty, or the world depicted in The White Lotus , or a brief glance in any London estate agent’s window that stagnation is not for everyone. It is this combination of “extravagance and austerity” that Cooper seeks to explain politically and historically.

[See also: Thomas Piketty: “The Labour Party is too conservative” ]

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Cooper’s story begins in the United States of the mid-1970s, at a time when it appeared to a variety of critics and stakeholders that capital was scarcely able to grow at all. Inflation ate into the value of assets, while inflation-busting wage agreements squeezed out profits. Taxation on income, capital gains, inheritance and property seemed to devour all prospects for the accumulation of private wealth. From the perspective of conservative intellectuals such as James M Buchanan and sympathetic business lobbies, this was all in the service of an increasingly bloated, over-unionised public sector that drove up public borrowing and destroyed incentives for private-sector investment. The unsustainability of this Keynesian-industrial settlement was demonstrated in the 1970s by the New York City debt crisis and the Californian revolt against property taxes.

Much of what followed is well-known: the election of Ronald Reagan, the monetary “Volcker shock” of high interest rates that gutted the industrial Midwest and generated mass unemployment, along with sweeping tax cuts for high-earners and the wealthy, financial deregulation, and a boardroom fixation on shareholder value. Bill Clinton won the plaudits of his erstwhile critics on the right when in 1998 he achieved the federal government’s first budget surplus since 1970. Neoliberal economic principles became enshrined in the doctrines of the Federal Reserve, which moved under Alan Greenspan from hawkish inflation-busting to an era of cheap money aimed at pumping up asset values. This escalated following the global financial crisis to full-blown monetary financing, in which the Fed underpinned the value of government debt and other financial assets by taking trillions of them on to its own balance sheet. More recently, the conservative counter-revolution has delivered a frightening ideological radicalism in the form of the Tea Party movement, President Trump, the repeal of Roe vs Wade and the 6 January insurrection.

Cooper’s account is distinguished by her emphasis on what those who fretted about the issue in the 1970s referred to as capital formation. At every turn, from the moment that the Ford administration told New York City to “drop dead” in response to its pleas for federal assistance in 1975, through to the Trump tax reforms of 2017, the problem to be solved was of how privately owned capital – in all its forms and at every scale – could grow more rapidly and reliably. On the face of it, this is an unsurprising claim to make about neoliberalism , which has long been theorised by Marxists as a political project waged on behalf of capital to restore the rate of profit. What’s unusual about Counterrevolution and what makes Cooper such an endlessly intriguing scholar (a rare combination of historian, sociologist and economist, but none of these in particular) is the recognition that capital comes in all shapes and sizes, producing exotic political coalitions of hedge funds with small businesses, of speculative property developers and homeowners, that defy conventional class stratification. Once this is understood, the democratic upheavals of the past decade start to make much more sense.

What enables capital to grow and survive over time? Orthodox political economy would suggest that it needs to be invested in productive processes and technologies, for instance through the sale of corporate equities. Cooper shows that, at least in the American context, the pursuit of “capital formation” since the 1970s has been far more devious than this, and far more reliant on the insidious hand of the state. There is both a fiscal and a monetary wing to this project. Fiscally, the ideas of supply-side economics (whose genealogy Cooper traces in detail, and whose influence in Washington DC remains far stronger than is often realised) drove a tax-cutting agenda that didn’t simply put more money into the pockets of the rich but offered a handout to property owners, who were encouraged to blame the public sector for their lack of asset appreciation. One reason why asset appreciation took off in the 1980s was that the owners got to keep more of their capital gains and their inherited wealth.

Monetary policy would eventually prove an even more potent tool for the same purpose. While the Fed had spent much of the 1980s seeking to reduce inflation through driving up unemployment (weakening organised labour at the same time), by the late 1990s, Alan Greenspan was sufficiently reassured that the unions were broken to flood the US economy with cheap money and stand back as it was converted into asset appreciation. While the rising price of labour and goods had been a problem, the rising price of assets – including real estate – “now represented the ideal horizon of Federal Reserve crisis management”. The entire US state had now pivoted towards facilitating asset-price appreciation. Far greater monetary largesse would follow post-2008 in the form of quantitative easing, when the Fed (and the Bank of England) pumped trillions into equities and house prices, while wages stagnated.

