OPINION: Why does big biz go left?

It’s a question I hear a lot. Conservatives usually support sweeping tax cuts and lower regulations for corporations, so many people are confused as to why these businesses seem to oppose conservative politicians. Progressives often get riled at the mere thought of the question; after all, so much of left wing ideology is devoted to limiting the power of big business.

Monopoly Man makes a corrupt backroom deal. Illustration by Kalyn Giesecke

And yet, corporations at least seem to be liberal. Big businesses regularly host diversity seminars, publicize their support for LGBT acceptance movements, and, as of recently, some have started openly supporting race-based affirmative action and backing left-wing social movements such as Black Lives Matter. There are no equivalent outreaches to conservative movements from big business. So, are large corporations truly “progressive”? Are the CEOs of America’s largest companies truly committed supporters of social justice and the redistribution of wealth?

No, of course not. When we see big businesses in America show support for traditionally liberal causes, it is all a cost-benefit calculation. Supporting liberal social causes—particularly identity politics—is the most reliable way to attract young, urban customers with the least risk to their bottom line.

This summer, McDonald’s tweeted its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and “social justice.” The McDonald’s branch in Azerbaijan has tweeted support for the suppression of ethnic Armenians in their disputed homeland. Google fired an employee for expressing conservative-leaning views on gender roles—after he was asked for his opinion on the issue. Yet Google has enthusiastically aided China, an authoritarian dictatorship, in creating a censored search engine.

Examples like this show us that when practical, countless corporations will abandon liberal principles to aid their bottom line. After all, a corporation’s goal is to make money: this shouldn’t be too surprising.

But why does big business support progressive causes in the first place?

Corporations want consumers. They want talented employees. But a sufficiently large corporation wants cultural relevance as well; they want the trendsetters and the well connected to buy from them and work for them. Corporate America has calculated that that cultural relevance is centered in coastal, liberal, and urban areas. They have calculated that the “cool” people live in big cities, not Mississippi. And in response, they publicize support for causes that are popular in those areas, and not in the Bible Belt.

Arguably more important is to look at what big businesses are not supporting: $15 minimum wages, increased taxes on the wealthy, etc.; corporations remain silent on issues that could actually lose them money. But identity politics, increased immigration, and LGBT acceptance do scarcely any harm to their profits, so naturally those are the issues corporations promote.

In a warped sense, big business is killing two birds with one stone. Not only do they ignore progressive policies that could hurt their profits, but by indulging in liberal causes that do them no harm—identity politics in particular—they could very well be distracting young liberals and leftists from opposing big business in the first place. A liberal focused on gay marriage is less likely to be a liberal focused on regulating big business. A socialist focused on “people of color” is a socialist not focused on the working class as a whole. In an ironic twist, corporations acting “liberal” might end up hurting the radical left more than anyone else. So let us not be surprised when we find out that when businesses extoll liberal views, it is still just a business decision.