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Wall Street, beware: You’re sowing the seeds of your own destruction.
The latest Gallup poll shows that only 4% of Americans have a “great deal” of trust in big business. What’s more, the percentage of people who have “very little” trust has doubled in the last 50 years. All told, a staggering 84% of Americans are seriously frustrated with the titans of industry. And they’re right to feel this way.
The biggest driver of this collapse in trust is surely corporate America’s near-total embrace of woke ideology. It’s putting ideology and politics ahead of economic progress, forgetting the very reason why business exists. Wall Street needs to remember its purpose, and fast.
If you asked a typical person on the New York streets what businesses should be doing, you’ll probably get some variation of the same answer: Improving my life. People expect companies to create new things, better things, cheaper things, all the time. That used to be how people in business thought of themselves, from the C-Suite down to the factory floor. But those days are gone, at least at the top.
Nowadays, most big businesses seem to care more about promoting acronyms than improving lives. There’s DEI, which stands for “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and there’s ESG, which stands for “Environmental, Social, and Governance.” The way most business leaders talk, they apparently think their most important job is solving the world’s social problems.
But people don’t look to businesses to be our moral arbiters, justice warriors, or cultural saviors. We have non-profits, community groups, the political process, and religion for all of that – and they do a much better job, because it’s actually their job. By contrast, when companies try to do these things, they fall short at doing what we expect and need them to do: Create the products and services that transform our lives.
Is it any wonder our economy is slowing to a crawl? Is it any surprise that so many big businesses are spending more time buying back shares than creating new innovations? And should anyone really be shocked that tens of millions of Americans are turning against the very idea of business?
You can even see a glimpse of this frustration from the leading lights of leftism. If you look past their talk about companies being “takers” and “not paying their fair share,” it’s clear they want businesses to lift people up. Sure, they’re often the ones pushing DEI and ESG down Wall Street’s throats, but that foolishness still springs from a place of wanting corporate America to be better and do better than it currently does. Their hearts may be in the right place, even if their heads aren’t.
If companies want to regain the American people’s trust, they should return to what they know best, and really, the only thing they ought to know: Innovation, not ideology.
The CEOs who are smart enough to recognize the urgency of this mission should re-read Michael Novak’s famous book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which came out exactly 40 years ago. He masterfully argues that the success of our entire society depends on business sticking to its lane. When it verges on anything other than value creation, it undermines prosperity and even freedom. On October 11 and 12, I’m co-hosting a conference in New York City centered on this insight of “Principled Entrepreneurship.” Anyone and everyone is welcome to join, either in-person or virtually.
Wall Street has proven to a profound force for human flourishing throughout American history. It’s now losing its way, along with corporate America as a whole. Wokeness, DEI, ESG, whatever you want to call it – these concepts are turning big business into a source of division and discontent. Business leaders may think they’re on the right side of history, but the overwhelming majority of Americans say they’re sprinting down the wrong track, and losing the trust on which our economic and society depend.
Big business needs to realize what’s happening, before it’s too late.
Tim Busch is founder of Pacific Hospitality Group and founder of the Napa Institute, which is co-hosting the Principled Entrepreneurship Conference in New York City on October 11 and 12.
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