A few days ago, I posted a comment on Jacob's blog dealing with my reservations about market-based policies for solving health care and environment issues. However, the very next day I open the Independent Weekly, a solidly progressive Raleigh area rag, and I see this article by Farnum Brown.
Brown addresses the following dilemma: this recent election means that most progressive agenda is all but DOA on the Hill for the next four years. So what should we do about it? Brown suggests a strange proposal - turn to that notorious bastion of liberalism known as Wall Street.
Brown's argument roughly goes as follows - liberals can use their power as investors and consumers to turn corporate policies into progressive policies. He credits these ideas for everything from environmentally responsible logging by timber giant Boise Cascade to gay-friendly hiring policies by 318 companies in the Fortune 500.
Brown makes a point. Those of us heavily invested in the stock market can use our power as investors for progressive ends. Progressive shareholders can vote on proposals, buy and sell as a block to send a message to corporations. As Brown puts it: "These actions aren't the result of enlightenment suddenly dawning in boardrooms across America. They're rather the cumulative result of years of cooperative effort by issue-oriented non-profits on one hand and progressive shareholders on the other. Their goal has been to translate the social and environmental concerns of the former into the bottom-line concerns of the latter. And to then take those concerns to one of the few places progressives can still get something done in this country: the annual shareholder meetings of major publicly held corporations."
Combine this with a strategy of socially responsible consumerism, and you have a progressivism that doesn't need the government to succeed.
Of course, Brown's point only goes so far. This doesn't help poorer progressives who don't have the means to invest - as a result, the concerns of the working class aren't as likely to get addressed. (Note that Brown claims victories on gay rights and the environment, but not on labor rights or health care.) Wall Street's solutions will always be short-term - Big Business' progressivism comes in short-term bursts. And there are so few labor-friendly retail outlets (not to mention manufacturers) out there that labor-friendly consumerism will, at this point, lead to a pretty shitty Christmas season for your loved ones. (Seriously, you try buying clothes that aren't sweatshop-produced.) We're so deep in the Wal-Martized economy that wild horses would have trouble dragging us out of it. For that reason I still don't think business-based progressivism is going to solve all our problems - government will likely still need to give the Street a swift kick in the pants here and there.