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Can the private sector save the world? Part I

There’s no denying that the balance of power has shifted

The big picture

Whether you’re a libertarian who would like to see the privatization of most government functions or a progressive who believes that we need more government protection from corporate overreach (or somewhere in between), there will always be some kind of collaboration–at worst, collusion–between governments and the private sector.

There’s no denying that the balance of power has shifted in favor of business. Since the 1980s, corporations have gained greater power over governments and individuals around the globe, most notably in nominally communist and democratic socialist nations ranging from to China to Denmark. And the incredible power of private sector lobbyists in Washington to shape and mold legislation underscores the growing influence of big business in the U.S.

Of course, those owning and leading corporations around the globe often have highly divergent beliefs and agendas about which social problems are legitimate to begin with (e.g., climate change and campaign financing reform). This is evidenced in the growing number of private sector leaders who now feel compelled to step in and address social and environmental problems that the U.S. government and international community have failed to address.


The tech industry is at the forefront of those pushing for change

While they were in charge, the first generation of tech leaders, including Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft, paid little attention to social issues except for those that directly affected their business interests, e.g., immigration reform, Internet service regulation and copyright legislation. After all, why should they rock the boat by taking positions that might offend customers, stakeholders or employees?

In recent years, however, we’ve seen a growing list of billionaire philanthropist entrepreneurs, many of them from the Tech Industry, who have become activists, very willing to rock the boat to help remedy global social and economic problems because they are tired of Washington gridlock, etc.

One indicator of this shift in the U.S. is how Tech and other corporations have been supporting gay rights, most notably Apple CEO, Tim Cook, (who came out as gay last year). This is, of course, in sync with the cultural climate of the Bay area and a rapid evolution across most of the nation towards support of gay rights, especially among Millennials. One indicator of the strength of this new moral consensus is how Brendan Eich, former chief executive of Mozilla, was pressured into resigning after it was disclosed that he had made a donation in support of California’s 2008 measure banning same-sex marriage.

Regardless of your personal beliefs about this and other social issues, there is clearly growing support for advances in equal employment for women and other minorities. (While women aren’t numerically a minority, ‘minority status’ is more determined by power/advantage).

In Part II of this article, I’ll look at how these and other business-led reforms may play out, including problems about which strongly entrenched opposing positions remain.

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