The Erosion of Democracy Is a Threat to Business
On December 9–10, 2021, more than 100 nations gathered virtually with the Biden White House and U.S. State Department for the first Summit for Democracy, called in part to respond to the growth of autocratic governments across the globe. In conjunction with this event, Business for America advanced the view that the private sector — and business leaders — need to join the discussion and help defend democratic principles and the rule of law.
A BFA webinar on the eve of the Summit outlined the business community’s self-interest in promoting democratic institutions, making the case that democracy is the best system of government for enterprise, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
Four expert voices joined BFA in outlining the importance of democracy for the business community: Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy; Didi Kuo, Senior Research Scholar at Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law; Joel Elliott, Senior Director of Federal Relations at Salesforce; and Dave Leichtman with Microsoft’s Democracy Forward Initiative.
To start, Bassin noted that globally democracies have been receding for more than a decade. Closer to home, he said the quality of U.S. democracy has also been declining as measured by the independence of the judiciary, checks on executive power, the growth of rhetoric and violence in the public space, and other factors. The decline has corresponded with an erosion of U.S. opinion toward democracy, particularly among younger generations. “The countries that have seen the greatest erosion of democracy over the past decade have been Hungary, Turkey, Poland, India, Brazil, and yes, the United States,” Bassin said.
The “modern authoritarian playbook” has several common features across borders according to Bassin, including the politicization of independent institutions, spreading disinformation, executive power grabs, quashing dissent, delegitimizing communities, and corrupting elections.
The stakes are real and high as businesses operate better in open, stable societies with free trade. “We can all agree on the benefits of democracy and the need for them, and yet, when you are actually implementing these principles and practices it can get very messy,” Kuo said. For example, the meaning of free and fair elections can be debated about who has access to a ballot, when individuals can vote, and how ballots are collected and counted. These debates have been ongoing in the U.S. for decades.
Microsoft’s engagement in the issue is deeply rooted, Dave Leichtman explained. “Microsoft’s core mission is to empower everyone to do more. We cannot empower everyone to do more if they don’t have basic human rights and the right to self determination.” Leichtman added that autocrats’ arbitrary decision-making has an adverse impact on businesses by creating an unstable economic climate.
Salesforce’s Joel Elliot added, “From a moral perspective, it is most important for us to remember our basic civics. It is the people who should determine who governs them. That is central to the American character and a big part of what makes us exceptional as a nation. And we are talking about all the people who are eligible to vote, and by voting, they must have equal access to the ballot.”
Sarah Bonk, founder of Business for America, further underscored how important it is for business leaders to become engaged on these issues. “When it comes to democracy, businesses have an enlightened self-interest — a bottom-line, economic interest — in ensuring that our democracy survives.”
Watch the full 75-minute webinar on YouTube.
For more information on Business for America, please visit www.bfa.us.