Most people probably have their opinions formed about Chick-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage. Despite the fact that I support gay marriage myself, I’m not going to comment on this or Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s first amendment rights. I do want to bring up this post by the Economist about corporate social responsibility:
Matters of moral truth aside, what’s the difference between buying a little social justice with your coffee and buying a little Christian traditionalism with your chicken? There is no difference. Which speaks to my proposition that CSR, when married to norms of ethical consumption, will inevitably incite bouts of culture-war strife. CSR with honest moral content, as opposed to anodyne public-relations campaigns about “values”, is a recipe for the politicisation of production and sales. But if we also promote politicised consumption, we’re asking consumers to punish companies whose ideas about social responsibility clash with our own. Or, to put it another way, CSR that takes moral disagreement and diversity seriously—that really isn’t a way of using corporations as instruments for the enactment of progressive social change that voters can’t be convinced to support—asks companies with controversial ideas about social responsibility to screw over their owners and creditors and employees for…what?
I’d suggest the best arena for moral disagreement is not the marketplace, but our intellectual and democratic institutions. We hash out our disagreements, as best we can, in public deliberation. The outcome of this deliberation becomes input to official policymaking, which in turn determines the rules of the game for business. Businesses then seek profits within the scope of those rules (and the consensus rules of common decency), and consumers buy the products that best satisfy their preferences. If businesses want to impose on themselves other constraints, fine. But let’s not ask them to do so. And if consumer preferences happen to range over the production chains and management philosophies behind the goods and services they buy, fine. But let’s not ask them to have such pernsickety and political preferences. Of course, this lovely, welfare-maximising arrangement will from time to time break down. For example, when we lose faith in the capacity of our public institutions to reliably translate the results of honest democratic negotiation into policy. Or when old consensus rules of common decency lose general assent.
The basic premise here lies in whether a company should take a political stance that does not affect their profit motive positively in the long-run. Taking a stand on gay marriage will inevitably irritate some group of people that could have otherwise bought your companies product. Supporting lower corporate tax rates or a lower minimum wage, for instance, increases a companies bottom-line in terms of maximizing profit. However, taking a social stand on a culture war issue doesn’t help a business economically (unless they get an appreciation day out of it).
The right often talks about being “pro-business.” Mitt Romney is running for president to supposedly save the country from turning into a European socialist nightmare (or something that sounds scary). In the minds of many Republicans, Obamacare needs to be repealed so it doesn’t hurt businesses. While the merits of these causes depend on your political leanings, I can’t see anything less “pro-business” than taking a stand on a social issue that gains nothing long-term for a business and only makes part of the political spectrum not want to eat at your restaurant. The Republican Party wants to bring together social conservatives and economic conservatives, but these actions seem to be one side of the party intruding on the interests of the other, which is not good for business.