I always have found the intersection between business and politics fascinating. Most people don’t. Most people think of this link as an unhealthy combination of greed and political self-interest. They assume nothing meaningful can be learned from examining such a relationship.
I can see where this argument comes from. There is merit in calling out corruption between businesses and government officials, especially when we can least afford it. We want our kids to know no one in society should be above the law, however powerful and well-connected.
But in my view, it is a mistake to paint the entire business community as a simplistic symbol of what is wrong in the world. I watch markets and politicians very closely, probably more than I should. And I can’t help but notice that commentary on the business community has missed a major trend: They’re grappling with many of the same cultural and political debates the rest of American society is engaged in.
To begin, it is not just academia or the general public that has called for reevaluating key elements of our economic system. There is growing recognition on the part of business leaders that the economic models used by economists and politicians have been incomplete. These models have viewed people as not human; they see us as robots only concerned with utility maximizing activity, detached from all the world’s independent variables.
People from many walks of life agree that in the absence a vision for the country, political virtue or functioning governing institutions, people won’t save and spend the way an economic textbook says they will. The same volatile and uncertain political environment that keeps employers from hiring and investing is the same one that discourages employees from consuming goods and services.
It’s not a partisan issue; it’s a process of reforming our economic institutions that political strategists as well as business minds have failed to fully explain and complete for many years. In light of our recent economic difficulties, many people coming from different occupational and political backgrounds are backing the idea that economic models used for the future will have to be more inclusive of different factors.
Also, as surprising as you might find it, the debate over the size and scope of government is just as alive and diverse on Wall Street as it is on Capitol Hill. Just as in politics, there are outspoken voices across the political spectrum. Rick Santelli, an on-air editor for the CNBC, has been an outspoken opponent of the amount of debt the Obama Administration has taken on. On the other side of the ledger, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has called cutting government spending too quickly in a stagnated economy “ludicrous.”
Although it is no secret that many in the business community have been offended by President Barack Obama’s rhetoric toward them, there is a sizable proportion of them unimpressed by Congressional Republicans as well.
The diversity of thought also goes beyond traditional debates the country always has grappled with. The most important unanswered questions of my generation — whether our government is broken and if our country is in decline – are discussed by executives and bankers with their foreign business partners. Jillian Tett, U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, has been on record saying that foreign bankers have been astounded by American politicians in the recent debt ceiling debate.
What’s most fascinating in my daily observation of the business community is that so many of them feel disconnected from Washington, D.C., in a manner not terribly different than many of us. Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, is a great example how citizens can make progress for the country independent of their government. Wanting to send a message of discontent to politicians, he got 100 powerful CEOs to pledge to suspend campaign contributions until a long-term deficit deal is agreed to.
Frustrated with gridlock and inaction in the nation’s capitol, he has taken the lead in investing in job growth at home. He recently announced the Create Jobs For USA program, which uses Starbucks stores to give micro-loans to American small businesses. And on many occasions, he has called on corporations to work closely with local governments to train workers for the high-skills jobs of the future.
Considering all of this, I think it is wrong to assume that everything that goes on in the business community is detached from everything else that goes on in our country. The news media, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party all seem to claim this. I understand the scandals of politicians linked with corporate money make all of us angry.
But I think looking at the dynamics playing in the business community shows they are concerned with many of the same things the rest of the country is concerned with.
Ameek Singh is a State News guest columnist and international relations and political theory and constitutional democracy senior. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.