Who benefited from all this? Cooper is sensitive to the shifting sands of Reaganism, how it drew on aspects of the New Deal coalition (including some unionised elements) to bring small businesses, factions of the white working class and big business together and set them against fiscal authorities and public-sector workers, using gendered and racial divisions to drive the opposition home. An economic model in which wealth appreciates indefinitely ultimately shores up an institution that Cooper had already addressed in her instant classic of 2017, Family Values . Over time, it is the family and the family-owned business that accumulates wealth and political power in an economy no longer preoccupied with production or productive investment, and where wealth is defended and swelled by whatever means available. Cooper is brilliant and original in her analysis of how the private, family-owned firm now sits at the heart of America’s rapidly fraying democracy, and how it is this entity (and not the publicly traded corporation) that contextualises the descent towards 6 January and beyond.

Large private businesses, such as Koch Industries, offer their owners a level of political autonomy as campaign donors and “philanthropists” that shareholder-owned companies do not. These have become vehicles for dynastic, oligarchical power, that extends its reach via attacks on all forms of property tax. At the other end of the spectrum, the small family-owned firm sat at the heart of the Tea Party movement. Feeling squeezed between “big business” and “big government”, these modest private companies exhibit the petit bourgeois resentment that has long been recognised as a potent ingredient of radicalisation on the right. The combination of private, dynastic wealth with radical Christianity has injected further toxicity into movements that, post-2008, gave up claiming to favour democracy at all.

But what is perhaps most striking about Counterrevolution is the economic sector present in virtually every scene in the play: real estate. Cooper is too fixated on the ideas, intellectuals and political protagonists that drove the rise of the asset economy to suddenly mutate into a geographer or housing studies scholar, but this could almost have been a book about why (in Fredric Jameson’s words) “today, all politics is about real estate”. Cooper shows that the enforced solution to the New York debt crisis involved opening up the city to property developers. Among those who benefited most lavishly from the tax cuts and incentives that followed was a developer called Donald Trump.

The supply-siders reserved their greatest animosity for property taxes. As early as the late 1970s, Greenspan had noticed that rising house prices offered a warped form of Keynesian stimulus: homeowners could remortgage, releasing cash for consumer spending. It was construction workers, organised into small, private businesses, that were at the forefront of Reagan’s blue-collar Republicanism, and most seduced by supply-side populism (and who made a surreal reappearance in the form of the anti-government “Joe the Plumber” during John McCain’s ill-fated 2008 campaign). So dominant was real estate in the US economy that between 2001 and 2005 40 per cent of new private-sector jobs were in residential construction and related sectors such as mortgage brokering. As Margaret Thatcher understood as well as anyone, real estate has a unique ability to remake electoral and class divisions, producing confusions that disorientate us to this day (why is a retired steelworker who purchased his council house assumed to be working class? Why is a teacher struggling to pay their rent considered middle class?).

The status of real estate, housing especially, in contemporary capitalism is so prominent and divisive and sucks up so much of our attention that it can sometimes be hard to get any critical distance on this madness. The vote for Brexit was ultimately a vote by homeowners; rates of depression and anxiety are far higher among renters than among owners; intergenerational relations are being transformed in the desperate hunt for housing security and housing equity. So much now seems to hang on it that it can be hard to find the concepts and narratives to account for this state of affairs. Counterrevolution provides an exemplary history of ideas and elites, but in foregrounding the asset form with which we are most intimately connected, it also offers a crucial history of our unhappy present that makes complete sense.

Counterrevolution: Extravagance and Austerity in Public Finance Melinda Cooper Zone Books, 568pp, £28

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[See also: India’s last election? ]

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Challenges of Labor: Understanding the Homestead Strike in US History

This essay about the Homestead Strike of 1892 highlights the pivotal clash between labor and capital, epitomized by the workers of Homestead, Pennsylvania, and Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire. It into the dire working conditions and the fierce resistance of the workers, culminating in a violent showdown that exposed the harsh realities of industrial capitalism. Despite their defeat, the legacy of the Homestead Strike endures as a symbol of solidarity and resilience, inspiring ongoing struggles for labor rights and economic justice.

