Corporate America worries that regulations at the state level – such as those emerging in California and New York amid the policy vacuum in Washington – will create an expensive obstacle course of inconsistent laws. Business executives also fear that, if the Democrats win both the presidency and Congress in 2008, companies will face heavy-handed federal regulation. They want to pre-empt that possibility with their own ideas now or they want to be at the table when the big decisions are made.
The behaviour of big companies in the 1950s could serve as a model. At that time, many corporations such as Eastman Kodak and R.H. Macy banded together in what was called the Committee on Economic Development. They worked with Washington to devise stable monetary and fiscal policies, job creation programmes, educational opportunities and the first foreign aid programmes. It was an unprecedented effort by US business to work with government on pragmatic solutions to massive postwar problems.
US companies could be realising that today’s public policy challenges will overwhelm them if left unaddressed and that business itself can make a major contribution to meeting these challenges.
Finally, chief executives such as GE’s Jeff Immelt, IBM’s Sam Palmisano and many of their colleagues may well represent a new breed of leader. They are riveted on competitive performance and shareholder value, to be sure. However, they are also focused on strengthening the national and global policy frameworks so vital to their success. It was Mr Immelt who cried out for clear environmental regulations two years ago. Mr Palmisano has been vocal about education and innovation.It is too soon to say that corporate America is embarking on a more assertive and constructive involvement in public policy but, for the first time in many years, the possibility exists