The CEO. What a dick, right? Probably an older white guy in a three piece suit, yelling at the valet while dropping off his Mercedes-Benz, and in all likelihood punching a baby while doing it. The common stereotype of big company bosses is that they are out to screw the little guy only for personal gain; that they don’t care about anything but lining their own pockets. You might think they even vote Republican (*gasp*), and lobby their boys in Washington to get special treatment. Well, I’m sure that happens much more often than we all like to think, but lately many prominent business figures are very openly “progressive” in their policies and public statements. The line of separation of personal political beliefs and corporate strategy is becoming more and more blurred.
In an article at the National Review, author Kevin D. Williamson attempts to answer why so many corporate leaders have poised themselves on the forefront of the social justice battle. He asks, “[g]iven that progressives profess to hate corporations, why are our corporate leaders so progressive?” He gives several examples, the first two of which are copied below. Go to the article to get the whole list.
…just going down the list of largest U.S. companies (by market capitalization) and considering each firm’s public political activism does a great deal to demolish the myth of the conservative corporate agenda. Top ten: 1) Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is an up-and-down-the-line progressive who has been a vociferous critic of religious-liberty laws in Indiana and elsewhere that many like-minded people consider a back door to anti-gay discrimination. 2) When protesters descended on SFO to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, one of the well-heeled gentlemen leading them was Google founder Sergey Brin, and Google employees were the second-largest corporate donor bloc to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
Williamson says that the reason for all this is mostly due to the left’s collective outrage. “Conservatives may roll their eyes a little bit at promises to build windmills so efficient that we’ll cease needing coal and oil, but progressives (at least a fair portion of them) believe that using fossil fuels may very well end human civilization.” The progressives in turn use this belief as justification for mass protests, sometimes even riots and violence. So if his hypothesis is true, then these leaders are still acting only in their own self interests. I think it’s more complex than that, as all controversial issues are.
If a company wants to virtue signal about doing something positive like fighting pollution or whatever is the cause du jour, that’s great. But now the positive activism is turning into a vindictive witch hunt for anyone who might remotely support or associate with the right, and especially President Trump. Case in point: the CEO of Grubhub telling all his Trump-voting employees to quit. What a stupid thing to do! Again, he has the right to say whatever he wants and run his company the way he chooses. But going so far as to discriminate in the workplace based on one’s political beliefs is a terrible choice, and illegal. After those comments were made public, the company’s stock fell 9% in the next two days.
Usually when a company takes such a strong position on contentious matters, it tends to hurt them financially. Seth Matlins of Time says that “It’s Time for Every Brand to Pick a Side“, but I very much disagree. If you care about the bottom line for your company, and as CEO you ought to, why would you alienate half of your market? The article isn’t as bad as the headline makes it sound, and points out some of the crazy on the right as well. It mentions the hysterical fits some people threw when Target simply decided not to label its toy aisles as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toys. What should have been a complete non-issue turned into a boycott by wild conservatives.
I’ve never been a fan of the organized boycott. Too often these movements are attempting to destroy someone’s livelihood just because they have differing political beliefs. If you personally disagree with a company’s business decisions, of course don’t support them with your wallets. If a company is doing something truly heinous, that is the place for a boycott for sure. But for some executive expressing an unpopular opinion? Get a life.
But I digress–the plain and simple reason that executives might advocate for “progressive” causes is that they truly believe in them. I’ll give many of them the benefit of the doubt and say that’s it. No ulterior motive required. But while Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman-Sachs) may be an expert in business and finance, that does not necessarily mean he will be an expert in other fields like environmental science, race relations, biology, et cetera.
What Williamson also discusses in his article–and I think is the most convincing explanation of this phenomenon–is that CEOs basically have a superiority complex. He says “[t]he decisions they have made for themselves have turned out well, so why not empower them, or men like them, to make decisions for other people, too? They may even be naïve or arrogant enough to believe that their elevated stations in life have liberated them from self-interest.” And of course this is exactly the logic that informs progressive politics; that the lower classes of people are incapable of fending for themselves. Talk about ego–they actually think they can be the savior of mankind. Thus a never ending tide of government regulation and programs rises, and never falls.
Well-intentioned as they may be, these programs bloat the government bureaucracy. Each time a new one is added, that is one more ounce of control that a single entity has over your life. So the logic of the (non-elite) progressive left is that corporations are evil, and that they have way too much power to lobby the government. But in this system the federal government will infinitely gain power and control–and I do agree they are much too beholden to corporate interests. Now the well-connected corporations are still throwing their weight around in the Capitol, and the lawmakers have increasingly more power to do their bidding. When you continue to grow state authority, at some point it becomes big enough that it encompasses your entire life. Whether or not we are at that point already is a discussion for another time, but that should scare you. Even if we elect benevolent leaders today, they are well-intentioned, and are sincerely trying to help people, that will not always be the case. It will only take one sinister figure to completely destroy our way of life.
While many people still associate big business an corporate lobbyists with the right wing, maybe take a moment to think about what these corporations are really trying to do. Are they hiding their evil schemes by putting on a social justice front? Maybe. Are they really such good people that they have no self interest and act against better business practice to help their social subordinates? Could be. Perhaps they think they are doing good in the world but unwittingly creating the largest conglomerate in history? Or perhaps some are very conscious of this effort and leading the charge on purpose. I can’t speak for anyone’s motive, but I know it makes me nervous. People are right to question the type of power that such a high status grants, but putting the blame on one political side is ludicrous. All companies fight for their own interests. That’s how business works. But I would much rather have a bunch of people with a little power than one giant bureaucracy with all the power. Capitalism is far from perfect, but the alternative NEVER works out in the long run.