The Federalist’s Ben Domenech recently published an interesting piece titled, “Globalism And Why We Hate Each Other.” RTWT. A thesis of the column is that the people bothered by globalism generally are not as concerned with trade as they are with the increasing tendency of big businesses, particularly tech giants, to pressure state and local governments into progressive social policies.
I agree with this in part and disagree in part.
I agree that the problem is a real phenomenon. Two summers ago, near the start of the 2016 campaign, I attended a dinner that included a number of Millennials who worked for companies like Uber and Groupon. At least a couple of them were Redditors and big fans of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
During our friendly dinner talk, these Millennials expressed their opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, upholding the free speech rights of corporations. They weren’t moved by my defense of the decision on the merits, but they did pause when I noted the way the tech sector — the companies likely dominating the future — had thrown their weight behind same-sex marriage and other progressive social issues. You could almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they calculated the political advantage.
But is this problem one of globalism?
“One of the frequent blind spots for economic libertarians, speaking as one who has personally dealt with this log in the eye, is a tendency to allow principles of how economies work and the beauty of trade to make us ignore perceived threats animating people who value more than just the power to buy and sell. The gigantism encouraged by our modern globalist system has many perks across many industries. But it has also given rise to a global corporate elite. This elite tribe of globalists share certain values: they are more tolerant of regulation, insomuch as it drives out competition; they are more welcoming of government expenditure, insomuch as it buys their products, builds their needed infrastructure, and subsidizes their hospital systems; and they care little about the subjugation of rights to speech and religion, so much as it makes their ability to sell in certain markets inconvenient.”
In addition to recognizing the problem, I agree that it’s necessary to account for the fact that our politics does not revolve solely around the concept of economic efficiency.
That said, look again at the identified values of the globalists and ask yourself, “What about these values is new for Big Business?”
Big Business has recognized the value of regulation to suppress smaller competitors for about as long as there has been regulation of Big Business. For example, during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, meatpacking conglomerates were heavily involved in and supportive of regulations that disadvantaged smaller packers and butchers. Similarly, the steel industry sought government assistance in price-fixing.
Crony capitalism did not become suddenly popular in the past few years, or even as the result of the globalization that wave that I would trace to the mid-1970s. For example, the appetite of Big Business for government spending can be seen in what Ike called the military-industrial complex.
In addition, Big Businesses have long encouraged state and local governments to compete over the tax breaks and other forms of subsidy they will be offered to locate factories and offices in particular jurisdictions. The populists who flocked to Trump’s protectionist proposals similarly tend to defend their states and localities for playing these games.
The final supposed “value” — a lack of interest in freedom of speech and religion — is perhaps the most interesting case. Again, I do not think Big Business has been particularly interested historically in these issues.
Moreover, this lack of interest — like the other listed values — has historically been considered a reflection of the idea that a corporation’s “values” are rooted in the maximization of shareholder value. In this context, what do we make of the apparent hypocrisy of corporate giants that advocate for LGBTQ issues here while doing business in countries where being LGBTQ remains unlawful and occasionally subject to the death penalty?
I would suggest it means that many of these corporations (or key officers within them) have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that elevating LGBTQ issues over religious and speech issues in America maximizes shareholder value. And this has little to do with globalism. The corporate duty to maximize value is rooted in domestic law. Also, largely non-global corporations like the NCAA and NASCAR have supported LGBTQ causes (though the latter did not threaten a boycott as the former did).
Rather, the corporate behavior here seems to reflect the fact that we live in a free country where corporations can pursue value-maximization in this way, either on their own initiative (based on their estimates of current and future domestic market conditions) or because free citizens petition them to do so.
Indeed, Domenech followed up his piece on globalism with one on the effectiveness of boycotts as a political tactic.
In this follow-up, Domenech observed: “In an environment in which everything’s political, the ability of corporate brands to skirt these types of pressures becomes nearly impossible.”
Agreed. But progressivism’s penchant for totalitarian impulses exists without any direct link to globalism. The motto that “the personal is political” was popularized by American feminists in the 1960s and the concept predates the motto by years.
Of course, none of this negates the offense people may take when they see Big Business exercising its economic power to service these totalitarian impulses. And you might argue that Big Media has been complicit in the march of cultural progressivism that fuels these impulses. But the politicization of Big Business is ultimately a subset of the Left’s politicization of everything, a symptom rather than a cause.
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