“Corporate America should publicly oppose any discriminatory legislation and all measures designed to limit Americans ability to vote.”
That is the ethical thesis of the open letter published in the New York Times in spring of 2021 by 72 African-American business leaders across America in response to the new 98-page law Georgia legislators passed which arguably restricts options for voters in that state.
To give credence to their claim these CEOs state that “The stakes for our democracy are too high to remain on the sidelines.”
But is it an appropriate role for corporate America to play? Should companies and company leaders use their oversized power to engage in political influence?
There are strong arguments on both sides of this question.
One of the most articulate opponents of businesses acting in the public interest or for moral reasons rather than profit driven reasons, was the Nobel winning economist, Milton Friedman. What is vision of how businesses to operate has dominated American ideas of capitalism and free market enterprise for at least 50 years. Almost all of the arguments against corporate social responsibility are actually based in the writings of Milton Friedman.
Friedman’s position can be summed up in this paragraph from a famous article published in the New York Times in 1970:
“There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.“
The outpouring of anger this year against attempts to suppress voter turnout extend to dozens of corporations, some of which have already turned their political views into economic decisions; like Major League Baseball pulling its valuable All-Star game out of Atlanta – a decision that will cost the state of Georgia $100 million in tourism.
(Note that the idea of voter suppression being the driving motivator is largely the view of the media, although you can certainly argue, as the Georgia legislators do, that the intent of the law is merely to uphold the integrity of elections and restore citizens confidence in voting. You would have to read deeply into the history of the Jim Crow era and the previous successful attempts to suppress voter registration and action to see the links between what happened 100 years ago and what is happening now. It is precisely those who have done that background research that are most fearful of these recent policies and believe them to be racially motivated.)
If corporate America decides to take a strong stand against the southern states now enacting legislation of this nature, it will mark an historic departure from the business-as-usual model championed by Milton Friedman and the Reagan-era “no government intervention” policies. These are titanic shifts of the collective social will and we need to understand them for what they are.
Democracies move in the direction outlined by the mass of individuals within that society and this year seems to mark a watershed moment in how Americans feel about racial injustice and how much intolerance they are willing to put up with.. We would not be amiss to characterize this year as equal in significance to the period leading up to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
It is not insignificant that the trial of George Floyd started at exactly the same time as the Georgia law got passed; as if those two events, like two great spotlights, finally gave three-dimensionality to the abstract idea of “liberty and justice for all“ and shocked the conscience of America into rising up with a louder voice than ever before.
This week you will have to wade into the ruckus and find arguments for and against the use of corporate power to take a political position on issues of public interest. Reading the attached article will be of immense importance since it lays out the strongest arguments against this version of corporate social responsibility and also supplies rebuttals to those strong arguments. make sure you understand the claim and the backing for each argument that you choose to put forward.
FOR THE DISCUSSION
After reading the articles given to you this week please write an initial discussion post that does the following:
Begin with a position either for or against corporations taking a stand on a political issue. State your position as clearly as you can and then explain your reason(s) – your backing and warrant – why are you feel it is ethically appropriate.
Then, based on your readings of the article, state the most important counter argument(s) to your claim and write a rebuttal to those counter argument(s).
If you have done any research on the Jim Crow era in post-Civil War American history, you may bring that into your argument to show that it is not merely the intention that is an issue in the new Georgia law, but the expected outcomes that can be seen as part of the concern. Discriminatory Legislation Discriminatory Legislation Discriminatory Legislation Discriminatory Legislation V
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