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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Progressives and Business: Exploring Common Ground Beyond Knee-Jerk Antagonism

Democratic strategist Mike Lux, in his role as president of American Family Voices, has a HuffPo post reporting on his organization’s recent summit of “forward-thinking business leaders and top leaders of the progressive movement in America.”
Lux begins with the observation that “for most businesses in America today, their best prospect at competing with huge corporations who cut insider deals to rig the rules in their favor is to have progressive economic policies win the day.” Conversely, “the progressive movement will not win substantive change in this country without strong and successful business leaders being on our side.”
The common ground between progressives and forward-thinking business leaders has not been adequately-explored, argues Lux. Despite being involved in numerous campaigns against corporations which abuse their workers and consumers, Lux sees a significant potential for coalition building based on common interest. “What I became more and more focused on,” notes Lux, “was a fundamental idea: that the economic policies supported by the progressive movement I was a part of are the exact same policies that would help most businesses in this country.” For example,

Higher wages mean more disposable income for customers. Paid sick leave and decent health care benefits mean more stability in the workforce for most companies. Breaking up the biggest banks and fair rules for the financial industry would mean far more investment and better terms on loans for most small businesses. Better schools mean more productive workers.
Converting to a green economy and making adequate investments in infrastructure and R&D would mean the creation of thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs, a lot of them high wage. Vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws and prosecuting businesses that manipulate markets mean that honest businesses can better compete with big corporations who have an unfair advantage.
The federal and state tax, budget, regulatory, enforcement, and contracting policies that benefit a near-monopolistic company like Wal-Mart do not generally benefit local retailers; policies that help the financial speculators and manipulators on Wall Street benefit neither community banks nor the small businesses looking for start-up loans and lines of credit; and the lack of anti-trust enforcement that helps huge corporate conglomerates continue to gobble up smaller companies is the exact opposite of the policies new entrepreneurs need to compete with those corporations seeking to wipe out their competition.

Then there is the thorny matter of how progressives and business leaders too often alienate each other with bad communication:

Activists are used to pushing hard, and that sometimes comes off as purist to businesses with bottom lines. These businesses want to be given opportunities to address and correct perceived problems before being targeted by activist campaigns. Further, business owners want to be engaged in the entire process of activism, not asked to be the face of an issue campaign after the fact: they want to have their perspectives and priorities on the issues involved valued from the very beginning.”
There are some businesses that those of us in the progressive movement oppose on big issues — such as Koch Industries and the other big fossil fuel companies, the biggest financial speculators on Wall Street, Wal-Mart, the big food and agriculture giants…But for the vast majority of small business people and up and coming entrepreneurs, on a great many issues, we are in fact on the same side — or at least should be.

Progressive are quick to target reactionary corporations, but it’s important that progressives commit to supporting those businesses which strive to treat their employees and customers with respect and a genuine concern, says Lux. “Without these businesses speaking out against corporate malfeasance and offering a progressive alternative in the market, we all lose, plain and simple.”
While most progressive activists have no trouble rattling off a list of corporations which deserve to be boycotted, for example, fewer could name those companies, large and small, which are striving to be good corporate citizens and worthy of support. Many more companies have a mix of progressive and reactionary policies requiring a more nuanced analysis.
“We can’t lessen income inequality, and we can’t change the top 1 percent orientation of our politics,” concludes Lux, “without having a vital and growing high road business sector.”
This is a good dialogue for Democrats. The common ground between progressives and socially-concerned business leaders and small business men and women includes a lot of swing voters, perhaps enough to make a transformative difference on election day.

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