America’s current commander-in-chief was swept to victory because a large number of voters mistook his apparent business acumen for political competency. Worse, they even assigned his being a business mogul a moral value, proud in their assumption that “businessmen” are necessarily and always more trustworthy than “politicians.”
This generalization is so manifestly untrue that it’s nearly funny. Plus, for all his bluster, Trump’s “business acumen” looks more and more like hot air when it doesn’t look flagrantly illegal. Is this really what a role model looks like?
But more to our point today, all of this tragically assumes that the running of a powerful country should, in any respect, resemble the running of a company. This too is a dangerous assumption. By their very definitions, a country is not a company. Business and government exist to fulfill two very different — and perhaps even mutually-exclusive — purposes.
One promises liberty for all. The other delivers liberty for just a few. The result of mixing them together, laissez-faire style, has been grotesque and steadily worsening inequality, ever-worsening participation in democracy and, right before our eyes, the disintegration and privatization of every limb of the public sector.
There has, as far back as the Boston Tea Party, been a very indistinctly drawn line between corporation and government. The “throwing the tea into the sea” bit wasn’t so much about taxation as it was about the government throwing its weight around to protect predatory, already-successful private enterprises.
Sound familiar? As we speak, mayors all across America are throwing barrels of taxpayer dollars at Jeff Bezos so he’ll build his next monument to his own ego in their respective cities.
It’s with this in mind that we need to call out America’s business leaders for their practically deafening silence on this country’s current trajectory. When they’re not profiting directly from our slide into corporate-fascism, they’re conveniently looking the other way or telling half-truths about it.
Let’s be clear: Given the scope and variety of problems in America, there is presently no other community in America better situated with the social responsibility, not to mention the reach, to help us save our country from the grim future awaiting it.
Where Are the Titans of Industry?
There’s little doubt that Bill Gates is a good guy. For example, he’s helped bring life-saving technologies to villages throughout the world that, before his arrival, struggled to secure even potable drinking water reliably.
There is also little doubt that Elon Musk is generally fair-minded, too. Many people share his desire to see mankind reach other planets and stars as well as his belief that a direct democracy is the only suitable type of government for this sort of massive scaling-up of our civilization.
But let’s play the cynic here for a moment. If the world’s billionaires really wanted to push the status quo in a positive direction, they’d have done it already. Fewer than ten individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s human population.
Let that sink in for a moment. Why are these people so quiet when the money they collectively possess could end extreme poverty in the world at least seven times over?
At the very least, they certainly could be making far more noise than they are. Many of them own newspapers and news outlets, for example. What we seem to have instead is a bunch of photo-ops that feel more self-serving than democratizing. We have closed-door meetings between even well-liked CEOs and our flimflam-artist-in-chief. It’s not hard to imagine the many ways their worldviews find their way into alignment, partisanship notwithstanding.
The good news is, we do have some economically-privileged business and social leaders coming forth to speak truth to power and to campaign for a more democratic society. Let’s take a look at who they are and what they want.
A Coalition Forming
In fact, one of these coalitions — the Bridge Alliance — boasts a membership roster of 83 organizations led by current and former business leaders and wealthy citizens. Its co-founder and president, David Nevins, is clear about their motivations:
“If we make the same commitment to our democracy that we do to resolve business challenges, we can represent the antidotes to our nation’s ailments and take immediate action to improve the divisions that divide our country.”
Neat. So is there anything here we haven’t already heard? What does this actually look like in practice?
The 83 organizations within the Bridge Alliance has a list of lofty ambitions it hopes to get traction on in 2018 and beyond. Among these is a multimedia outreach program — one they hope will make five million individual “impressions,” increase voter information and engagement and bring about a real sea change in the quality of leadership our democratic process sends to office.
In point of fact, what they’re delivering here is supply to meet demand — and right now the demand for quality American leadership is strong. As Mr. Nevins suggests, the “makers” and “job creators” in our society have spent a very long time perfecting the art of separating people from their money. Imagine if we brought all that imagination to bear on solving social problems instead?
That means the business leaders within this coalition will campaign all across the media landscape on the importance of voting, of reaching younger generations and of leadership training. All the while, they will also be drumming up public enthusiasm for real campaign finance reform, drawing fairer voting districts, “leveling the playing field” for independent party-unaffiliated candidates to enter debates and, eventually, make their way onto ballots.
Short version? It’s a huge plateful of highly ambitious and, in all honesty, very long overdue social contributions from the business community. It’s an organized way for the privileged to give back to the world that made their lifestyles possible in the first place.
A Redistribution of Opportunity
Earlier, we suggested government and business exist to serve two diametrically opposed purposes. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out what these are:
- Business exists to improve the lives of a very select handful of individuals.
- Government exists to protect and, as often as possible, improve the lives of every human being in equal measure.
No, a country is not a company. One advances the interests of the few. The other advances the interests of the many. Should this really be a difficult bridge for us to get across, though?
We tell ourselves we’re social creatures, and we claim to serve the gods of love and decency, but we keep putting certain types of human animals up on a pedestal while leaving others to grovel in the mud for basic necessities. We keep giving execs at the big pharma companies the keys to scientific innovation and stewardship even over our bodily health. We let professional bankers decide how much money is worth and how much it should cost to borrow it.
Yes, the redistribution of opportunity proposed by David Nevins and others might mean a few less millionaires and billionaires — but it also stands a chance at lifting the minimum standard of living for all people, all across the globe.
Instead, we keep helping those who are endlessly talented at helping themselves. What is it about a billionaire that ignites our passions and our sense of devotion? Why do we think the fussiness of the Bower Bird is hilarious, but Trump’s gold-gilded top-of-the-tower sanctum is not?