How it works

The tumultuous pages of American history are often marked by the struggles of the labor movement, where the clash between capital and labor has shaped the nation’s social and economic landscape. Among the pivotal moments in this narrative stands the Homestead Strike of 1892, a conflict that reverberated across industries and ideologies, leaving an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of the working class and the elite alike.

Nestled in the steel-producing heartland of Pennsylvania, the town of Homestead was a microcosm of the industrial revolution’s relentless march.

At the forefront of this transformation stood the Carnegie Steel Company, owned by the formidable Andrew Carnegie, a titan of industry whose fortune was built on the backs of laborers toiling in the fiery crucibles of his mills.

The seeds of discontent that would blossom into the Homestead Strike were sown in the fertile soil of industrial capitalism. Despite the company’s unprecedented success, the workers of Homestead found themselves grappling with dire working conditions, meager wages, and the specter of job insecurity. Their grievances, fueled by the fervor of the burgeoning labor movement sweeping the nation, culminated in a decisive showdown that would test the limits of both labor solidarity and corporate power.

Central to the Homestead Strike was the clash of ideologies between labor and capital. On one side stood the workers, organized under the banner of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, a formidable union determined to defend the rights and dignity of its members against the encroachments of unchecked corporate power. On the other side loomed the towering figure of Andrew Carnegie, emblematic of the ruthless pursuit of profit at any cost, backed by the full force of the state and its instruments of coercion.

The stage was set for a showdown of epic proportions when negotiations between labor and management reached an impasse over wage cuts and the company’s refusal to recognize the union. Faced with the prospect of surrendering their hard-won gains, the workers of Homestead made a fateful decision to resist, barricading themselves within the confines of the steel mill and daring the forces of capital to dislodge them.

What followed was a harrowing tale of violence and repression that laid bare the brutal realities of industrial capitalism. Armed with Pinkerton detectives hired by the company, the forces of capital launched a bloody assault on the workers’ stronghold, resulting in pitched battles that claimed the lives of several workers and Pinkerton agents alike. The streets of Homestead ran red with the blood of those who dared to defy the dictates of the capitalist order, as the forces of law and order sided unequivocally with the interests of capital.

Yet, amid the smoke and chaos of the battlefield, the workers of Homestead displayed a resilience and solidarity that would inspire generations to come. Despite being outgunned and outnumbered, they held fast to their convictions, refusing to yield in the face of overwhelming odds. Their struggle, immortalized in the annals of labor history, served as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and oppressed, galvanizing the labor movement and laying the groundwork for future victories in the ongoing struggle for economic justice.

In the aftermath of the Homestead Strike, the reverberations of this seismic event were felt far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania. Across the nation, the specter of industrial unrest sent shockwaves through the corridors of power, prompting calls for reform and concessions from the ruling class. Emboldened by the courage and sacrifice of their comrades in Homestead, workers from coast to coast took to the streets in a wave of strikes and protests, demanding an end to the exploitation and oppression that had long defined their existence.

Yet, for all its significance, the legacy of the Homestead Strike is a complex and contested terrain. While it undoubtedly served as a catalyst for change and laid the groundwork for future victories in the struggle for labor rights, it also laid bare the limits of collective action in the face of overwhelming state and corporate power. The defeat of the Homestead workers served as a sobering reminder of the formidable obstacles that stood in the way of meaningful change, as well as the lengths to which the ruling class would go to preserve its hegemony.

Nevertheless, the spirit of resistance that animated the Homestead Strike lives on in the hearts and minds of those who continue to fight for a more just and equitable society. From the factories and fields to the halls of government, the struggle for labor rights and economic justice remains as urgent and relevant today as it was in the steel mills of Homestead more than a century ago. As we reflect on the challenges of labor in the present moment, let us draw inspiration from the courage and conviction of those who came before us, and rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work of building a world where all are free to live and work with dignity and respect.


