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Takeaways: July/August 2021

Takeaways: July/August 2021

July/August 2021

PUSHBACK: While CEOs are working diligently to address serious social inequities, their efforts are not being made any easier by critics who accuse them of trying to be “trendy.” A backlash has set in, with naysayers arguing that activist business leaders lack the expertise to weigh in on some of these causes. Until they give as much careful consideration to their political positions as they do most business decisions, they risk betraying the interests not just of their shareholders but of employees and customers, too, John Hillen of Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College writes in National Review. To take these positions responsibly, they would “surely have to enlist policy staff, pollsters, focus groups, and others” just to keep up.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Companies that paused their PAC contributions after the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol are considering new factors when resuming their giving programs. The Conference Board, which surveyed 84 large public and private firms about how they are now handling their political giving, has offered recommendations in a 23-page report. To avoid controversy, the report suggests that companies clarify the role of PACs. Unfortunately, the media and even many employees don’t understand that PACs are funded by employees and not the company. They also need to make sure, when announcing PAC contributions, that legal, communications and government-relations functions are consulted, since they might not all have the same priorities. “Before your company’s PACs resume making contributions,” the report advises, “it may be helpful to clarify who makes the announcement and who is involved in the process.” For more guidance on political giving, view the Council’s Developing a Comprehensive Candidate Evaluation Framework.

UP AND DOWN: Americans’ confidence in major institutions has dropped again, after a slight rise last year in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. Surveys conducted in early summer by the Gallup Organization find that only 33% of U.S. adults express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 14 institutions. That’s a three-percentage-point drop since 2020, meaning a return to 2019 levels. Confidence in the medical system, as might be expected, “is substantially higher now (44%) than it was two years ago (36%),” Gallup reports. Confidence in big business decreased between 2019 and 2020, however, but the dip is not statistically significant. Small business and banks are also down, but they are still “perceived at least slightly better than they were in 2019 before the pandemic.”

WORTH READING: Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know by Ronald Bailey and Marian L. Tupy, which is a worthy counterpart to Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, has the significant virtue of being presented in a pithy and visual format. The world is actually improving, the authors show, in the very areas of life that seem most worrisome: the environment, the struggle against poverty, famine and illiteracy, and the durability of democracy. And that’s just for starters. We rarely recognize these encouraging realities, Bailey tells us in an email interview, because the news we receive “is by definition bad news. This misleads smart people who seek to be well informed into missing the fact that over the long term, most social, political and economic trends are massively positive.” And these trends should continue as long as we extend “the institutions of free inquiry, the rule of law and political accountability.” In fact, free inquiry, the rule of law and political accountability will “supercharge both social and technological innovations.”

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