There was a time, when Ronald Reagan was president, that large corporations were admired and celebrated as American success stories. Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca was a celebrity. Wall Street raiders like Michael Milken and the super-rich like T. Boone Pickens were both despised and admired at the same time.
The corporation was the epitome of free-market capitalism — American success stories. Except, even back then, they weren’t. Conservatives defended corporations from Democrats looking to tap the companies’ resources to fund their social engineering programs.
Today, corporations have about as much to do with “capitalism” and “free markets” as “Communism, Inc.” in China. They hate the free market as much as any Democrat and, indeed, support Democrats and their agenda.
That includes promoting and supporting every woke issue and policy that the liberals and elites are looking to enact.
[I]t is easy to dismiss these latest interventions as brazen bandwagon-jumping from brands not known for their boardroom diversity. Certainly, marketing departments in the United States and Europe are acutely aware of the changing make-up of their target markets. They also grasp the value of conscientious consumers — those educated, metropolitan progressives with disposable income who want to buy into ethical lifestyles and identities. The power of the woke dollar is something no multinational can afford to neglect.
It is wrong to assume that this is all just money-grabbing grubbiness. The reigning corporate ethic is socially and culturally to the left of the general population because these are the politics of the executive elite. On the top floor, the order of the day is now race, gender and environmental progressivism — so long as corporation tax remains low and unions weak, CEOs have no particularly affinity for conservatism or conservative parties. The beliefs and prejudices of vast swathes of their customer base are alien to them and, what’s more, they have no interest in understanding them. Nike, the NFL and Gillette have supplied illustrative examples of this.
The almighty “woke dollar” is vital because the high-end products bought by those “metropolitan progressives” usually have the highest profit margins. So it makes sense for corporate elites to cater to the sensibilities of these self-conscious and conscientious liberals who drive much of the conversation online and influence the media.
What about the rest of us? Corporations want peace, stability, and for people to shut up and buy their products. If we don’t like their political positions or cultural leanings? Tough. The corporate elites have gone global and take a decidedly ecumenical outlook on their customers.
Not too much of “Buy American” at Nike.
So why do some conservatives still defend these philistines?
The left have an in-built suspicion of corporations, but the right lacks a similar defense mechanism. Right-wingers have come to reflexively defend corporations in the erroneous belief that they are on the same side (and, more importantly, because the left is forever railing against them). This is a fallacy based on an oversimplification rooted in a myth. Corporations are not your friend; they do not share your values; they do not especially like you. If they could choose their customers, they would not choose you.
Conservatives need to unlearn their affinity for big capitalism, not least if they object to corporations talking sides in the culture wars. If big business is waging war on conservative instincts and traditions, why are conservatives expending so much political capital maintaining favorable corporate tax and regulatory regimes? What is the point of right-wingers boycotting this company, or that, if right-wing policies are still geared to boosting their bottom lines?
Corporations have never been as good as the right has made them out to be and not as bad as the left has demonized them. They are entities responsible to their shareholders to show a profit. How they do that is at issue. Those corporations who take the idea of being a “good citizen” to heart are not necessarily all bad. Being conscientious about not poisoning our water or our air is a good thing and a vast improvement over the carelessness that some big companies showed about the health of the rest of us.
But undermining the fundamental values of their customers should come with some kind of penalty. Perhaps a “woke tax” is in order, or more basically, an organized boycott should be initiated. At the very least, political support from the right should be far more discerning and careful.