Business and Liberal Democracy


April 28, 2022

Business and Liberal Democracy

By Mike Shesterkin

Read the entire piece here.

  • (T)the term liberal, as used here, means human beings are independent and free to adopt worldviews and act upon them
  • The word democracy, or democratic, comes to us from the Greek. It means, quite simply, “rule of the people”. How “the people” enact democratic principles is quite varied.
  • So, a liberal democracy is one wherein the people are free and unencumbered to adopt and act on worldviews, and the people are in control, or can rule over their own destinies.

…This brings us to what business has to do with liberal democracy. It could be argued that businesses rely on the liberal democratic context to function. It’s not much of a stretch to see that being free to adopt and act on worldviews is foundational to the notion of a “free market”. In other words, if one is free to adopt a particular worldview, then it follows that one ought to be free to make decisions about what to buy and from whom to buy it. In addition, liberal democratic thinking provides the context for entrepreneurialism. As actors in the market, we’re free to come-up with ideas to fulfill needs, start businesses and so forth. While this is a broad stroke, it provides the context for understanding why business leaders, especially those responsible for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), would want to see a functioning, liberal democracy maintained. The more folks are free to decide from whom to buy stuff, and the more the market encourages entrepreneurialism, and thereby creating more options in the marketplace, the better

When we look to which party tends to be in favor or restricting voting rights, it’s the Republican party. Constricting access to voting undermines our definition of liberal democracy, and if a liberal democracy makes sense for business, especially SMEs, then why would business leaders tend to support Republican candidates? This gets to the point about thinking critically, doing the interior work to reevaluate our worldviews and making sure they’re consistent with reality.

Restricting voting rights, or contracting the franchise is dangerous, especially now: a moment in human history that is seeing the entire ecosystem threatened by our behavior. That power is concentrated among a few, and that large, business corporations have far greater capacity to affect electoral politics is not something that requires a PhD to understand: it’s common sense. Contracting the franchise, and thereby undermining the ability of the powerless to vote, bodes well for perpetuating the status quo and furthering the trends toward authoritarianism that are already underway.

To understand where we’re headed, we need look no further than the Weimar Republic and what was going-on in Germany prior to the take over the National Socialists (Nazis). Threatened by mass uprisings, the capitalists of Weimar Germany threw the car keys to the Nazis. German capitalists sought to protect their interests and ensure the growth of their businesses; they did so by facilitating the totalizing power of the state. There’s a parallel here in the US.

The party affecting voting rights restrictions tends to represent the interests of those who desire to maintain the status quo (read conservative). That the status quo is failing an overwhelming majority of the citizens of this country is another topic that does not need tomes of research to prove: it’s a matter of common sense. Restricting voting rights is a move to aggregate power among an increasingly small number of people: those who already have too much power.

In a recent interview with Thom Hartman, Marxian economist, Richard Wolff was asked what he thought would happen if a strong-arm, authoritarian-type was elected president in 2024. Wolff’s answer was, “Not much.” In other words, our descent toward increasing wealth and income inequality would continue; the environment would undergo further assault and most Americans would see their struggles intensify, but lose what little power they have to affect change. The other thing Wolff brought-up is the possibility of there being further consolidation of businesses within the marketplace. Large corporations would be allowed to simply behave as they have been, eliminating competition (tendency toward monopolization) and aggregating power and wealth.

Those of us who do not stand in the way of restricting voter access – especially the leaders of SMEs – are unwittingly furthering what political theorist Sheldon Wolin called “corporate totalitarianism”, which is a term having to do with the amalgamation of power between the state and large, business corporations.

Contrary to what many have thought, it can happen here. Unless we stand-up for liberal democracy, and do what we can to protect and further voting rights and access, we will continue an ugly trend toward authoritarianism, and most likely, the extinction of our species.

Mike Shesterkin is the Executive Director of the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.  Mike is also a leader of the Michigan Business for Democracy collaborative.

Scroll to Top