Prisoner’s Dilemmas: X- The Generation Gap

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The great classical philosopher ironically exemplified the tensions between the youth and older generations. In his famous quote: “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” This observation of one of the greatest minds in western history is ironic for several reasons. For one, Socrates; was convicted on charges of corrupting the youth and was sentenced to death. I guess respecting your elders is worthy of condemnation and execution (sarcasm). The man described by the Oracle of Delphi; as the wisest of all men; displays an abundance of ignorance. How could such an inquisitive and contemplative individual so easily dismiss the intentions and innovations of the younger generation?

As brilliant as Socrates was, he was still a mortal man subject to the same biases afflicting all people. There is something deeply human about assuming laziness or bad faith in young people. Why? Why do people have the unfortunate proclivity for underestimating or assuming the worst of the youth? A bias stems from the fact that youngsters lack experience and responsibility. One modern example would be men in their late teens/early twenties leading a hedonistic lifestyle; filled with alcohol, drugs, and tramps. However, as we all understand this is merely a stereotype; not all young men enjoy these pursuits. The probability is higher, that young men would prefer such excesses. In contrast to an older man who is established and married, would tend to veer away from such vices.

While older generations may believe they have the upper hand, but they may have unwittingly locked themselves into a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Sure, speak ill of all young people, but this only deepens the generation gap. There are many other conflicts where both sides defect does not reach a mutually beneficial compromise. Therefore, fitting the textbook definition of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. All the censure and criticisms of the “old people” become background noise, essentially static. Instead of young people viewing these statements as advice or legitimate concern, they perceive them as baseless complaints. The genuine concern behind the derogatory statements becomes lost in translation as mere noise.

This tendency towards mutual defection is a communication breakdown. The younger generation does not understand the older generation(s) and vice versa. Both parties were raised under drastically different conditions, with varying norms. For example, Baby Boomers remember a world without cable. Conversely, Gen-Z could not fathom a pre-internet world. These factors contribute to the social and cultural development of both generations. Beyond the cultural variations between generations, the older generation has the unfortunate propensity to use younger generations as scapegoats for moral decay. In order to resolve the intergenerational conflict, both generations need to listen to one another. The youth would perhaps stop viewing older generations as ignorant, out-of-touch, and backward. Hopefully, older people would stop viewing the youngsters as reckless and amoral. We interact with an individual outside of our generational cohort there are profound information asymmetries, there is no possible way to completely understand the conditions under which the other individual grew up. The best resolution would be active listening, open communication, and an open mind otherwise both sides will merely continue to disparage the other.

Editorial Graveyard- Part III: The Bootlegger and Baptists of Woke Capitalism

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Op-Ed submission was rejected by the Foundation For Economic Education for being too “abstract” and “academic”. The corresponding paper proposal for George Mason was also rejected. I am currently working on another proposal for GMU focused on intellectual property.

Introduction:

Bruce Yandle’s Bootlegger and Baptist (1983)  theory of regulation presents a practical explanation for why such unorthodox coalitions are effective vehicles for camouflaging rent-seeking behavior by a firm. In brief, armed with the public appeal of the moral arguments posited by the Baptists, the Bootleggers can quietly lurk in the shadows, funding initiatives that will advance their self-interest. In other words, the ethical advocates create a smokescreen that provides cover for the business interests, superficially obscuring the stigma of corporate advocacy, since few examples of political action invoke the ire of the average citizen than policy campaigns that line the pockets of big business.

           The trend of “woke capitalism”, however, is bringing the Bootleggers out of shadows and into plain sight. CEOs are now openly standing in unison with political activists, speaking out against topics ranging from police brutality to environmental issues. The Bootleggers can work openly with the Baptists to promote a positive image while still silently providing monetary support in the background. Moreover, the social justice messaging of “Woke Capitalism” extends beyond corporate activism and is observable in the product market and advertising. Some companies, for example, adopt marketing that emphasizes social consciousness to secure the business of Gen-Z. A clear example is Gillette’s 2019 advertising campaign addressing “toxic masculinity”. Typically, companies use this tactic to target younger consumers with higher preferences for ethical products and brand authenticity, requiring companies to go beyond philanthropy and mandating community services hours for their employees; their woke ethics are thereby conveyed in their branding.

