Consumer ‘insurgencies’ – voting with dollars—terrify CEOs beyond angry blather
The good (and bad) about earnings-obsessed capitalism is that consumer-driven profits focus constant attention on brand visibility. A stinging scandal, even guilt by association, impacts revenue across the board. PR operatives understand how volatile are consumer choices. Whatever could taint a pristine corporate brand – justified or not – triggers damage control. “Good will,” a dicey business “asset” in the best of times, captures this intangible dynamic. Thus (irony alert), the bigger the business, the faster they fall over themselves in trying to be everything to everybody.
Second irony: though corporate lobbyist armies dominate Washington, ruling capitalists cannot abide what runs today’s rabid right: manipulated cultural outbursts, bizarro conspiracies, and insupportable propaganda. While laughable deceit serves the Trumpist gang, public companies know that indefensible shenanigans risk sales, market share, even monopolistic dominance. That’s why the showiest internet companies, but also airlines, apparel makers, food producers, and appliance companies, play it very safe.
And that fact, despite our individual sense of impotence, empowers massed consumers and of late ordinary investors seeking more clout over sluggish, out of touch monoliths. Thus,
– Last month, with hoopla, two activists were elected to the reigning board of the backward fossil fuel company, Exxon, ready to push innovative green projects, greater transparency and savvier responses to shifts in public opinion on energy usage.
– In 2020, record inflows to sustainable ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investments added over $51 billion to more progressive, employee-friendly companies (and products). Since 2018 that totals a $5 trillion or 50% increase. Like socially-minded mutual funds, ESGs funds companies that are committed to fixing climate change, labor conditions and income inequality,
– Newly-introduced VOTE, a targeted ETF (low cost mutual fund) will buy corporate behemoths to apply direct stockholder pressure on management. VOTE’s mission is to instigate “positive change for employees, customers, communities, and the environment.” Per its mission statement, “The problem isn’t passive investing, it’s passive ownership,” and that changes when collective funds “harness the power of investors in a new way.”
Because business agendas (and revenue) trump the hilarious swath of current rightwing nonsense, consumer boycotts and retail investors who vote with dollars will petrify the entire CEO class. That’s why reactionary Mitch McConnell got headlines months back when he shockingly told off grumbling corporations opposed to red state voting suppression. McConnell’s stupid “mind your own business” scold flopped badly and he retreated, with teeth clenched, conceding that executives have the right to public statements when endangered. You betcha, as no force on earth stops corporations from shoring up brand loyalty. Executives embarrassed McConnell by demonstrating more awareness that criminal, anti-democratic suppression looms as a political and economic loser, big-time.
Numbers and timing count
Strategic political pressure is a matter of timing, numbers and focus – especially when thinking like a capitalist. Consumer purchases drive 70% of the U.S. economy and that “majority” of money reflects a majority of the electorate. As Obama nailed it in 2008, while a disgruntled white minority clings to “guns and religion” (and hatred of outsiders), many millions more, acting collectively, carry overwhelming economic prowess. Money matters in business just as much as in politics, perhaps more.
Though committed boycott groups exist, none has wide media visibility, thus critical mass for maximum clout. High time for boycott organizers to unify and declare, “here’s a corporation that supports Trump or voter suppression or lies about the ‘stolen’ election. Stop buying their products and talk to neighbors.” Think of the widespread, progressive “economic vote” that identifies, then presses consumers and investors to avoid extremists who endorse violent insurgencies contrary to the American grain, thus deserving whatever penalties accrue when “free market” buyers make a clear line in the sand.
There’s not yet enough “corporate solidity” to impede the worst of Trumpist vileness, but no few billionaires dread what’s already injuring Republican candidates, the shrill protectors of their tax and ownership interests. The 1% listens very carefully to cash registers, even when only indirectly impacted. Yet enough reactionaries, well beyond the Pillow Guy, are still backing rightwing thugs (elected and not), stuck in a time warp as if 2021 were 2016. Trump’s fall started when he blew the pandemic challenge, descended with an egregious campaign, and spiraled downward with ceaseless, absurd post-election insanity. Dumpster demagoguery is in free fall, so much so even his intensely self-interested daughter and son-in-law have retreated from the latest, tin-ear PR debacles.
Elections are separate, transient events, however important, but buyers spend millions every day that foster corporate products, if not dominance. Why not “Profit-over-people” episodes, not just Prime Days when alert consumers come together and identify fixated dinosaurs behind Trumpism, as evident here:
Along with street protests against police brutality and entrenched structures that resist reform, a majority, anti-fascist, purchasing rebellion turns the tables on the greedy “free market” ideologues who reinforce Trumpist white supremacy, crony capitalism and outright criminality. Who says there’s no good news? Money talks, especially with unified force.
Imagine the convergence when boycotts and selective stock investments boost targeted street actions. That collectivism will rattle reluctant CEOs, grasping reactionaries and empowered “moderates” defending a badly-broken status quo. In a world where money and profits rule, informed consumer and investment decisions can turn seemingly untouchable, imperial corporations into “order takers” who addictively track their daily cash flow.