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E-Pluribus | June 28, 2022
Bipartisan progress on guns, more on Stakeholder Capitalism, and should woke corporate speech still be free?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Richard Hahn: How We Got Bipartisan Gun Reform
The word “bipartisan” is often used ironically or derisively, but Richard Hahn at Persuasion says there are some lessons about how to actually get things done in Washington by examining the recent efforts to pass gun legislation. By keeping the focus narrow and centered on areas of common ground, Hahn says, policies can be implemented that not only benefit the public, but perhaps can restore some lost trust as well.
Too often, discussions about gun violence devolve into tired and unproductive debates. Part of the difficulty has been predictable obstruction by the opposition. Control of the House has changed three times since 2006, and could change again in November. Neither party has had an easy time governing.
But another part of it has been the product of a preference—common to both sides—to paint political opponents as inherently evil, rather than people with sincere disagreements who might nevertheless be able to find common ground. As the lead Republican negotiator in the Senate, John Cornyn, said, there are “sticking points everywhere” on gun legislation. Framing policy debates around such sticking points may be symbolically satisfying to one side or the other, but it has helped no one, and has signaled that democratic institutions were incapable of generating practical solutions to misery. The result was an endless parade of legislation with no hope of ever becoming law, and which served to signal aspirations and values rather than earnest intent to improve the conditions of people in America.
If congressional gridlock really has helped to shake public faith in democratic institutions, restoring that faith will require a commitment to practical policymaking aimed at identifying and solving concrete problems with solutions amenable to a majority of elected members of Congress and the people they represent. It will mean doing whatever is possible within the ideological constraints of both sides.
This is what we have started to see with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the VICTIM Act. Both are premised on simple truths: that America is awash with guns; that those guns cause problems; that the types of problems they cause are specific to context, place, and person; and that no single type of policy will solve everything. Moreover, both are narrow attempts to solve concrete problems (the VICTIM Act is focused on unsolved shootings, which are mostly committed in disadvantaged communities that have long histories of concentrated violence. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is focused on the prevention of mass shootings perpetrated mostly by mentally unstable young men, shootings that tend to occur randomly in vulnerable public places.) By narrowly tailoring their proposals to address problems about which enough consensus exists to pass the House and the Senate, and by avoiding issues that offend the core identities of either political base, the authors of both the VICTIM Act and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act got one piece of legislation over the line, and pushed another closer than most legislation ever gets.
Read it all here.
Virginia Postrel: Stakeholder Capitalism Isn’t Working as Planned
The customer is always right is a stock phrase in business, but more and more lately, the stakeholder is always right has overtaken the earlier version. At Bloomberg Opinion, Virginia Postrel explains how trying to adopt a philosophy that tries to please everyone, or more accurately, please the squeakiest wheels, is bad for business.
Stakeholder capitalism implicitly assumes a cultural consensus identical to whatever its advocates believe. It harks back to the mid-20th century, when big US companies enjoyed little competition, mass media marginalized all but a narrow range of political, religious and social views, and hierarchy and security dominated worker expectations. It pretends social media, Slack channels and “bringing your whole self to work” don’t exist.
For a purer version of what stakeholder-oriented management can engender, forget profits and political disagreements. Look at the turmoil roiling all sorts of left-wing nonprofits. In a report in the Intercept, Ryan Grim details why Washington D.C.-based groups have spent the past few years engaged in “knock-down, drag-out fights between competing factions of their organizations, most often breaking down along staff-versus-management lines.”
[ . . . ]
Despite their commitments to making the world a better place — and general agreement on what that means — trying to please every vocal stakeholder is wreaking such widespread organizational havoc that one group’s head, also quoted anonymously, told Grim “you couldn’t conceive of a better right-wing plot to paralyze progressive leaders.”
The problem isn’t that the groups are leftist. It’s that their missions and decisions are constantly up for internal debate. New attitudes and forms of communication have destroyed the legitimacy of their managerial hierarchies.
Read the whole thing.
Emma Camp: New Complaint Challenges Limits to Corporate Speech Enacted by Florida's 'Stop WOKE Act'
As the previous item points out, trying to be a woke corporation has a number of pitfalls, but a new law in Florida is testing whether or not being woke is simply part of a corporation’s free speech rights. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has scored a lot of points on the right recently for facing down progressive overreach, but now the pushback is coming, and Emma Camp of Reason writes that it’s not without merit.
Opponents of the bill… say it restricts speech and unnecessarily broadens the definition of illegal harassment to infringe upon protected speech concerning race and gender. "The Governor is determined to tell Floridians what they can say, what they can learn, what they can teach, what they can believe, and who they can be," said Cathryn M. Oakley, State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. "Yet again, DeSantis is putting his ideology before the best interests of Floridians, and making a mess with slapdash, mean-spirited, impossible-to-comply-with law."
The complaint filed Wednesday takes a similar approach by arguing that "the defining feature of the American constitutional system of government is that the government cannot establish orthodoxy of thought, either by mandating certain beliefs or by prohibiting disfavored ideas. The State of Florida has blatantly violated these fundamental values of democracy, requiring swift and decisive action by this Court." The complaint says that the law "aims to forward the government's preferred narrative of history and society and to render illegal speech that challenges that narrative."
Further, the complaint notes the particular restrictions the law places on private businesses. Plaintiffs say the law "seeks to muzzle independent institutions, including businesses, that are or might become centers of dissent. And, in doing so, it attempts to direct public outrage toward disfavored minorities."
Legally, the complaint's objection to the law appears to hold water. "The law functionally picks a side in the ongoing cultural debate over the existence or prevalence of racism and then prohibits companies from taking the opposite side," says Paul Matzko, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. It essentially forces private companies to adopt—or at least not object to—the state government's views on racism and sexism. While the government has some role in setting public school curricula, it is far more constrained in determining what private companies tell their employees.
Read it all.
Over the weekend, Michael McFaul prompted Shadi Hamid to discuss some of the implications of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling in the context of democracy and liberalism around the world. Some excerpts:
And finally, two Court of Appeals justices find an answer to the question, When is an elephant not just an elephant?