Is big business becoming a (relatively) leading progressive force in the U.S.?

As the Republican Party has consolidated power across the US legislature and the majority of state governments even while becoming increasingly isolated from mainstream political positions by its activist base, it has been surprising but encouraging to see how often business interests have been the effecting both unilateral change on key issues of concern to progressives and reigning in the worst plans of legislators and governors around the country.

Yes, they are doing these things because they are good for business. But feeling pressure to get right with your paying customers is actually a virtue of market capitalism. And in a world where some boycott initiative or corporate black-eye can go viral in a matter of days and there are a thousand hair-trigger trading algorithms ready to take a bite out of Firm X’s stock price at the first sign of public bad news in microseconds, consumers may actually be gaining a lot more traction to steer business practices. Even more surprising, regional and state business interests have weighed in during pitched legislative battles, mostly over culture war type issues, and have curtailed or reeled in some pretty odious legislation. Here consumers are steering business and business is steering government. It may be that Ralph Nader was onto something.

Here is a little roundup of news items that have fleshed out this little hypothesis of mine in recent months.

Businesses of major national scale moving to strategies based around positive PR / customer and employer-friendly practices:

Wal-Mart’s Minimum Wage Breakdown

Why Gap Is Raising Its Minimum Wage To $10

Wal-Mart Promises Organic Food for Everyone

McDonald’s May Sell More Organic Foods to Boost Sales

State and regional business interests (and municipal governments) applying pressure on state legislatures over economic issues

Indiana Law Denounced as Invitation to Discriminate Against Gays

Arkansas gov. sends back religious freedom law after Walmart pressure

Texas Sen. Doesn’t Want Clergy ‘Coerced’ Into Officiating Same-Sex Marriages (this headline doesn’t tell the story, click through)

Alabama’s governor moving to permanently remove Confederate flags (and associated flagpoles) from various prominent places after the Charleston tragedy, citing a focus on economic growth over divisive cultural battles:

Straddling Old and New, a South Where ‘a Flag Is Not Worth a Job’

Chase bank bumming out conservative Christians and right-wing political demagogues with their support of LGBT communities:

How Chase Bank and other Corporations Coerce and Bully Christians

Chase Bank Has Pattern of Partisanship on LGBT Issues

To be sure, a number of these stories has some kind of left rebuttal about why it is just a hollow ploy and so forth (though even the hard left seems to be able to get on board for firm-wide minimum wage increases), but I’m not trying to tell anyone these things are happening due to altruism, I’m saying exactly that they are happening because these businesses and their various aggregations have decided it is better business (meaning more or more sustainable levels of profit or growth) to pursue these policies. While some people are only happy being in the loyal opposition, I am learning to find a little joy and hope in this stuff. (Really, when the largest employer in America raises wages meaningfully above the national minimum wage, it is a big deal.) And to the extent that business can call the tune in legislatures these days (and they really can), such developments as those above may at least serve as an upper bound on the level of insanity that has been flowing out of Washington and various state legislatures in recent years.


About theunlikelyeconomist

theunlikelyeconomist is in the midst of the long slog to attain a PhD in economics.
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