Maybe a no-brainer, but it’s a curious thing

March 28, 2012

Businesses are made up of people. Business decisions are sometimes labeled as cold, calculating, and devoid of human emotion – but what else is there besides humans acting upon what affects them most (that typically being profit)? My view of business is that there’s an incentive to remain middle-of-the-road on polarizing issues – to a degree, there’s an incentive to do that in politics as well (politics being the business of “development”).

But businesses have always supported certain things and influenced the direction of societies. In the past, this seems to have happened more behind closed doors, but now it’s coming to the public, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Starbucks recently came out (I’m just going to roll with that pun) in support of gay marriage, which spawned a large thank-you movement as well as a large boycotting movement by the conservative National Organization for Marriage.

On one level, it’s tremendous to see such a global corporation take a progressive stance on this issue, when obviously the decision-makers knew full well it would alienate a substantial amount of their customers. On the other hand, the website for the thank-you petition (to show Starbucks it had supporters of the decision) explicitly stated, “When it passed, the bill’s lead sponsor said that support from business convinced moderate legislators to vote for it. Without support from companies like Starbucks, the gay marriage law might have failed.”

This is vaguely chilling to me. Suppose someone else had been in charge of Starbucks, who had different beliefs, or was less willing to attach political views to the company? As the website stated, the support from business convinced moderate legislators to vote for it. Why weren’t the voters the ones to convince moderate legislators? What, exactly, was the convincing factor in this decision? Are we supposed to assume it was money, or that Starbucks made a Mr. Smith-Goes-To Washington-style filibuster and sweatily persuaded moderate lawmakers to stand up for human rights?

I’ll stop the rhetorical questions for now (they don’t have to be rhetorical though if you answer back!). But it seems more and more that businesses are acting publically as electoral colleges – the vote that actually counts. And again, the only new part about this is the open publicity about it. Maybe it’s chilling because these representatives (I’m talking about business owners) of our society are influencing so much, and their credentials are based on the fact that they have economic savvy. The people who are affected by their opinions being put into action did not elect them. If political decisions are influenced so much by businesses, then we essentially live in an indirect dictatorship – regardless of whether the decisions are progressive or not.

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