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  • Immigration

America Turned Against Migrant Detention Before. We Can Do It Again

Migrants At The US-Mexico Border

P eople detained without trial. Separated from their children. Denied basic constitutional rights. Unaware of when they will be released or even if they will be released. Subjected to beatings and other torture. Americans have long pinned these abuses to far-off regimes and distant times: Nazi Germany, Pinochet’s Chile, the Soviet Union. In reality, however, in the United States, people are being subjected to such violent and unconstitutional treatment on a daily basis. This is the world of immigrant detention.

Since its inception, detention has been an affront to basic ideals of justice and compassion. It is so by design: when the government first introduced federal immigration detention in 1891, it designated detention facilities as spaces where the Constitution did not reign. According to the law that passed that year, migrants stopped at the border are legally considered to be outside the country. When these “entrants” are detained in the U.S. while the government decides their fate, they are to be treated as if they are not here.  This is the case whether the detention centers are near the border or deep within the country. The detention centers exist on the U.S. map, but the “entrants” within them are presumed to be held outside the nation. Since they are “not here,” those detained are not guaranteed basic constitutional protections—even when subjected to the law and force of the state.

The U.S. was founded on the notion that people have “cer­tain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pur­suit of Happiness.” The Fifth Amendment echoed this assertion, stating that “no person” should “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The amendment did not speak in terms of citizens but in terms of persons, and it was unambiguous: people deserved due process before being deprived of liberty. In 1798, Thomas Jefferson ex­plicitly wrote: “Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law.”

Jefferson was clear on his point that foreigners deserved due process, but perhaps he and the other Founding Fathers should have been more specific about what they meant by the seemingly unequivocal term “here.” After all, slightly over a century later Congress passed the 1891 law by which those stopped at the border were to be considered not “here.” This doctrine, which came to be known as the “entry fiction,” continues to dictate conditions for asylum seekers and migrants stopped at the border to this day.

Read More: The Deadly Digital Frontiers at the Border

Abuse and dehumanization have occurred no matter when, how, or why detention was being used— they are intrinsic to the system. Between the end of the 19 th century and the mid-1950s, de­tention was conceived as a means of enforcing the nation’s exclusionary laws. At the time, the government sought to exclude from entry those migrants it considered undesirable, such as Chinese laborers, and those deemed to be “idiots,” “insane,” or likely to become a public charge. Migrants were detained while officials determined whether these foreign nationals had the right to enter the country or not. The purpose of detention was not to hurt the new arrivals, but the system nonetheless did. Migrants were incarcerated without knowing why or when they would be released. They were held in conditions so terrible that many died by suicide. Guards regularly beat them. Those detained lived in a world where spending time out­side was rare, windows were barred, and quarters were overcrowded. At these sites, children were often separated from their parents and guardians.

history of starbucks essay

In 1954, government officials decided that there were more compassionate and effective ways to deal with the migrants who were coming to America than caging them. The vast majority of new arrivals could be released on conditional “parole,” the term used for pretrial release in immigration cases, while their cases were being reviewed. Detention, officials held, was to be reserved for migrants who were deemed likely to abscond or who posed a threat to national security or public safety. In 1958, the Supreme Court, in Leng May Ma v. Barber , even held that “physical detention of aliens is now the exception, not the rule,” and pointed out that “certainly this policy reflects the humane qualities of an enlightened civilization.”

But this more “enlightened” drive only lasted until 1980, when over 124,000 Cubans arrived in America on the Mariel Boatlift. Soon thereafter the Reagan administration reintroduced detention in full force. It also changed its logic. Previously, immigrants had been detained while the government decided whether they could stay or be deported; now the explicit goal of detention became to deter future migrants from embarking for the U.S. in the first place. Harm became detention’s ready weapon. The emotional and physical abuse, suicides, and other deaths inside detention facilities rose dramatically.

