Once upon a time, corporations stuck to business, supplying Americans with goods and services. Alienating potential customers, employees, or investors through politics was bad business. Today, corporations actively advance progressive political causes. Such “woke capitalism” undermines many of the traditional virtues of commerce.
To help oppose this trend, Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy’s Free Enterprise Scholars program will teach future business leaders about the virtues of commerce and the morality of honest profit.
Businesses face progressive pressure from many directions. Employee agitation led Disney to denounce Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill and brought about the New York Times’s newsroom meltdowns. Woke employees create a toxic workplace. As R. R. Reno explained in the Wall Street Journal, “I don’t want to hire someone who makes inflammatory accusations at the drop of a hat.”
The roots of what John McWhorter characterizes as “woke religion” lie in Marxist Critical Race Theory, which partitions society into antagonistic oppressor and oppressed classes. On the other hand, business enables cooperation in which people don’t force their values on each other. As Voltaire observed about the London Stock Exchange, “Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt.” Montesquieu offered the “doux commerce” thesis, that interaction in markets would reduce people’s natural suspicions of, and antagonism toward, outsiders.
Vivek Ramaswamy suggests that big-business’s embrace of wokeness is largely opportunistic, with CEOs seeking greater discretion and employees trying to seize decision rights. But to our minds at the Johnson Center, this reflects moral confusion over business. As philosopher James Otteson observes, claims that businesses must “give back” betray confusion: “Typically, when someone tells you that you need to give something back, it is because you stole it.” And yet business conducted honorably “is neither morally suspicious nor even morally neutral: it is a positive creator of material and moral value.”