Are corporations the new Congress? The most concrete, national action on guns, post-Parkland, is likely to be the new policies of major chain retailers who are now refusing to sell guns to individuals under the age of 21. I don’t necessarily disagree with their new policy, but I’m uncomfortable when putting it in the context of a larger trend of corporate influence on our lives. (Yes, Alexa, I am talking to you.)
Corporate CEOs are important people. Their decisions impact a lot of lives. But they aren’t elected, and their inherent goals and motivations aren’t geared toward solving complex societal problems. Furthermore, they don’t have adequate time. Given these truths, we need to consider whether their role in our society is becoming too large – just as their companies are becoming too large.
One could argue that corporate activism is filling a vacuum left by a gridlocked, dysfunctional federal government. But the real advantage corporations have is simply speed – they can make unilateral decisions quickly. When it comes to issues as difficult as mass shootings, fast action may feel good, but it can’t go deep enough to effect lasting, cultural change.
Mass shootings cannot be fixed through patching, or repairs. They will not be ended through gun policy or mental health investment. Mass shootings are a “wicked problem” – a problem of enormous social complexity – that is incredibly hard to solve. It is the difference between fixing a clock and understanding a cloud – one requires deductive reasoning, the other requires emergent thinking.
While corporate CEOs may very well exercise emergent thinking around the needs and direction of their companies, they only have time for deductive reasoning when it comes to societal problems. They feel very smart and powerful – because they are – and may assume that their policy patches will do the work that these silly elected officials can’t manage.
I think they are wrong, and I would rather have my elected officials – imperfect as they may be – working together to address the big stuff. I hired them (with my vote). I didn’t hire the CEOs.
“Something greater” for Benioff is what he perceives to be social justice. For example, when lawmakers in Indiana and Georgia proposed laws that Benioff believed were discriminatory against the LGBTQ community, he threatened to pull thousands of jobs out of those states. The bills failed.
Social justice is in the eye of the beholder. Benioff sees himself as a benevolent warrior; I see his move as soft-core blackmail, where the unelected have undue influence over the legislative process.
I do applaud Benioff for being outspoken about what he is doing. At least we know what his goals are, and what he perceives his role to be. I wonder on an almost daily basis what other corporate CEOs – for example, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg – really think their role in the world is, or should be. These individuals control enough goods and information to make me really, really hope they are good guys.
Corporate influence over our lives and culture is a reality of our world today, but we should always question just how big the role of CEOs should be, especially when it comes to complex societal challenges. And if CEOs want to have more influence, they can run for office. Just like their friend Donald Trump.