Beyond its incalculable human costs and its erosion of our legal and ethical principles, detention is also financially costly. Throughout America’s history, the federal government has spent vast sums to keep migrants behind bars. In the 2018 fiscal year, the country spent over $3 billion on immigrant detention. That money could have been used for myriad other purposes. That very year, the enacted budget of the Envi­ronmental Protection Agency was $8.8 billion — only three times more than the amount the government used to detain nearly 400 thousand migrants among a nation of over 300 million peo­ple . If those immigrants had been freed into the custody of their families and friends, that money could have been used to further protect the na­tion’s water, reduce pollution, clean up toxic lands, and safeguard human health.

Many Americans believe that detaining foreign arrivals while the government determines if they have a right to enter the coun­try is an indispensable practice. Otherwise, the thinking goes, unautho­rized migrants will abscond and vanish among the American populace. This logic resembles the government’s reasoning for detaining arrivals before 1954. But hard evidence in both our nation’s history and our pres­ent shows that this reasoning is fallacious. In the years between 1954 and 1980, when the government spoke against detention, U.S. officials released most non-Mexican entrants on parole instead of imprisoning them, knowing that the vast majority of released mi­grants would not flee.

Similarly, current data suggests that most migrants released today appear in court when required, which means that there is no need to detain them. Multiple studies have shown that approximately 88% of all non-detained individuals attended their court hearings in the past two decades, including in recent years. That percentage rose to about 98% among those with legal representation or among asylum seekers regardless of whether they had access to legal counsel or not.

Detention is also useless as a means of deterrence. It never stopped foreign nationals from coming to the U.S.. No matter how long migrants were detained or how cruel the system was, they kept coming, because the situations in their home countries were even more dire. For instance, during the years of Chinese exclusion, Chinese mi­grants knew that they would be detained upon arrival. They still boarded the ships heading to America. The same phenomenon occurred over and over again with migrants who came from different parts of the world at different times. In the 1980s, Haitian refugees were aware that the U.S. government would in­carcerate them if the Coast Guard caught them, but migrating was a matter of life and death so they came. Central American asylum seekers have long fled to the U.S. although they are aware that they might be detained in freezing rooms under dehumanizing conditions. Even Trump’s draconian family separation policy, which was intended to curtail migration, failed in its goal: the year after it was introduced, apprehensions along the US‑Mexico border were 88 percent higher than the year before. Migrants had continued to come. The most inhumane form of deterrence yet imagined failed in its intended goal.

Thankfully, America’s history does not only show the costs, violence, and futility inherent in detention, but it also provides us with potential alternatives. In the years between 1954 and 1980, U.S. leaders spoke forcefully against immigrant incarceration. Like In those years, parole continues to offer the most viable alternative to the costly, inhumane, and ineffective system of detention, at least until there is a complete overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

Detaining migrants is pointless. The human pain it causes is unnec­essary. The money used is wasted. Immigrant detention has never been effective in its intended goal whether this is exclusion or deterrence. Rather than caging migrants and refugees, the government should simply release them and allow them to reside with friends, family, or community members in the U.S. while it examines their cases.

From IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY by Ana Raquel Minian, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Ana Raquel Minian.

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Guest Essay

Jamie Raskin: How to Force Justices Alito and Thomas to Recuse Themselves in the Jan. 6 Cases

A white chain in the foreground, with the pillars of the Supreme Court Building in the background.

By Jamie Raskin

Mr. Raskin represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He taught constitutional law for more than 25 years and was the lead prosecutor in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

Many people have gloomily accepted the conventional wisdom that because there is no binding Supreme Court ethics code, there is no way to force Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from the Jan. 6 cases that are before the court.

Justices Alito and Thomas are probably making the same assumption.

But all of them are wrong.

It seems unfathomable that the two justices could get away with deciding for themselves whether they can be impartial in ruling on cases affecting Donald Trump’s liability for crimes he is accused of committing on Jan. 6. Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, was deeply involved in the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” movement. Above the Virginia home of Justice Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, flew an upside-down American flag — a strong political statement among the people who stormed the Capitol. Above the Alitos’ beach home in New Jersey flew another flag that has been adopted by groups opposed to President Biden.

