Time to Wake Up: Cultural upheaval threatens American business

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges (same sex marriage) case is a wholesale redefinition of one of the pillars of human civilization – the family – at the demands of a movement that in historical terms sprung up only yesterday. Redefining marriage will have far-reaching and unintended consequences.

It strikes a dagger in the heart of our freedom to work and live in accordance with our beliefs. Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who object to the court changing the definition of marriage, an institution they believe God himself created, will either have to change the tenets by which they live and worship or engage in civil disobedience.

Increasingly we seem to be witnessing a systematic deconstruction of our cultural institutions and sources of moral authority.  The family.  Christianity and the Catholic Church. The Boy Scouts. The military. And now more recently, the police.

Most of my career has been spent in business and on Wall Street.  And for most of that time I thought of myself is primarily an economic conservative and libertarian, and not much of a cultural conservative. But even after a successful career in the financial sector it’s becoming increasingly evident to me that – President Calvin Coolidge notwithstanding – the business of America isn’t business.

Business people who ignore how our culture is changing do so at their peril. What begins as an attack on religious liberty will soon become an attack on economic liberty.

Instead, our business is preserving the freedoms that make us the envy of the rest of the world. It’s these freedoms: Speech. Religion. Association.  And yes, economic freedom, that make up the foundation upon which so many have built a successful nation in such a short time when contrasted with other countries and civilizations.

The fight to preserve traditional marriage is part of this. But, unfortunately, too many people in business don’t get that.

Business people who ignore how our culture is changing do so at their peril.  What begins as an attack on religious liberty will soon become an attack on economic liberty.

Witness the politically correct furor in the aftermath of last week’s tragic massacre in a South Carolina church.  This awful human catastrophe almost immediately devolved into a sensationalist frenzy over the Confederate flag.

This has led to stores clearing their shelves of merchandise, companies swearing off production of anything remotely connected with the Confederacy.  Film critics are now declaring the classic Gone With The Wind should be banned, and Nation of Islam President Louis Farrakhan is now calling for banning the American flag.

If Old Glory herself can come under attack in the midst of a frenzy that shows no signs of abating, how safe are the economic freedoms that today’s successful companies and CEOs currently enjoy?  How safe is the free market?

When I started on Wall Street in the 1970s, investment firms, boards of directors, CEOs, auditing firms and rating agencies all were considered respectable institutions and carried a certain moral authority. Not so today.

The progressive left has an agenda: It’s to deconstruct and demonize traditional institutions and produce a world where only the state has moral authority.  In the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on marriage, you frequently heard “the state would decide” this and “the state would decide” that.

We’re entering a world of government enforced conformity. Radicals in the 1960s used to argue that we should be free to live without fear of government sanction. Today they insist everyone agree with them – or else.

A thriving free market commercial society requires moral virtue. Before Adam Smith wrote "Wealth of Nations" he wrote the "Theory of Moral Sentiments.”

Businesses that can’t count on the morality of their trade partners, employees or customers can’t survive.

That’s why business can’t just defend “economic liberty.” It must also defend “religious liberty.” The genius of the American idea is that all of these freedoms create a climate for a free society to thrive – take one of these freedoms away and the rest will fall as well.

America’s cultural traditions are rooted in the teachings of our churches and synagogues. If these institutions continue to be marginalized, we will erode our cultural capital.

Religious freedom is critical to the functioning of free markets and democracy. It’s time for American business to recognize its stake in that freedom as well as all freedoms.