Strategists trying to understand and influence the future of an organization will study the “containing system” surrounding it. That is, factors that affect the environment in which the organization operates. Social forces, regulatory changes, competitor actions, and global economic trends are examples. But rarely do strategists consider the notion of whether our nation remains a democracy or operates under capitalism as a component of that containing system. It may be time that we do so.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley‘s comments at his farewell ceremony moved me deeply. Appointed by Trump, he is voluntarily retiring. You might remember that when Trump refused to concede the election, Milley reached out to his counterparts in China. He said the US would not attack China during Trump’s increasingly erratic last days in office. For this act, Trump has accused Milley of treason and threatened him with prison, if not execution.
In his comments, Milley reminded us that our military pledges not to a President, nation, religion, or individual but to our Constitution. This document has lasted longer than that of any other nation. “We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America, and we’re willing to die to protect it,” Milley shared.
Democracy and capitalism have marched hand in hand in our nation’s history, enriching our lives. Capitalism allows us private citizens to own the means of production. It allows markets, not government, to drive the allocation of goods and services. Democracy gives each of us rights, perhaps the most important of which is the right to elect those who govern us at the federal, state, and local levels.
Both forces are under threat. The accumulation of economic power is threatening capitalism. This unbalancing of the playing field leads to “crony capitalism,” in which close, mutually advantageous relationships between business leaders and government officials influence market outcomes to the advantage of the powerful. Years of weak anti-trust regulatory forces and growing influence of money in politics indicate crony capitalism is now a cemented part of our economic system. The far left, who see the historic economic inequality and environmental degradation in our current system—versus a more vital “for the people” government—are just one of the factions in our nation that are challenging our nation’s use of a capitalism-based system.
Multiple forces also threaten democracy, not just in the US but in Europe as well. Listen to Trump’s rhetoric. Watch a jerry-rigged Congress and Supreme Court deny Americans the gun control legislation the majority wants. Even with no evidence of systematic voting fraud, voting rights are under challenge as a strategy to win elections.
Most people vote for their interests. Or they choose not to vote, especially in primaries. I hope that anyone whose well-being relies on a business, be it for-profit or non-profit, carefully thinks this election season about capitalism and democracy. We need to vote for people who will be empathetic about the adverse effects of capitalism yet appreciative of its benefits and fight to improve rather than replace the system. Only these kinds of leaders can pursue policies that address both. And we need leaders who will ruthlessly defend democracy, which starts with our voting rights.
Milley stated, “The motto of our country is E Pluribus Unum, from the many, come one.” This election season, it’s time we turn from “me” considerations to “us” considerations. We will all be better off for it.