The Four Main Categories of Woke Capitalistic Coalitions:

           The most recent alliances forged between business interests and political activists take the form of four main taxonomical categories. Some of the various types of Bootlegger and Baptist coalitions feature collaboration between firms and activists. Other coalition types  form within the technocratic structure of the corporation or emerge between different departments within the organization. Woke coalitions thus have several notable classifications of “woke” corporate alliances. Two further subcategories include proactive and reactive forms of rent-seeking.

Reactive Coalition Models:

           The reactive models for “woke” coalitions include two subtypes of collective action organization, the interaction between external actors and collaboration between internal employees. The first variety of reactive coalitions are rent-seeking alliances formed to restore the company from a sullied reputation caused by criticism, the objective being to mitigate the loss of sales and reputation amid public controversy. Some firms thus attempt to distance themselves from the controversy through their activistic partnerships. By way of example, Bank of America in the past was accused of engaging in “discriminatory” lending practices. To counteract this negative publicity, last year BOA pledged to donate $1 Billion over the next four years to community programs to address economic and racial inequality. Such an act of philanthropy can easily make the general public forget about the firm’s past indiscretions.

The second type of reactive “woke” coalitions are the intracompany factions designed to divert attention from potentially costly internal controversies. In instances of hostile work environment ligation, the legal team, the human resources department, and executive management band together to deescalate the publicity nightmare. Human Resources and management work together to legally distance the company from a harassment incident and shield executive management from more scrutiny and accountability. Legal navigates the statutory and tort concerns and works internally to establish an anti-harassment campaign intracompany. A prime example of an internal diversionary coalition was Vice media’s response to sexual harassment claims. After settling several cases, the company decided to form an advisory board to educate employees on diversity and proper workplace deportment. Even if such an initiative on the part of the human resources department failed to soften the bad publicity, at least it may decrease the probability of another incident.

Reactive Coalition Models:

Finally, the last two variants of “woke” coalitions aligning business interests with moral advocates to facilitate proactive forms of rent-seeking. Similarly, these proactive coalitions can be delineated into examples of internal and external collaboration models. Proactive partnerships form to capture potential gains and avert the costs of prospective controversies. The most salient example of such external cooperation would be firms standing behind a woke cause, anticipating that such an alliance will obscure the firm attempting to shape current regulation (regulatory capture).  A notable example was detailed in the Fall 2021 issue of Regulation magazine, which showed how providers of cloud computing services IBM and Oracle joined forces in 2017 to advocate for the passage of  the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA); effectively becoming bedfellows with various factions of human rights activists. Both laws intended to attribute liability to digit platforms for any user content that promotes sex trafficking. The article’s author Thomas A. Lambert speculates that IBM and Oracle could have done this with the hopes crafting potential exceptions to the platform liability portions of SESTA and FOSTA.

Additionally, we cannot forget the proactive inter-department coalitions that are emerging within corporations. For example, several companies are hiring diversity and inclusion “coaches” as a peripheral subset of human resources. The demand for this job role has become so prevalent that a number of colleges offer programs to become a certified “diversity practitioner”. The human resources department defends the existence of these staff members by emphasizing the need to educate employees to avoid instances of harassment and discrimination. The diversity coaches preach the virtues of cultural sensitivity and other tenants of the “woke” philosophy, thus producing a self-reinforcing spiral justifying further diversity initiatives.

Conclusion:

 Superficially, these alliances between big business and “woke” activists seem relatively benign, but in reality, these coalitions have profound consequences for the integrity of capitalism and the rule of law. The four types of woke B&B coalitions described above undermine capitalism and the rule of law because woke capitalism has made it easier than ever for business interests to create the façade of morality but are unjustly bending the rules-of-the game in their favor. Wokeism provides the veil obscuring corporate America’s hand in the legislative till. Generating more anti-competitive laws that undermine both the rule of law and free trade. 

The emphasis on firms getting involved with “woke” causes not only disguises crony capitalism and rent-seeking behavior, but also distracts companies from their primary custodial duty to their shareholders. As Nobel laureate Milton Friedman expresses in his own Friedman Doctrine , a firm has a duty to maximize its profits for its shareholders. After all, these individuals have invested in the company expecting a higher return. Without this financial support the firm could not achieve its current level of success. Diverting funds that could be used for investment in capital to increase productive efficiency for political activism is tantamount to theft.