American capitalism has been undergoing a dramatic transformation: Businesses across the economy are wading into politics, largely in a progressive direction. Although corporations have long supported candidates and causes in pursuit of policies that benefit their bottom lines, in recent years, corporate America’s political activism has extended far beyond issues directly tied to profitability. They’ve done so consistent with the influential Business Roundtable’s 2019 redefinition of the purpose of a corporation from maximizing shareholder value to a much broader social mission that includes environmental sustainability, demographic diversity, and “dignity and respect.”
Some have termed this an “awokening.” It has manifested itself most notably in companies’ embrace of “environmental, social, and governance” (ESG) policies. One survey shows that some 82 percent of large U.S. corporations devote space in regulatory filings to demonstrate their ESG bona fides, such as instituting “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives, and reducing their carbon footprints. Every Fortune 100 company today endorses DEI. The world’s largest and most powerful banks and other financial services firms are allied in their desire to do their part to get to “net zero” carbon emissions—and have leveraged their market power to encourage businesses across the global economy to do the same. Companies have also taken public positions on hot-button issues from guns and abortion to immigration, voting rights, and criminal justice.
The triumph of “wokeism” over capital was supercharged by the racial activist fervor that followed George Floyd’s death. It has recently spiked again as corporations responded to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade with policies aimed at supporting employees seeking abortions.
A smaller coterie of companies has come out for more traditional, conservative values, or at minimum called for neutrality on political issues. A backlash is also brewing among red state politicians and executives, especially over the channeling of public pension dollars into ESG-supporting concerns.
Commerce, in short, has become an arena for ideological battle outside the electoral sphere on a scale and intensity never seen in this country. Its societal impact is substantial: Given the increasing political focus of business, nearly every dollar Americans save, spend, and invest can increasingly be seen as serving as a de facto political contribution to one or several causes to which many may have no affinity at all. Where one works might qualify as an in-kind contribution.
With this in mind, RealClearInvestigations has aggregated an array of resources spanning the political spectrum for readers to judge how corporations are influencing society from outside the voting booth, and being influenced themselves. To browse the guide, click the links below:
Corporate Activism on the Left …
… Pushback on the Right
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.