Justices Alito and Thomas face a groundswell of appeals beseeching them not to participate in Trump v. United States , the case that will decide whether Mr. Trump enjoys absolute immunity from criminal prosecution, and Fischer v. United States , which will decide whether Jan. 6 insurrectionists — and Mr. Trump — can be charged under a statute that criminalizes “corruptly” obstructing an official proceeding. (Justice Alito said on Wednesday that he would not recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases.)

Everyone assumes that nothing can be done about the recusal situation because the highest court in the land has the lowest ethical standards — no binding ethics code or process outside of personal reflection. Each justice decides for him- or herself whether he or she can be impartial.

Of course, Justices Alito and Thomas could choose to recuse themselves — wouldn’t that be nice? But begging them to do the right thing misses a far more effective course of action.

The U.S. Department of Justice — including the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, an appointed U.S. special counsel and the solicitor general, all of whom were involved in different ways in the criminal prosecutions underlying these cases and are opposing Mr. Trump’s constitutional and statutory claims — can petition the other seven justices to require Justices Alito and Thomas to recuse themselves not as a matter of grace but as a matter of law.

The Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland can invoke two powerful textual authorities for this motion: the Constitution of the United States, specifically the due process clause, and the federal statute mandating judicial disqualification for questionable impartiality, 28 U.S.C. Section 455. The Constitution has come into play in several recent Supreme Court decisions striking down rulings by stubborn judges in lower courts whose political impartiality has been reasonably questioned but who threw caution to the wind to hear a case anyway. This statute requires potentially biased judges throughout the federal system to recuse themselves at the start of the process to avoid judicial unfairness and embarrassing controversies and reversals.

The constitutional and statutory standards apply to Supreme Court justices. The Constitution, and the federal laws under it, is the “ supreme law of the land ,” and the recusal statute explicitly treats Supreme Court justices as it does other judges: “Any justice, judge or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The only justices in the federal judiciary are the ones on the Supreme Court.

This recusal statute, if triggered, is not a friendly suggestion. It is Congress’s command, binding on the justices, just as the due process clause is. The Supreme Court cannot disregard this law just because it directly affects one or two of its justices. Ignoring it would trespass on the constitutional separation of powers because the justices would essentially be saying that they have the power to override a congressional command.

When the arguments are properly before the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Sonia Sotomayor will have both a constitutional obligation and a statutory obligation to enforce recusal standards.

Indeed, there is even a compelling argument based on case law that Chief Justice Roberts and the other unaffected justices should raise the matter of recusal on their own, or sua sponte. Numerous circuit courts have agreed with the Eighth Circuit that this is the right course of action when members of an appellate court are aware of “ overt acts ” of a judge reflecting personal bias. Cases like this stand for the idea that appellate jurists who see something should say something instead of placing all the burden on parties in a case who would have to risk angering a judge by bringing up the awkward matter of potential bias and favoritism on the bench.

But even if no member of the court raises the issue of recusal, the urgent need to deal with it persists. Once it is raised, the court would almost surely have to find that the due process clause and Section 455 compel Justices Alito and Thomas to recuse themselves. To arrive at that substantive conclusion, the justices need only read their court’s own recusal decisions.

In one key 5-to-3 Supreme Court case from 2016, Williams v. Pennsylvania, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained why judicial bias is a defect of constitutional magnitude and offered specific objective standards for identifying it. Significantly, Justices Alito and Thomas dissented from the majority’s ruling.

The case concerned the bias of the chief justice of Pennsylvania, who had been involved as a prosecutor on the state’s side in an appellate death penalty case that was before him. Justice Kennedy found that the judge’s refusal to recuse himself when asked to do so violated due process. Justice Kennedy’s authoritative opinion on recusal illuminates three critical aspects of the current controversy.

First, Justice Kennedy found that the standard for recusal must be objective because it is impossible to rely on the affected judge’s introspection and subjective interpretations. The court’s objective standard requires recusal when the likelihood of bias on the part of the judge “is too high to be constitutionally tolerable,” citing an earlier case. “This objective risk of bias,” according to Justice Kennedy, “is reflected in the due process maxim that ‘no man can be a judge in his own case.’” A judge or justice can be convinced of his or her own impartiality but also completely missing what other people are seeing.

