16 June 2007

Is big business shifting to the left?

An interesting and wide-ranging essay by Christopher Hayes on a little-discussed phenomenon -- in contrast to its earlier stance, big business in the US increasingly favors government solutions to problems such as health care and global warming. The former issue is one where it has always seemed to me that American business suffers a great competitive disadvantage because of the US system (or lack of one) -- the US is the only advanced country with no government health-care system, which means that US companies normally buy health insurance for their employees, thus incurring a huge expense that their competitors in other advanced nations do not.

Or imagine you’re a major car company debating whether to site a new car plant in Canada or Alabama. After weighing the pros and cons, you decide on Canada. Why? Because in the United States, health care costs are growing at 7 percent above inflation, and you’re likely to be on the hook for your employees’ health care costs into the foreseeable future. This, in fact, is exactly what happened in 2005, when Toyota sent shockwaves through corporate boardrooms by opting to open a new plant in Woodstock, Ontario, citing Canada’s socialized medicine as a factor.

Business's newfound concern about global warming is also welcome and also, in fact, predictable. Businessmen, unlike politicians or libertarian ideologists, seldom prosper for long if they insist on living in imaginary worlds of their own devising in which real-world issues can be whisked into nonexistence with sarcastic quips. You don't get to be CEO of GE or PG&E by stridently insisting that any problem which threatens your favored ideology isn't real. And businessmen, like all other organisms, have an interest in the survival and health of the planetary ecosystem on which their existence depends.

All this presents challenges for the Republican party which, according to Hayes, it is ill-prepared to meet.

At the end of the day, the country can’t tax-cut its way to better health care or a post-oil economy or fewer carbon dioxide emissions. The titans of capitalism are beginning to realize that, even if the conservative movement’s leading lights can’t—or won’t.

Political alignments in the US are shifting and recombining in a number of novel ways, none of which favor the Republicans as currently constituted. Will they ever wake up? Can they ever wake up? Does anyone care?

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