Should Corporations Be Woke or Fascist?
As the battle heats up on the Democrats’ voting legislation in the Senate and on the push to change the 60% practical majority rule to ensure its passage, large American corporations are again under pressure to take a political stance (“US Companies Condemn Election Fraud ‘Falsehood’ on January 6 Anniversary,” Financial Times, January 6, 2022). Business for America, a corporate lobby group whose members include PayPay, declared:
We urge all companies to ensure their future donations go to those supporting free, fair, accessible, and secure elections that represent the will of the people.
A hint that Business for America, just as the Business Roundtable, is not defending constitutional democracy (the classical liberal ideal of limited democracy in a free society) is the invocation of “the will of the people.” This expression is a trademark of right-wing and left-wing populists. It has no meaning in a constitutional democracy. Who is “the people”? Fifty percent plus one? Sixty-six percent? The “patriots”? The woke? I elaborated on this approach in a few Econlog posts as well as in an Independent Review article, “The Impossibility of Populism” (Summer 2021). At any rate, it is pretty clear that the lead vocalists in the corporate world are not defending a free society.
In his 1973 book Capitalism and the Permissive Society, the late Financial Times columnist Samuel Brittan observed that “businessmen can usually be relied upon to defend the indefensible aspects of their activities while giving in to their collectivist opponents on all essentials.”
They are bullied by the woke and caught in debates they don’t understand.
James Buchanan proposed an interesting analysis. He defended a (classical) liberal and Smithian presumption of “natural equality” among individuals and thus opposed the power of the cognoscenti or any other elite. Yet, he emphasized that the maintenance of a liberal society does require citizens to have an understanding of simple principles of social interaction and thus basic economics, or else be willing to “defer to others who do.” (See his Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative [Edward Edgar Publishing, 2005].) If Buchanan is right, the corporate elite is digging its grave or preparing its move to the Nomenklatura class.
I would add that corporations are not obliged to, and should not, choose between wokism and fascism, which are not so different anyway. In their ideological fog, they should focus on what they know, that is, how to efficiently produce the goods and services wanted by individual consumers in all their diversity. The separation of economy and state is a feature, not a bug, of a free society.