Second, the Williams majority endorsed the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct as an appropriate articulation of the Madisonian standard that “no man can be a judge in his own cause.” Model Code Rule 2.11 on judicial disqualification says that a judge “shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This includes, illustratively, cases in which the judge “has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party,” a married judge knows that “the judge’s spouse” is “a person who has more than a de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding” or the judge “has made a public statement, other than in a court proceeding, judicial decision or opinion, that commits or appears to commit the judge to reach a particular result.” These model code illustrations ring a lot of bells at this moment.

Third and most important, Justice Kennedy found for the court that the failure of an objectively biased judge to recuse him- or herself is not “harmless error” just because the biased judge’s vote is not apparently determinative in the vote of a panel of judges. A biased judge contaminates the proceeding not just by the casting and tabulation of his or her own vote but by participating in the body’s collective deliberations and affecting, even subtly, other judges’ perceptions of the case.

Justice Kennedy was emphatic on this point : “It does not matter whether the disqualified judge’s vote was necessary to the disposition of the case. The fact that the interested judge’s vote was not dispositive may mean only that the judge was successful in persuading most members of the court to accept his or her position — an outcome that does not lessen the unfairness to the affected party.”

Courts generally have found that any reasonable doubts about a judge’s partiality must be resolved in favor of recusal. A judge “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” While recognizing that the “challenged judge enjoys a margin of discretion,” the courts have repeatedly held that “doubts ordinarily ought to be resolved in favor of recusal.” After all, the reputation of the whole tribunal and public confidence in the judiciary are both on the line.

Judge David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit emphasized this fundamental principle in 2019 when his court issued a writ of mandamus to force recusal of a military judge who blithely ignored at least the appearance of a glaring conflict of interest. He stated : “Impartial adjudicators are the cornerstone of any system of justice worthy of the label. And because ‘deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon public confidence in the integrity and independence of judges,’ jurists must avoid even the appearance of partiality.” He reminded us that to perform its high function in the best way, as Justice Felix Frankfurter stated, “justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.”

The Supreme Court has been especially disposed to favor recusal when partisan politics appear to be a prejudicial factor even when the judge’s impartiality has not been questioned. In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. , from 2009, the court held that a state supreme court justice was constitutionally disqualified from a case in which the president of a corporation appearing before him had helped to get him elected by spending $3 million promoting his campaign. The court, through Justice Kennedy, asked whether, quoting a 1975 decision, “under a realistic appraisal of psychological tendencies and human weakness,” the judge’s obvious political alignment with a party in a case “poses such a risk of actual bias or prejudgment that the practice must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented.”

The federal statute on disqualification, Section 455(b) , also makes recusal analysis directly applicable to bias imputed to a spouse’s interest in the case. Ms. Thomas and Mrs. Alito (who, according to Justice Alito, is the one who put up the inverted flag outside their home) meet this standard. A judge must recuse him- or herself when a spouse “is known by the judge to have an interest in a case that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Chief Justice Roberts assured America that “judges are like umpires.”

But professional baseball would never allow an umpire to continue to officiate the World Series after learning that the pennant of one of the two teams competing was flying in the front yard of the umpire’s home. Nor would an umpire be allowed to call balls and strikes in a World Series game after the umpire’s wife tried to get the official score of a prior game in the series overthrown and canceled out to benefit the losing team. If judges are like umpires, then they should be treated like umpires, not team owners, fans or players.

Justice Barrett has said she wants to convince people “that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” Justice Alito himself declared the importance of judicial objectivity in his opinion for the majority in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overruling Roe v. Wade — a bit of self-praise that now rings especially hollow.

But the Constitution and Congress’s recusal statute provide the objective framework of analysis and remedy for cases of judicial bias that are apparent to the world, even if they may be invisible to the judges involved. This is not really optional for the justices.

I look forward to seeing seven members of the court act to defend the reputation and integrity of the institution.

Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He taught constitutional law for more than 25 years and was the lead prosecutor in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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