Laws have been passed, but enactment has always been lax. New regulations have been passed that seemed designed to undermine the intent of prior acts. Reversals of oversight have led to more inequity along with loss of basic rights. If this time is different, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The pain to come
Nothing will be easier than it has been in the past. Cities will wrestle with budget allocations and entrenched union interests. Minority communities will expect to see change that may take years. Businesses will struggle to balance the cost of labor and community investment with the expectation to return the greatest profit to investors.
To date, there have been a lot of mea culpa statements. Of vows to recognize the promise at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance so that no one will want to “take a knee” — “with liberty and justice for all.”
Yet the leaderhip vacuum in Washington — at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — continues to suck all the air from our lungs. Lobbyists have learned to relax as hard-won protections of our health, the environment, and our earning power have been rolled back or ignored. The divide remains clear to any partisan, no matter where they live: those who seek to expand the divide between Americans remain steadfastly opposed to those who hope to unify the country through equal protection, equal rights, and equal opportunity.
Government alone cannot fix this. Business has a real role to play.
The best interests of business
Until the 1980s, corporations often had summer and school-year internship programs for students, offering high school and college kids a chance to get a sense of what it’s like to work in engineering or finance or manufacturing or the arts. As the business community began to believe that Gordon Gekko was right — that “greed is good” — those programs disappeared. It’s time to bring them back; to give opportunities to young men and women in the communities in which corporations are either headquartered or have branch offices.
It’s time to make a shift in things that businesses get to deduct. Investments in community redevelopment, in education programs, in diversity training and practice, and in efforts to reduce a firm’s harmful environmental processes all pass muster. What should not be deductible (as a marketing or business expense) is the payment of tens of millions of dollars to name a major league sports stadium.
It’s time for doing more than improving wages. Training programs have to expand, giving entry level workers the chance to move up in the organization (even if it’s from porter to chef or field hand to combine driver or loading dock worker to operations manager). Companies have to recognize the shift in essential skills and offer educational programs to workers who want to acquire them… rather than passing over current employees and hiring people who already have them.
It’s time to reach out to inner cities and pockets of poverty everywhere, offering support to schools, community centers, after-school programs, and municipal programs that provide housing and healthcare. When people are secure, their work productivity goes up exponentially, and that lowers the effective cost of labor.
Invested in incomplete solutions
It’s time to confront the “pharmaceutical medical complex” that makes treatment unaffordable, puts more effort into treatment than cures, and doesn’t have a focus on outcomes. When businesses object to paying premiums or workers can’t afford to pay their share, the businesses will suffer, as well as the employees. Sick employees are non-productive employees, and sick employees who can’t afford to take or don’t get sick days and, as a result, go to work only risk sickening co-workers. In the age of COVID-19, that’s potentially lethal.
It’s time to consider diversity broadly. It isn’t confined to minority communities, to people of color, or to gender. It applies to age, as well. A workforce that’s all under 40, regardless of its race and gender and cultural diversity, isn’t truly reflective of the nation.
It’s time to decriminalize race, reorganize police departments (and modify the training that their officers receive), and shift money from reaction to prevention. Put more cops into communities they live in where they have a vested interest in stability and safety. Put them on foot so they can visit local businesses and meet the proprietors and customers. Accelerate the process for examining improper behavior and eliminate protections that shield offending officers whose actions would put anybody else behind bars.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
It’s time to start telling the truth. Not the partisan version that serves a political purpose. The kind that offers bad news (so that people understand situations completely), that offers good news that gives them a reason to hope, that acknowledges that abusive behavior that shows up on cellphone videos is real, and that admits when things are murky and the answers aren’t clear or consistent. Lying for advantage disadvantages everyone with possibly disastrous effects.
And it’s time to expand the Truth in Advertising statutes to apply to politicians and elected officials. If consumer packaged goods manufacturers and drug makers and car brands can’t make claims that are untrue or could, potentially, cause harm to consumers, false claims and outright lies can’t be a part of a political campaign. They, too, can cause harm to the voters’ best interests and change government of, by, and for the people into the very tyranny that America was founded to prevent.