During Holy Week the CEOs of two quintessential Red State and Blue State companies—Wal-Mart and Apple—joined together to publicly chastise state legislatures for allowing citizens to have too much religious freedom. Apple CEO Tim Cook opposed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed in Indiana while Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon opposed similar legislation in Arkansas. The heads of two companies that do business with countries that commit actual human rights violations on a daily basis were concerned about states protecting religious believers who might hypothetically—someday, somehow—act in a way that could hurt someone’s feelings.
Despite being highly intelligent and competent executives, both men showed a complete ignorance about what RFRA laws are and how they have been used in the past. But even if they had bothered to gather the facts before commenting they would have likely took the same stance. Large corporations have historically supported liberal causes (or in this case, an illiberal causes), even when they conflict with the values of their most prized customers.
Since Big Business are rarely even economically conservative (e.g., most despise true free markets) it’s not surprising they show a similar disdain for social conservative causes (while it wasn’t always the case, religious freedom is now a cause championed almost exclusively by social conservatives). Why then do we conservatives always rush to defend Big Business? As Matt K. Lewis asks, “Why does the right always go to the mat for big corporations who could give a damn about conservative values?”
For a while now, conservatives like Tim Carney have inveighed against “crony capitalism,” pointing out that big business doesn’t really like free markets. Big business is fine with killing off the competition by means of onerous governmental regulations only they can comply with. That’s because they have the resources to hire the lawyers needed to navigate regulations, and the lobbyists who can help change the rules if necessary.
We’ve seen other examples, however, of big business putting profit margins ahead of principle. Don’t forget how big business sided on Obamacare. How could forcing millions of uninsured Americans to buy coverage from private companies not be good business for both the insurance and the pharmaceutical industries? Meanwhile, conservatives who oppose immigration reform often cite the support of big business for “Amnesty.”
I think it’s time that social conservatives also realize that big business isn’t their friend, either. My theory is that there are essentially two groups of people you have to be wary of: big government and big business. Conservatives have typically obsessed over the former, while attempting to co-opt the latter. And who can blame them? Most of the other powerful coalition groups are natural allies on the left. As we have demonstrated, having big business on your political side is often the difference between winning and losing public policy battles.
For decades I’ve been a fan of Apple’s beautifully designed products and of Wal-Mart’s “everyday low-prices.” In the past, I’ve even defended those companies against unfair criticism (for example: A Conservative Case for Walmart). Now, I’m rethinking my support. Why should I support and defend companies that actively work to limit my God-given unalienable rights? I don’t put up with restrictions on my freedom from Big Government, and I’ll not stand for those same restrictions being lauded by Big Business.